Fondness for All Things French

Photo: Courtesy Bertrand Family

Although Marc Bertrand, professor emeritus of French, officially retired from Stanford in 2000, it wasn’t unusual to see him in Green Library, engrossed in French culture, history and literature. His wife, Vida Bertrand, PhD ’71, says the library was “his second home, and he became upset when it was closed for school vacations.” Even as his health failed, Bertrand visited Green Library almost daily to research representations of French paintings in French novels. A native of Metz, France, he joined Stanford's French department in 1966 and taught undergraduates and graduate students, as well as students in Stanford’s Continuing Studies program.

Marc Bertrand died of heart disease at his campus home on April 28. He was 83.

Bertrand served in the French army from 1953 to 1955, and came to the United States to pursue his education. He earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree along with a PhD in romance languages from UC-Berkeley. Once he arrived at Stanford, Bertrand taught not only French but also Italian, and he immersed himself in France’s popular traditions, history and culture. He and Vida, a lecturer whom he met in Stanford’s French department, often accompanied his students on trips to France.

Bertrand’s best-known work is L’Oeuvre de Jean Prévost, his biography of the French journalist. He published Popular Traditions and Learned Culture in France from the 16th Centuryto the 20th Century in 1985 and authored many articles about French notables, including Gustave Flaubert, Claude Bernard and Voltaire. 

“My husband was both intellectual and kind, and passionate about knowledge,” Vida Bertrand says. “He knew absolutely everything about Paris one could know—every nook and cranny—and he loved exposing his students to Parisian culture, art and history. But something many people don’t know about Marc is that he was extremely socially and politically engaged. He cared deeply about the welfare and treatment of his fellow human beings, and his writing reflected his feelings. Education was his lifelong passion.”

His daughter, Ariane, said her father inspired her to be curious about life. “He instilled in me the importance of the love of learning and the joy of being fascinated by things and sharing them with people.”

After his retirement, Bertrand continued to teach undergraduates and Continuing Studies students, and he enjoyed his hobbies, which included gardening, French films and classical music. 

Bertrand is survived by his wife, his daughter and two grandchildren, Luc and Sophie.

Julie Muller Mitchell, '79, is a writer in San Francisco.