Marc Bertrand, 1933-2017

Academic who prized French popular and high culture is remembered

June 1, 2017
Marc Bertrand

A leading interpreter of French popular and high culture has died.

Marc Bertrand was born in Metz, France, in July 1933 and did military service in the French Army (1953-55) before pursuing his education in the US. He took bachelor’s and master’s degrees, followed by a PhD in Romance languages, at the University of California, Berkeley, before joining the faculty of Stanford University in 1966.

He was to remain there until retirement in 2000, when he became emeritus professor of French, but continued to visit the library virtually every day until recently, pursuing a research project on the representation of paintings in French novels. He also continued to teach students at the university and the local communities targeted by the Continuing Studies outreach programme.

Although he left his native country relatively young, Professor Bertrand claimed to “love Paris past and present” and enjoyed taking students to visit France, accompanied by his wife and daughter, as part of Stanford’s Bing Overseas Studies Program in Paris.

He published a full-length study of the writer and journalist Jean Prévost, L'Oeuvre de Jean Prévost (1968); Popular Culture in France: the Wolf and the Lamb: from the Old Regime to the Twentieth Century (1977) and Popular Traditions and Learned Culture in France from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century (1985). While he also wrote on canonical writers such as Voltaire and Flaubert and was working on a book about the contemporary French novel, he remained deeply committed to the value of using examples of popular culture in studying broader trends in cultural history.

Although deeply devoted to his students, Professor Bertrand was well known for his use of understatement. A particularly favourite phrase was pas mal (or “not bad”), and a cake bearing those words was once baked in his honour.

Ralph Hester, emeritus professor of French at Stanford, recalled Professor Bertrand’s “great culture, his intellectual curiosity, [and] his Gallic charm”. “Marc was quintessentially a French homme de gauche, generous and trustworthy,” Professor Hester said. “He was a superb colleague, a confrère and a faithful friend.”

Richard Schupbach, emeritus professor of Slavic languages and literatures at Stanford, praised Professor Bertrand for an “impeccable sense for the absurdity of life” that always enabled him to produce the perfect pithy response to current political events and controversies.

Professor Bertrand died on 28 April as a result of heart problems and is survived by his wife, a daughter and two grandchildren.

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