6 thoughts on “Léon-François Hoffmann

  1. Patti Marxsen

    I am a writer & independent scholar of Haitian Studies who has published a number of articles on Haitian Lit. My most recent project is the first critical biography in English of Jacques Roumain (1907-1944), which will be published by Caribbean Studies Press in 2019. This work would simply not have been possible without Léon-François Hoffmann’s long parcours and enormous effort in editing Roumain’s Oeuvres complètes (2003). I have two copies of this tome for nearly 5 years, one on each side of the Atlantic. As I told Prof. Hoffmann last winter when I wrote to thank him, I think I’ve almost read every word. He replied swiftly to tell me he was ill but hoped to live long enough to read my book. I was touched–and remain touched–by his generous spirit. He will not be reading my book, but he will be “present” there as the one person to whom it will be dedicated. Rest in Peace.

  2. Nina Shapiro

    Dear Anne and Hoffmann family,
    My sincere condolences on your loss and the loss of such a great scholar. One of our great library users and true scholars!
    May your memories of Leon-Francois bring you comfort in this difficult time.
    With love and respect,
    Nina Gorky Shapiro, former Slavic Bibliographer

  3. Claudine Jean-Baptiste

    I was privileged to be a student of Professor Hoffmann back in 2003 at Princeton. I was struck not only by his scholarship on Haitian literature but also by his profound interest and attachment for my culture. I remember that he distinctly had an embroidered “vèvè” on every shirt. Imagine that, a French man proudly displaying a vodou symbol on his shirt! He was more Haitian than most of us. Thank you Professor!

  4. James Alley

    Dear family of Professor Léon-François Hoffmann:

    I was in two of Professor Hoffman’s classes, first when he precepted one of the sections of the French lit survey course I qualified for as a freshman (French 202, 1715 to the present), and then when I took his French Romantic lit course (317) the next fall. When I read of his passing in the most recent Princeton Alumni Weekly, and then followed it up by looking up his name online, I was struck among other things by his specialization in Haitian literature, one of many aspects of his career I had known nothing about. How sad and true it is, as I have discovered all too often in my varied and generally non-academic life, how much there is to the lives of people one may meet, long after it is no longer possible to see or talk with them.

    Of course I took for granted his scholarly credentials, though I had no idea how far they extended, simply because of who he was and where he taught. For me, he seemed to be a quintessential Frenchman — toujours habitue en noir, lively, opinionated, and very frank but just in his comments and evaluations of one’s work. I was taking French lit out of habit, having done so in high school, but was headed toward physics — and then later history — as a major, rather than French. I did passably well in his courses, but was hardly one of his knowledgeable and outstanding students. In his non-lecture preceptorials, he required an expose from each student by turn, on the subject of the week. I had to do one on Voltaire’s Candide. It was the first exposes I had ever attempted, and it was a disaster. “Vous avez fait exactement ce que je vous ai defendu de faire!” — that is, I simply summarized the book, apart from a marginally redeeming observation I made at the end. He gave me a chance to redeem myself a week or two later, with Chateaubriand’s Atala et Rene. With what trepidation I prepared the class! I arrived a little early, and the other six or seven students in the class arrived — but not Professor Hoffman. We all talked a little, and then left after about 20 minutes, apparently standard Princeton practice at the time if a class leader did not show. Not sure what next to do, I went over to the departmental office to see about a re-scheduling. In the secretary’s office was none other than the professor himself. He looked at me, and before I had barely explained my errand, he burst out: “Ah ce precepte! J’ai COMPLETEMENT oublie! Ma femme est venue d’avoir des enfants! J’ai completement oublie!”

    I do not remember exactly how the rest of the semester went, except that I did reasonably OK in the final paper and exam, and did OK in the French 317 class the next semester. Over the years, when I was around French students or in France travelling, I would have occasion to recount this above episode, because of the vividness of the scene. His exclamation, which echoed then, still echoes in my mind as I type this little remembrance.

    And I smile. I have concluded from reading the obituary information in the past week, which referred to two sons, that the sons mentioned must have been twins (“des enfants!” he cried out, a plural) — and that they must have been born about April 1966.

    May God bless you, the family he leaves behind. I may have been but a minuscule part of his Princeton career and life in general, but I am grateful to have somehow met him, and will remember him with fondness and gratitude. — James Alley, Princeton Class of 1969

  5. James Alley

    Dear family of Professor Léon-François Hoffmann:

    I was in two of Professor Hoffman’s classes, first when he precepted one of the sections of the French lit survey course I qualified for as a freshman (French 202, 1715 to the present), and then when I took his French Romantic lit course (317) the next fall. When I read of his passing in the most recent Princeton Alumni Weekly, and then followed it up by looking up his name online, I was struck among other things by his specialization in Haitian literature, one of many aspects of his career I had known nothing about. How sad and true it is, as I have discovered all too often in my varied and generally non-academic life, how much there is to the lives of people one may meet, long after it is no longer possible to see or talk with them.

    Of course I took for granted his scholarly credentials, though I had no idea how far they extended, simply because of who he was and where he taught. For me, he seemed to be a quintessential Frenchman — toujours habitue en noir, lively, opinionated, and very frank but just in his comments and evaluations of one’s work. I was taking French lit out of habit, having done so in high school, but was headed toward physics — and then later history — as a major, rather than French. I did passably well in his courses, but was hardly one of his knowledgeable and outstanding students. In his non-lecture preceptorials, he required an expose from each student by turn, on the subject of the week. I had to do one on Voltaire’s Candide. It was the first exposes I had ever attempted, and it was a disaster. “Vous avez fait exactement ce que je vous ai defendu de faire!” — that is, I simply summarized the book, apart from a marginally redeeming observation I made at the end. He gave me a chance to redeem myself a week or two later, with Chateaubriand’s Atala et Rene. With what trepidation I prepared the class! I arrived a little early, and the other six or seven students in the class arrived — but not Professor Hoffman. We all talked a little, and then left after about 20 minutes, apparently standard Princeton practice at the time if a class leader did not show. Not sure what next to do, I went over to the departmental office to see about a re-scheduling. In the secretary’s office was none other than the professor himself. He looked at me, and before I had barely explained my errand, he burst out: “Ah ce precepte! J’ai COMPLETEMENT oublie! Ma femme est venue d’avoir des enfants! J’ai completement oublie!”

    I do not remember exactly how the rest of the semester went, except that I did reasonably OK in the final paper and exam, and did OK in the French 317 class the next semester. Over the years, when I was around French students or in France travelling, I would have occasion to recount this above episode, because of the vividness of the scene. His exclamation, which echoed then, still echoes in my mind as I type this little remembrance.

    And I smile. I have concluded from reading the obituary information in the past week, which referred to two sons, that the sons mentioned must have been twins (“des enfants!” he cried out, a plural) — and that they must have been born about April 1966.

    May God bless you, the family he leaves behind. I may have been but a minuscule part of his Princeton career and life in general, but I am grateful to have somehow met him, and will remember him with fondness and gratitude. — James Alley, Princeton Class of 1969

  6. Robert Skarda

    I took French during my first semester in college here in California, and the required text (one of them) was “L’essentiel”. I still have that copy, underlined and highlighted. I kept it because it is clear, concise and very useful…I still refer to it when I am stumped by some question of grammar in this sometimes enervating language. I was so surprised that Prof Hoffmann was still living, fifty years after I took that French class! What an extraordinary career. I am better off for having read (and absorbed, I hope) his grammar, and I’m sure that generations of students will profit from his work(s).

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