The Hispano-Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa He was elected a member of the French Academy on Thursday, the first time that an author who does not write in the French language enters that institution founded in 1635.
Vargas Llosa is also a member of the Royal Spanish Academy since 1994.
And at 85, his entry into the temple of French letters is even more exceptional, since since 2010, the rules are that candidates must be less than 75 years old.
In the history of the French Academy There have been bilingual writers, such as the Argentine Héctor Bianciotti (1930-2012), who published part of his work in Spanish. But Vargas Llosa is the first to enter without having written directly in French.
As for nationality, there are no rules to be part of the venerable institution, which has welcomed many foreigners in the past, although always French-speaking, such as Bianciotti himself, or Julien Green.
Another illustrious precedent is José Maria de Heredia, a poet born in 1842 in Cuba and elected a French academic in 1894, one year after his naturalization.
Vargas Llosa was elected with 18 votes in favor. One vote went to one of his opponents, Frédéric Vignale. Take the chair left vacant by Michel Serres, an academic who died in 2019.
Linked to French culture
Mario Vargas Llosa, who currently lives in Madrid, speaks French fluently, thanks to his period in Paris after his arrival in 1959, where he worked as a translator and journalist.
Since then, the writer kept close ties with French culture, to which he has devoted numerous essays and articles.
In 2004 he published “The temptation of the impossible” about one of his literary obsessions, “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo, whose gears he tries to unravel in the essay.
Just two years later he released another essay, “The perpetual orgy” (2006) on “Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert.
Author in La Pléiade
An emblematic author of the Latin American boom that shook world literature in the second half of the 20th century, Vargas Llosa has recognized the influence of French intellectuals such as Jean paul Sartre in his early years, and in his decision to become a writer.
In the 1970s he starred in a pronounced ideological turn: from sympathizing with causes such as the Cuban Revolution to rediscovering classical liberalism and denouncing all kinds of totalitarianism, from the left or from the right.
This change, which earned him the hostility of certain circles, also had its translation in the French intellectual arena.
He befriended essayists such as Jean-François Revel (who was also an academic, elected in 1997), known for his bitter criticism of the Parisian intellectual class, and closely followed the political battles in this country.
Much of his work has been translated into French, essentially at the Gallimard publishing house. He was the first living foreign writer to enter the prestigious collection of the Pléiade, in 2016.
The French Academy has a mission similar to that of Real academy of the Spanish language. “Provide our language with clear rules and make it pure, eloquent and capable of dealing with the arts and sciences”, states its article 24.
His first dictionary was published in 1694.
Founded by Cardinal Richelieu, the Academy is located on the left bank of the Seine, opposite the Louvre museum.
To date it has had 737 academics, known in France as the Immortals.
The last time a Nobel Prize sat at the French Academy was François Mauriac, elected in 1933 and awarded the Swedish prize in 1952.
Of the forty seats of the institution, five remain vacant. The remaining 35 are occupied by 29 men and 6 women.
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