Before Christmas, we caught up with Mary Munro-Hill (MA French, 1986), who has had a long and multi-faceted relationship with the University of Hull throughout her life and career. Having been a student, a representative on the University Court, a Quaker Chaplain, a Church of England Reader and a life-long friend of the University, Mary describes the years 1985-1986 at the University as a changing point in her life. Mary is now an Honorary Fellow at the University and in this piece she tells us about the books she has written in recent years, a series of literary and linguistic commentaries on French grammarians and writers.
All my life I have loved languages, both classical and modern, and, above all, French. At Bedford College, University of London, I studied for a French Honours degree (1964) with subsidiary Latin (1963). Again at the University of London, I graduated in 1982 with an Honours Degree in Theology (BD). Wishing to add to my theological studies I completed an MTh at Lampeter in 2017.
I have been aware of the University of Hull all my life: I had friends at school who were daughters of Professors and in 1968 I married someone who had graduated from Hull when it was still the University College of Hull, an external College of the University of London. For many years I represented the AAM on the University Court.
In 1985 I was pleased to be seconded to the University to study for an MA in French, for which I submitted a dissertation on Aristide, the well-known grammarian at the newspaper Le Figaro, whose language articles I had always enjoyed. When I wrote to him about my research, having discovered that Aristide was in fact Maurice Chapelan, the famous literary critic at Le Figaro, I was favoured with an enthusiastic reply: he was delighted to learn of my interest in his chroniques. We first met in August 1986 and soon formed a close friendship, which lasted until his death in 1992. Wishing to do further research into les chroniques du langage in the French press, I decided to enrol for a PhD at Hull in 1990, which I successfully completed in 1994. It was sad that Maurice did not live to see it.
It could be said that the year 1985-1986 at the University of Hull was a turning-point in my life, leading to my PhD and so much more. From 1995 until 2017, I taught a few hours of French language most weeks at the University. For six years I was the Quaker Chaplain (2007-2013) and the Church of England Reader licensed to the University. Some people find it odd that I can be both an Anglican and a Quaker but, for me, there is no conflict. Working with staff and students in these non-teaching roles was a new experience and one I enjoyed.
I have loved my association with the University and am now proud to be an Honorary Fellow. Since 1995 I have endeavoured to attend at least one graduation ceremony every year. My own (1986 and 1994) were memorable occasions.
In 2017, to mark the 25th anniversary of Maurice Chapelan’s death, I had my first book published: Aristide of Le Figaro, loosely based on my PhD thesis, revised and updated. In 2019 my second book on him appeared: Maurice Aristide Chapelan, Man of Three Parts — he was far more than a journalist, literary critic and grammarian, for he was also a biographer, poet, novelist and writer of aphorisms.
In the intervening year, 2018, I published a book on another famous French writer, Claude Duneton, who succeeded Aristide as grammarian at Le Figaro. I had first met him in 1994, when he was about to embark on his new career as chroniqueur du langage. He was very different from Maurice Chapelan but equally erudite. Claude died in 2012 and, wishing to honour him, I wrote my book, Claude Duneton, Chroniqueur at Le Figaro.
My most recent book, a further work on Maurice Chapelan, this time on his poetry and aphorisms, was published on 2nd December 2020. I have found it enriching to have known the people about whose works I have written and I believe this added dimension has made my books more readable.
After breakfast I do a couple of Killer Sudokus from The Times and then start writing and researching, breaking off to deal with correspondence and to take my daily walk. In normal times, I go out to lunch with friends and attend meetings of various bodies to which I belong. Sundays are taken up with church duties. Since March 2020, of course, everything has been disrupted and I have had more time than ever for writing, no longer going out to meetings but attending them on Zoom.
My books so far have been essentially linguistic and literary commentaries. I have now embarked on a fifth book, this time on my life in the Church of England — a kind of autobiography with an ecclesiastical framework.