Je Ne Parle Pas Francais | Summary and Analysis

Summary of Je Ne Parle Pas Francais by Katherine Mansfield

Je Ne Parle Pas Francais by Katherine Mansfield is an engaging story that explores the themes of sexual ambiguityvictimization, and multifaceted lives of individuals. Raoul Duquette, an aspiring French writer, is the narrator of Katherine Mansfield’s short story “Je Ne Parle Pas Français.” Duquette is one of Mansfield’s most intriguing characters. He’s the only first-person narrator she’s ever used in any of her stories, which makes this one of the most intriguing. The theme of sexual ambiguityvictimization, and dual lives is explored in this short story. The story was first published by the Heron Press and later that year, an excised version appeared in Bliss and Other Stories.

Je Ne Parle Pas Francais | Summary

According to the narrator, his life truly began when he moved into his first apartment. Before that moment, he was not the person he is now. Raoul discovered for the first time in that apartment that he could finally define himself. He’d be a budding author who’d write a book that would astound the critics. His writing abilities are undeniable, especially in the way he tells his own story. He appears to have made a decent living as a result of his abilities. Despite this, he appears to have little else going on in his life besides writing. Raoul describes his appearance in great detail, comparing himself to a small woman in a café who must introduce herself with a handful of photographs. He attributes this to his submerged existence. He reveals himself to be a romanticist, as well as an imaginative and sensitive man. He makes it clear that he is a loner here; he thinks he is brilliant and important because of his writing, but that is all. Raoul, on the other hand, simply drifts through life. His only source of income is the beauty of his creations and his imagination. In some ways, he’s still the same little boy he was when he started. He has, however, learned to move on and not dwell on the past. This practice has undoubtedly aided him in establishing a solid literary career. Raoul tells the story of what made the café where he writes this story so special to him after his rather lengthy introduction. It concerns the first true friend he ever made. He orders whisky, despite his dislike for it, because he is convinced that he must write about an Englishman. Dick Harmon, an Englishman, is his first true friend. Raoul writes about how he met Dick while drinking his whisky thoughtfully. They met at an editor’s party, where Dick was the only Englishman in attendance, making him stand out immediately. Raoul was immediately enthralled by Dick’s story.

When Raoul enquires about the host, he learns that Dick is a writer who specializes in modern French literature. Raoul happened to be a young, serious writer who was specializing in modern English literature. It’s strange how Raoul seems to refer to Dick as a romantic interest rather than a friend. However, given Raoul’s hermitic nature, it would be completely unfair to blame him for feeling otherwise. Regardless, the two quickly became fast friends, sharing a lot of common ground in terms of their professions and favourite topics of conversation. Raoul tells Dick things about himself that no one else knows when the two meet for dinner. These are likely things he doesn’t tell the reader, and Dick becomes his confidante. It’s unclear whether Dick believes much of what Raoul senses. Raoul admits that they were both a little tipsy at the time. But it’s still a big deal for Raoul because he’d never found anyone else with whom he felt so at ease. Raoul is irritated that Dick did not inform him sooner as he rushes to England to take care of some important business. After receiving Dick’s letter a few days later, he doesn’t receive another one for several months. 

Raoul has almost forgotten about Dick by that point, as per his rule of not looking back. Raoul practices a part in front of his mirror before meeting Dick and his lady friend, Mouse. This is to give the impression that he is far more successful than he is. For the first time in his life, he is truly enthralled by a woman when he meets Mouse. He then receives a nice letter from Dick, followed by another letter informing him that he will be returning indefinitely and, if he so desires, moving in with a woman and Raoul himself. Raoul arrives at the train station after being bothered by his concierge, where he meets Dick and the woman, Mouse. They then take a taxi together to a hotel. Mouse orders tea and Dick asks Raoul to mail a letter to his mother after having Dick assist the garçon with the luggage up the stairs. Mouse begins to cry and admits that her relationship with Dick is strained. Raoul later reads aloud a letter from Dick to Mouse in which he announces his breakup with her. She is despondent. After what happens between her and Dick, the whole thing comes to a sad conclusion. Although it appears that Raoul and Mouse could have continued their relationship, the extreme awkwardness of the situation caused him to never return to their lodgings. Despite his best efforts to put the past behind him, he can’t stop thinking about Mouse. When Raoul sees the phrase “Je ne parle pas Français” scribbled in green ink on the bottom of a mundane piece of paper, he is overcome by the memory.

