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Swoboda, Marian J.; Roberts, Audrey J. / They came to learn, they came to teach, they came to stay
(1980)

Marks, Elaine
Chapter 14: Germaine Bree: a partial portrait,   pp. 81-84


Page 83

and the habit of producing a Sunday sermon. When Germaine Bree speaks of
her mother she speaks of her with the same attentive love with which she
speaks about the France of her early childhood, the France of the German
oc-
cupation. Mother and France merge into a single entity protecting and need-
ing protection. Germaine Bree's strength and kindness emanate from this
ideal merger. When Germaine Bre'e speaks of her father it is with the tender
detachment one might feel for an amusing and troublesome member of the
family, distracted, deviant, never quite doing what was expected, never quite
behaving in a socially acceptable manner. Germaine Bree's original style
of
living, her capacity to sit at her desk for hours on end, day after day,
with her
books, her yellow pads and her endless correspondence, seems an imitation,
an emulation, a continuation of Pasteur Bree.
Her first schooling on the islands of Guernsey and Jersey was British. She
attended the Jersey Ladies College from the age of nine to fifteen. Thus
her
first social and intellectual milieu beyond the parsonage and the large family
group was also British. She was to find something analagous to this at-
mosphere years later at Bryn Mawr College where the English models of gra-
cious living, of the "gentleman" and the "scholar" dominated
along with a
heady dose of English snobbery which she always abhorred. Germaine Bree
entered the French school system at the age of sixteen; her knowledge of
the
English language and of English culture was far more developed than her
knowledge of French. It is not surprising therefore, that English literature
be-
came, in France, her major field of study, even though, when given the oppor-
tunity at the age of twenty-one, of choosing French or British citizenship,
she
chose French. Again the head and the heart seem to go their separate ways.
For four years in North Africa, Germain Bre'e taught English, was active
as an
anti-fascist in the nascent Front Populaire and indulged in her passion for
travel. The Franco-British, work-play synthesis was to come with the Ameri-
can experience lived in America and apprehended earlier through an Ameri-
can writer on whom she had written a dissertation, Henry James. James had
moved in the opposite direction across the Atlantic and the Channel but he
was deeply enmeshed in the same quandaries about national and cultural
identity.
At Bryn Mawr Germaine Bree, who had all her degrees in English
literature, was asked to teach courses in contemporary French literature.
And
so, as she is eager to point out, chance played an important role in the
shape
of her career, chance and the willingness to accept the challenge. It is
highly
unlikely that had Germaine Bre'e remained in France as a professeur agregee
d'anglais, teaching in the lycee without the demands of a graduate school
program and the American insistence on publication, she would have had a
career in any way comparable to her American career.
I have had the occasion to meet in France a number of French women
who were pupils of Germaine Bree in North Africa. The French lycee in in
the
1930s was not coeducational; women taught women. Young women iden-
tified passionately with their teachers. These women, now middle-aged, could
not have been impressed by the writer or the scholar who did not then exist.
What they remember vividly is the presence of a teacher whose impact on
their lives has never ceased. It would seem as if from the very beginning
Ger-
maine Bree belonged to that gallery of women in fiction and in history, and
often in the classroom, whose power of seduction is such that for young
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