Marc Lapprand made a knight of French culture and education

Marc Lapprand

Three decades of research into a cult figure of French literature has earned Professor Marc Lapprand one of France’s highest honours for culture and education.

In March, the Department of French Chair was made a chevalier (knight) of the Ordre des Palmes académiques, a national order of France for distinguished academics that was originally founded by the Emperor Napoléon.

Lapprand received the distinction for his work on the French modernist writer Boris Vian, whom Lapprand described as a “blend of Lewis Carroll, Richard Brautigan and James Joyce, if compared to an English speaking writer." Lapprand was also praised for his significant contribution as a professor to the promotion of French culture outside of France.

Vian wrote 10 novels, three books of poetry, more than 60 short stories, 10 theatre plays, half a dozen operas, more than 30 "movie scenarios," three volumes on jazz and about 500 songs before dying in 1959 at age 39.

"I wrote my PhD thesis on him, which I defended in 1989. I've been working on him for 30 years," Lapprand says.

Lapprand, who specializes in 20th-century French literature, says Vian has cult status in France, especially among young people. In 2010, leading French publisher Gallimard published a critical edition of Vian's work, which included his entire prose works along with more than 1200 footnotes. Over four years, Lapprand supervised the team that produced the highly regarded Gallimard edition, which has gone onto sell more than 40,000 copies.

"These books will appeal to erudite readers or very curious readers. It contains a load of information you don't normally get in a published book," he says. "It is by far my most published achievement."

Lapprand has published three books on Vian, as well as 14 articles and more than 20 prefaces or introductions for other scholarly works on the writer. Lapprand will be awarded his medal at an official ceremony in September.

"It's an unexpected recognition but I'll take it. I'm very pleased for the department and for the faculty as well," he says.

Two other former members of the French Department have received the honour in the past, Barrie Beardsmore and Danielle Thaler.