Skip to main content

What was it like to take French at Vanderbilt in the 1950s?

Posted by on Friday, March 9, 2018 in Uncategorized.

What was it like to take French at Vanderbilt in the 1950s?

By Paul B. Miller, Associate Professor

My friend Dr. Paul Barnett graduated with a BA in 1955 and has often spoken to me about the French classes he took at Vanderbilt during his undergraduate days.  He especially remembers vividly the personalities of the two instructors, Professor Charles A. Rochedieu (1892-?) and Professor Walter H. Storer (1898-1974), French instructors in what was at that time the Department of Romance Languages.  Rochedieu and Storer were not only colleagues but also collaborators, translating and publishing together Six Historical Poems of Geffroi de Paris Written in 1314–1318 in 1950 (reprinted in 2016) Professor Storer, in addition to his scholarly achievements, was an avid amateur photographer who bequeathed a sizable photography collection to the State of Tennessee.

Dr. Barnett recounts some amusing anecdotes about his mid-century French professors’ eccentricities.  Rochedieu liked to depart for France immediately upon the semester’s conclusion, and, in order to expedite tallying the final grade and quickly flying the coop, he only required final exams of those students who didn’t already have an A average.

Professor Storer was, apparently, a bit more rigorous in his course requirements.  According to Dr. Barnett, Storer required students to read an entire book in French for each class meeting and would seal the requirement with a reading exam (I’m considering borrowing Professor Storer’s teaching methods).  One such book, which Dr. Barnett has a conserved as a memento of Professor Storer’s class, was Anatole France’s Le Crime de Silvestre Bonnard.

Dr. Barnett stayed at Vanderbilt to study medicine and joined the US Navy, with a rank of Lt. Colonel.