Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Gita May, a Belated Tribute

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Gita May, a Belated Tribute

Article excerpt

As is often the case when life separates the living, it is upon their death that one realizes how important the departed have been to one's personal development--and wishes they were still here to listen to a tribute that should not have been in memoriam.

Gita warmly welcomed me back in 1983, when, still inexperienced, I came to Columbia University as a young assistant professor in the French Department, my first academic position. At Columbia she immediately took me under her wing, mentoring and coaching me on the dos and don'ts of university decorum. As European-born women and fellow French scholars in adjoining centuries, we felt a kindred spirit. Her scholarship was stellar, as was her mentoring. To speak with her about Rousseau, Diderot, Madame Roland, Stendhal, and Madame Vigee-Lebrun was to engage in a thrilling intellectual exchange. She remained one of my staunchest supporters until I left Columbia in 1992 to accept a tenure-track position at NYU, and she would often thereafter still call on me to serve on thesis committees for the most promising students. She was and remains an inspiration to me in more ways than one.

I did not fully appreciate until much later the considerable challenges she faced and surmounted, first in her childhood during World War II, hiding from the Nazis and all the while maintaining her dignity, and later as one of the first women to serve in a full-time position and receive tenure at Columbia. …

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