Oh My Past…Memoirs of a Child [Unknown Manuscript Translation of the Autobiography of French writer Hughes Robert Charles Henri Le Roux].
The demise of France’s “Magnificent Male”
Hughes Robert Charles Henri Le Roux (1860–1925) was a French writer of travel literature and French colonies, a journalist, and an intimate of official French circles. How did he come to mingle with Gertrude Stein and other American expatriates in 1914 in the Paris Left Bank? A clue may be in the survival of this manuscript.
Le Roux came to America from France in February 1902 to deliver a series of eight lectures on “The French Novel and French Society” to the Cercle Français at Harvard University. He delivered almost 100 other lectures throughout the United States including other Ivy League schools. In France, Le Roux knew the novelist Gustave Flaubert, a family friend. He was novelist Alphonse Daudet’s secretary.
Le Roux’s Oh My Past…Memoirs of a Child, is an English-language translation of O Mon Passé, his memoir of his childhood in Normandy, first published in Paris in 1896. Its translator, Edith Cornell Smith, was married to a Harvard graduate. She may have become aware of Le Roux through his public lectures, subsequently his writings, and then decided then to translate his memoir. Other reasons, based upon social class and circles may have been at work.
Edith Cornell Smith (1850–1932) was the daughter of George J. Cornell. In 1886, she married Sandford Sidney Smith. Mr. Smith was a Harvard graduate and an 1872 graduate of the Columbia College Law School. He eventually joined his brother’s law firm. The firm became Elliot & S. Sidney Smith, and operated at 59 Wall Street, Manhattan. Edith was Smith’s second wife and his cousin.
By marriage, Edith would have been socially connected to a wealthy New York woman and journalist who would marry Le Roux. This was Bessie van Vorst.
Like Edith, Bessie admired and was a translator of Le Roux’s writings. She translated Le Roux’s Magda, Queen of Sheba in 1907:
With her nose in the air, the New York sophisticate Bessie van Vorst traveled down to the South to report on child labor…Everywhere in the South she found little children — homespun, impoverished, and newly off the land— working in the mills…[She] found a different story in New England[‘s textile mills but]... under-aged children still worked in the Northern mills by lying about their age. More a muckracking journalist then reformer, Bessie Van Vorst soon abandoned her mission to expose the abuses of women and children in the workplace. She settled in Paris and, in 1914, mingled with the ex-patriate American community, including Gertrude Stein, and married Hughes Robert Charles Henri Larue, explorer, collector of animal trophies, writer, and an editor of Le Matin. (p75)
Perhaps Gertrude Stein made Le Roux feel nervous. Married to an independent and progressive American woman, journalist, and reformer, Le Roux still lamented the demise of France’s “Magnificent Male” because of the “new hermaphrodites.” By Le Roux’s definition:
[T]hese were the large number of men and women who in the turmoil of contemporary France seemed to have lost all gender identity. Women, he claimed, had become masculinized—mostly through education— and men feminized to the point that they both appeared to meet in a uniquely French space of gender neutrality. (Berenson, p116)
An English translation of this autobiography has never been published.
Description: Oh My Past…Memoirs of a Child [Unknown Manuscript Translation of the Autobiography of French writer Hughes Robert Charles Henri Le Roux].
[Likely New York. After 1896]. ff., i.e. pp. Unbound manuscript. 81⁄2 x 7 x 31⁄2 inches. Includes a 2pp. manuscript commentary of the translation. Toning; staining and soiling; some losses to first and final leaves; very good. Archival box.
Refs. The New York Times, Nov. 24, 1901 and July 5, 1908. Public Opinion, February 13, 1902. The Sixth Report of the Secretary of the Class of 1870 of Harvard College (Cambridge, 1895). Sandford Sidney Smith’s portrait in Notable New Yorkers of 1896–1899 (New York, 1899). Rosenberg, Child Labor in America (McFarland & Co, 2013). Berenson, The Trial of Madame Caillaux (Berekeley, 1992).