Je Ne Parle Pas Francais | Analysis

And besides, I’ve no patience with people who can’t let go of things, who will follow after and cry out. When a thing’s gone, it’s gone. It’s over and done with. Let it go then ! Ignore it, and comfort yourself, if you do want comforting, with the thought that you never do recover the same thing that you lose. It’s always a new thing. The moment it leaves you it’s changed. Why, that’s even true of a hat you chase after; and I don’t mean superficially–I mean profoundly speaking . . . I have made it a rule of my life never to regret and never to look back.

This short story has been interpreted in various ways by various commentators due to the obliqueness required by the era. It could be interpreted as a reflection on the influence of mass media on reality, or on how people interpret reality. Because mass media was still in its infancy at the time, Mansfield demonstrates some foresight into the impact it would have on us all in the future. It’s also a story about the dangers of deceptionValue without power can be enticing, but power without value can be crippling. Raoul Duquette, an aspiring French writer, tells Katherine Mansfield’s short story “Je Ne Parle Pas Français.” One of Mansfield’s most intriguing characters is Duquette. He’s the only first-person narrator she’s ever used in any of her stories, which makes this one of the most intriguing. Because he is the character through whom we see the entire story, analyzing a first-person narrator should be simple. The reader’s knowledge, on the other hand, is limited to Duquette’s perceptions. As a result, it is a little more difficult than it appears at first. We must come to understand why Duquette interprets the world the way he does because the reader only sees the world through Duquette’s eyes. He is, in the end, a flawed man who only ever truly shares himself through his writing. The story is said to begin in a seedy café with an author attempting to write a story. 

He notices the words ‘Je ne parle pas francais’ scribbled on a piece of blotting paper as he looks around for stimuli, and this triggers a memory. The result is a story about a ‘friendship’ with an English author in Paris with strong homosexual overtones, and how this man Dick Harmon, first betrays the story’s narrator by returning to England unexpectedly, and then betrays his young female lover by abandoning her in the French capital city following their elopement from England. To begin with, the narrator, Duquette, is a vile person. He is conceited and thinks instead of feeling. As a result, he is Mansfield’s inverse. It’s also possible that Katherine Mansfield would have identified with Duquette and Mouse in turn. Mansfield, like Duquette, was a theatre artist who enjoyed hanging out in cafes watching people and was a member of the community. And she’d certainly gone through the emotions we might expect Mouse to go through in this story, being alone in a foreign country where she didn’t speak the language and cut off from everything she knew to be home.

“Waiter, a whisky.”

I hate whisky. Every time I take it into my mouth my stomach rises against it, and the stuff they keep here is sure to be particularly vile. I only ordered it because I am going to write about an Englishman. We French are incredibly old-fashioned and out of date still in some ways. I wonder I didn’t ask him at the same time for a pair of tweed knickerbockers, a pipe, some long teeth, and a set of ginger whiskers.

‘Je Ne Parle Pas Français’ signals its adherence to more contemporary models by subverting long-established conventions. There is also a representation of Englishness and Mansfield uses phrases like un-French to describe certain instances that resemble the English lifestyle. Raoul’s ‘moment,’ is the result of a distorted mindset, wherein the romantic is charged with spiritual and artistic significance. Mansfield makes it clear that the 

little phrase “Je ne parle pas français” that he finds scribbled on a writing pad in the cafe, and which he associates with the young Englishwoman Mouse, triggered his grand experience. Mouse, alone in foreign capital and abandoned by her boyfriend, is let down by Raoul as well. This means he got his thrill from humiliating a helpless young woman. This morally dubious moment has no parallel in the transcendent nature of the romantic epiphany. Raoul’s’ moment left him in agony rather than inspiration. Mansfield subverts not only the visionary moment but also the Romantic image of the artist. Raoul’s narcissism, his status as a social outcast—as evidenced by several minor incidents—his voyeurism and willingness to exploit others, and his unhealthy obsession with intense feelings all distinguish him as a romantic parody. Wrong DoorsFalse Coins, and Left Umbrellas are all titles of his works that confirm this status.


