Ronald C. Rosbottom (Ron)
Place of Birth:
New Orleans, LA
Phillips High School, Birmingham, AL
Tulane University, New Orleans, LA (BA)
Princeton University, Princeton, NY (MA, PhD)
Why did you choose to come to Amherst?
I was hired as Dean of the Faculty in 1989. I wanted to be closer to undergraduate education than I had at The Ohio State University.
Where else have you taught?
The University of Pennsylvania (1967-73), The Ohio State University (1973-1989)
What have you taught at Amherst?
A wide range of courses: intermediate French, a freshman seminar on the the history of Paris, French literature in translation, the history of the European city, the legends of Napoleon, European literature from the Renaissance to today, World War II in European literature and film, the eighteenth-century French and English novel, art history and literature of the Enlightenment, and a course on autobiography.
How did you come to this subject?
Paris, first, then the Occupation. I have spent more time in Paris as an adult than in any other city in the world. I decided about fifteen years ago to offer a first-year seminar at Amherst College on "Pariscapes," that is, the real and imagined Paris since 1850. Naturally, the Occupation, four thickly studied and complexly remembered years, drew my attention to the major question: what was it like for the world's most beloved city to be occupied by the world's most heinous ideology?
How is your book different from others of France, Paris, and the Occupation?
This is perhaps the question most asked of me. First, it's in English, and to my knowledge though there may be non-fictional books in English on the Occupation of France, none concentrates on Paris, and especially on the day-to-day lives of Germans and Parisians living in intimacy.
That is my subject: what was it like, for a Parisian, to get up in the morning, walk out into familiar streets and boulevards, where the architectural environment was the same, but into a city that he and his government no longer controlled? And what was it like to be assigned to serve in the City of Light for the German solider, bureaucrat, and general?
They have been wide, but I began as a student of the French and English Enlightenments (the 18th century). I have published or edited, besides When Paris Went Dark, five monographs and editions on 18th-century literature, about 25 articles, and over 100 book reviews. This is my first foray into modern history.
For someone who reads 75-100 books a year, that is an impossible question, but let me give a few titles. Sebald, Austerlitz, Flaubert, Madame Bovary, Némirovsky, Suite Française. But, ask me again in a week.
Interesting question after the previous one; can one have a favorite author whose books do not count among his favorites?! Hmm. Proust, Sherwood Anderson, Faulkner.
Tips for aspiring (and active) writers:
Don't let a day go by without writing. I do not follow this rule, except when I'm working on a project. But I should. AND, if you are writing a novel or a history, NEVER leave it behind for more than two days. Remembering where you were when that phone rang is murder!
How did you become an author?
I have taken two paths as an author. The first, and easiest, was to listen to, read, and imitate my academic mentors. The university presses are set up to recognize that style; once their committees have approved your subject and your manuscript, they leave you alone, for the most part.
Writing for a "trade press," that is, a press that aims to sell thousands of books to a wide and varied public is a whole other kettle of fish. In general, these publishers suspect you came to them handicapped because you were an academic author. They want your expertise, but don't want you to flaunt it. Information should never trump readability.
Next, they want stories; they are inveterate searchers for the story line, and chronology is not a story line. I've enjoyed both strategies, and was fortunate to find fellow travellers at Little, Brown.