Michael Edwards, a poet and literary scholar, has become the first Briton to be voted into France’s Academie Française, the highly-exclusive body entrusted with safeguarding the French language.
France’s Académie Française, the country’s pre-eminent learned body in charge of upholding the French language, has welcomed a Briton as one of its members for the first time ever. Michael Edwards, a poet, literary critic and academic, was voted into the French Academy on Thursday following an internal vote.
Founded in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the 40-seat body is considered the highest authority on all matters related to the French language. Members, who are known as “the immortals”, are chosen for life. They have included literary greats such as Voltaire and Victor Hugo.
Edwards, 74, had been considered for the Académie Française on two previous occasions, but did not win enough votes. He replaces the late French novelist Jean Dutourd, who died on January 17, 2011.
An Officer of the British Empire, Edwards was born in London. He is married to a Frenchwoman and has dual British-French citizenship, but has been mainly published in French in recent years.
From the 1960s he gave numerous conferences in France and taught at several French universities and educational institutions. He was a professor of comparative literature in the University of Warwick until 2002, before joining the prestigious Collège de France, a higher education and research establishment in Paris.
His recent works in French include L’Étrangeté (Gallimard) in 2010, Le Bonheur d'être ici (Fayard) in 2011, and Le Rire de Molière in 2012.
While Edwards became the first British “immortal”, other foreign nationals have been admitted to the prestigious body in the past.
The late Senegalese president Léopold Sédar Senghor was a member. Current members include the Franco-Lebanese author Amin Maalouf, the Franco-Belgian writer and filmmaker François Weyergans and the Algerian novelist and filmmaker Assia Djebar.