Maurice GONNAUD, who presided over the destinies of the French Association between 1973 and 1980, became the third president of EAAS, after A.N.J den Hollander and Harry C. Allen. From 1980 to 1984, he worked for our common good along with vice-president Sergio Perosa, secretary Hans Bungert and treasurer Rob Kroes. He died on August 16, 2017. He was 92.
A highly principled scholar and citizen, a man of conviction, culture, measure and rectitude, generous with his time and dedicated to the joint cause of intellectual pursuit and European cooperation, he had studied classics before he turned to English at the end of the war, a legacy that shone through in his written prose and oral delivery, in his most urbane manners.
Begun while he taught at Bryn Mawr, his intellectual biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson, a lifelong concern, was defended by Maurice in 1964 but republished only in 1987 (Individu et société dans l'oeuvre de Ralph Waldo Emerson : essai de biographie spirituelle, Paris: Didier, 539 p. ) and only came out in translation, to great acclaim, in 2014 ( An Uneasy Solitude: Individual and Society in the Work of Ralph Waldo Emerson , Princeton Legacy Library), a belated but much deserved homage to this aging scholar. In it, he tried to come to terms with the sense of puzzlement he felt at first reading English Traits, to account for the strange "mixture of historical frescoes and crudely personal intrusions, instantaneous observations and waves of references and quotations", to understand an "incoherent alliance" of "peaceable egotism" and freshness that challenged his own "critical categories". Stating in hindsight one of his constant preoccupations, Maurice wrote in 2004 that what he most appreciated while doing this work was the necessity he thus faced "to unlearn a number of thought mechanisms long imprinted in [himself]" (Special issue of Revue Française d'Etudes Américaines, n° 100, 2004).
Indeed, such an attitude was probably the main reason for which, in all the functions he scrupulously fulfilled while never derogating from his own moral principles, he elicited such trust and commanded such respect. His curiosity, desire to learn from others and ability to listen never left him.
A subtle and learned analyst of nineteenth-century American literature (he also notably co-authored, with Jean Béranger, La Littérature américaine
jusqu'en 1865, Paris : Armand Colin, 1974, and published numerous articles on that period), he had begun his career at the University of Dijon (1953-1959) and been a research fellow at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (1959-1961). He was elected Full Professor at the University of Lumière-Lyon II in 1961, a position he held till his retirement in 1986, after a year as Visiting Professor at Harvard in 1985, where he gave a lecture ("Democratic aesthetics") that became the basis for his latest contribution to the field, published in Transatlantica (https://transatlantica.revues.org/1206).
Our friendship began nearly 40 years ago, while we worked daily together for the better part of two years, organizing the 1982 Paris EAAS conference, not without a host of difficulties, as neither Maurice nor I taught at a Parisian university at the time. After he retired and we no longer met on professional grounds, we often corresponded and I tried, until last year, to go and see him in Ecully (near Lyon), where he lived, as often as I could. I will never forget the warm hug and encouragement he gave me in 2004 when I succeeded Josef Jarab as President of EAAS, nor the delightful welcome Mrs Gonnaud and he gave their visitors.
Only two weeks ago, I spoke to them on the phone. Maurice had just sent to the press a couple of well-weighed, principled letters dealing with current events. He sometimes had trouble standing, but still could take a stand. Not much white hair on his head ; none on his mind.
Having known him was a privilege and a joy.
Condolences can be addressed to Madame Gonnaud at the address below.
Résidence Korian Jardins d'Hestia
Route des pierres blanches
Photo credit: Jean Kempf