Je Ne Parle Pas Francais | Themes

The theme of sexual ambiguity, victimization, and dual lives is explored in this short story. Sexual ambiguity and victimization are two major themes in the story. Each of the three main characters’ sexual orientation is twisted or ambiguous in some way. Raoul Duquette, the story’s narrator, was molested by an African laundress when he was a child, starting when he was ten years old. This seduction, which occurs once a week throughout the narrator’s childhood, leads to the narrator’s character being corrupted—most notably by encouraging him to associate sexual adventure with reward. The relationship also sets the stage for Raoul’s shiftiness as an adult. It also delves into a deeper theme: the two lives lead by the narrator: one of performance and artifice and the other of authenticity. Other characters in the story are also living dual lives. Mouse has lied to her friends about her marriage. Dick eventually abandons Mouse while his original precedent was to start a new life with her.

Je Ne Parle Pas Francais | Character Sketch

Raoul Duquette – Raoul is the story’s narrator. He is a Parisian who enjoys sitting in a café. He studies English literature. He has published Wrong DoorsFalse Coins, and Left Umbrellas and is attempting to make living as a writer. He’s a flawed individual who can only truly share himself through his writing. He appears to be a narcissist and betrays Mouse.

Dick Harmon- Dick is Raoul’s friend. He is an Englishman and he loves his mother so much that he carries a picture of her with him. He elopes with his beloved Mouse only to abandon her in France.

Mouse – Mouse is Dick’s girlfriend. She elopes with Dick to France and lies to her friend about her marriage with Dick. She confesses to Raoul that they are having problems in their relationship only to later find out that she has been abandoned by her beloved.

Je Ne Parle Pas Francais | Title of the Story

“Je Ne Parle Pas Francais” literally translates to “I don’t speak French”. The narrator finds the phrase “Je ne parle pas français,” scribbled on a writing pad in the cafe and associates it with the young Englishwoman Mouse, which turns out to be the catalyst for his grand experience. Mouse, who is alone in a foreign capital and has been abandoned by her boyfriend, is also betrayed by Raoul. 

Je Ne Parle Pas Francais | Literary Devices

“Je ne parle pas français” is a great example of “unreliable narration.” The viewpoint of the character is revealed through the technique of internal monologue. Raoul Duquette is a self-aware comic character, though he keeps certain details to himself for his safety. Mansfield is using narrative irony. She creates a disconnect between what the reader knows and what the viewpoint of the characters is. Raoul Duquette is a more complex and untrustworthy narrator. Melodrama appeals to him. With a mix of flamboyant cynicism, phoney self-awareness, and cutting observations, he wins us over. Duquette has a habit of inventing characters for himself and others. Life is a stage for Duquette. This creates a microcosm in which the narrative takes place- a story within a story with Mouse and Dick Harmon. “Je ne parle pas français” employs language to expose language, constructing a language that will also serve metaphorically — as an embodiment of the threat of presence in this case. The stage metaphor then leads us to a deeper theme about the two lives we live: one of performance and artifice and the other of authenticity.


Je Ne Parle Pas Francais | About the Author

Katherine Mansfield, is one of New Zealand’s most well-known authors. She was a writer, essayist, and journalist. Mansfield’s creative years were marked by loneliness, illness, jealousy, and alienation, all of which are reflected in her work through the bitter depiction of her middle-class characters’ marital and family relationships. 





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