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From no strange land (AlumBlog)

vendredi 26 septembre 2014   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Anders Elf (Dept. of English, Ecolint)
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‘My sister and I were walking up the path to the school for the first time.’ Fredrika and Helen are about to start their first year at La Grande Boissière. They stop to laugh at the ‘cows in the field across the road’. It is 1930.

From No Strange Land is a memoir of life at Ecolint between 1930 and 1935. Fredrika Tuttle Blair-Hastings wrote it at college when she was nineteen, and it is indeed a teenager’s and student’s point of view that we get. We feel her development from a thirteen-year-old nervous newcomer to a more confident and mature last-year student. We understand what it was like to be a student back then, and sense the optimism in Europe between the wars, the idealism, the idea that peace was possible.

Salle de classe, Ecolint, 1930s
An Ecolint classroom in the 1930s.

Fredrika was talented as a writer. Her anecdotes and reflections convey the atmosphere both in and out of the classroom. She is a great observer and knows how to select details. As she describes a typical classroom, she notes that the pale green desks ‘were often inscribed with confessions’, such as ‘ “Pierre aime Mary-Helen” and underneath “Le pauvre. Il se fait des illusions” ’.

Sensitive to language issues

Bilingualism seems to have been a natural part of the school. Fredrika has classes in both English and French, and the students are sensitive to language issues. When she is elected to write a play with another student at the end of her first year, they choose to dramatise the Norman Conquest with the scenes set in France in French and the scenes in England in English. For the coronation scene, they had the bishop who crowned William speak Latin, as both Saxons and Normans were on stage.

There are many memorable portraits of teachers and students, and several chapters devoted to the Head Mistress, Mme Maurette, and her father, ‘the white-bearded patriarch’ Paul Dupuy. He was Fredrika’s teacher of ‘International Culture’, and had come to Ecolint after his retirement to help his daughter run the school. Fredrika and her sister had already been to six different schools, and saw themselves ‘as immune to School Spirit’. Mme Maurette proved them wrong. Upon entering her office with their mother, the Head Mistress started interviewing the girls. ‘That was already a difference’, Fredrika writes, as previously, ‘conversations of this sort were usually carried on between principal and parent with the children sitting by, mute and cautious.’

Jilting boys

There is so much in this autobiographical account: gossip, social intrigue, Escalade parties, theatre plays and the importance of boys. Fredrika tells us that ‘jilting boys was a sign of a strong moral character’, but is still shocked when a friend says: ‘ “He worships me, poor child...I’m afraid I shall have to stop seeing him,” in the tone of: “Poor Rover has the mange: we will have to put him out of his misery.” ’ The girls do not care about the boys per se, but crave their attention as a means of gaining status among themselves. (I wish I had known all this forty years ago.)

Sadness creeps in at the end, partly because it is Fredrika’s last year, and she will have to part from her friends and the school, but mostly because of the political situation in Europe. There is a sense of doubt and despair as teachers and students ask themselves if it was right to educate children for peace in a world where war seemed inevitable.

Despite some poignant passages in the last chapter and in the Postscript, the prevailing mood is one of hope and enthusiasm. From No Strange Land is an uplifting account and an enjoyable read. Fredrika’s language is mature and rich. (She occasionally uses words such as ‘abeyance’ and ‘incur’.) There are several striking and beautiful passages where the reader has to stop and reflect; but mostly the language just flows, even though there are a few instances of unusual punctuation, an Ecolint tradition which is still with us today.

This memoir was rejected by publishers in the late 1930s ‘as being of too limited interest.’ However, it should be of great interest to most members of the Ecolint community. Fredrika continued to write after her college days, and is most well-known for her biography of Isadora Duncan, which was published in 1986.

Anders Elf, Department of English, Ecolint (La Grande Boissière)

 

 


 

 

Fredrika Blair-Tuttle died in 1990 at the age of 71. She had been living in California.

Copies of From No Strange Land will shortly be reprinted and made available in the Foundation's libraries. Alumni who wish to borrow a copy should contact the Alumni Office (alumni@ecolint.ch).

This article was originally published in the Ecolint Education Newsletter, September 2014.

 


 

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