Given to the British Association of Monaco in December 2004.
(The following interview-article, published in MONACO NEWS , the December 2004 issue, was written for the British Association of Monaco by Miss Lois Bolton, a Canada-born resident of the Principality, actively publishing in most of the English-language periodicals of the French Riviera.)
Even Jules Verne's Phileas Fogg would be hard put to keep up with C. George Sandulescu. George is Greek by origin, Rumanian by birth, Swedish by nationality, British by education, European by preference, and Monegasque by residence. Not surprisingly, given such an oddly mixed heritage, George's passion is languages: he speaks and writes in ten of them, and he understands several more.
Languages had come naturally to an inquiring lad closely connected to the Danube Delta, a major European traffic hub, where George's grandfather was one of the men in charge of the European Commission of the Danube (it was one of Europe’s absolutely biggest international port authorities at the time, before World War I ). As a youngster, George could identify twenty languages without understanding a word of any of them, without having seen them written, or without knowing anyone who spoke them; as he was a radio-listening addict on short waves, his ability lay in recognizing the way certain vowels and consonants were glued together. Which probably makes him one of the few people able to assimilate and enjoy the aesthetic values of the forty or so languages used in Joyce's Finnegans Wake, without mind-bending effort. "I took it to be a universal language book. I am one of the rare persons who reads Finnegans Wake for the multitude of languages rather than for the story."
Despite his precocious grasp of languages, George, as a young man, was torn between following a career in sciences or a career in the humanities. His ambivalence was nourished by admiration for his paternal uncle, Georges, a scientist after whom he was named, and a maternal uncle, Constantin Noica (to whom George owes his middle name), a well-known philosopher of the language (and a close friend of Eugene Ionesco, Emil Cioran and Mircea Eliade). "The scientists in the family were making patents, the humanists were publishing books. Uncle George was able to separate male and female hormones of which the contraceptive pill is a natural consequence. That procedure is well-known in French University text-books nowadays under the name of "La Methode Sandulesco pour la separation des hormones." In the 1930's, British and American Universities would write to him asking to buy a few grams of progesterone. My initial intention was to study medicine and endocrinology. One thing is wishful thinking. Materializing it is quite another matter."
Like so many children of his generation, George found his life radically altered by World War II. "I saw with my own eyes the Germans moving in, and then about four years afterwards, I saw them moving out ! Then I saw the British and the Americans -- a handful of them -- moving in (for our house in Bucharest was at a stone's throw from their respective Military Missions). And I saw the Russians moving in too -- in hordes --, but never saw them move out again.” After the world conflict, his father dead, the Sandulescu family moved to Sweden, by which time George had chosen the humanities over sciences, and English Studies "just because it hadn’t been forcibly imposed upon me !".
Attempting to sum up his subsequent career, the novelist Anthony Burgess -- George's personal friend of long standing -- described George as "a Joycean Scholar". But the definition is restrictive, as a glance at his website reveals. George's career specialization in the English language, and the corresponding English and Irish literatures, has led him to teaching positions in Swedish, British, Italian and American universities, as well as to the publication of 20 to 25 books, and more than 100 research papers. He was also Director of the Princess Grace Irish Library in Monaco for twelve solid years, during which time he organized about half a dozen International Congresses in the Principality, including the first ever International Conference on Oscar Wilde, one of George's "gang of four" Irish authors, along with Yeats, Joyce, and Beckett. "Some 2,000 papers and books and two or three major congresses are devoted every year to James Joyce, but not much at all to Oscar Wilde. I always wonder why…"
If asked to sum up his own career and his professional achievements, George is most likely to describe himself as a learner—rather than a teacher—and a bit of a trouble maker: "I like to ask the difficult questions, particularly the unanswerable ones!". Predictably, one of the areas he questions is Language. "We are watching languages -- all languages -- shrinking with every passing day. The Bible used 16,000 different words (but today’s people simplify it!), and Shakespeare used twice as many, but the average active speaker of today only resorts to much less than 5,000 words. And so does a radio or television announcer. Look at the so-called cultural area, look at the TV newsreaders and professional public speakers. "Public BARKING, " in George's own phrase, "strives towards Beckettian Minimalism, in its far more than stubborn quest for political correctness". For in Shakespeare's time practically everybody in the pit was largely illiterate. Did Shakespeare care ? “A good writer never writes down to public taste... The writer's job is to bring people up to another level. And then, Shakespeare could afford to be anti this and anti that, and get so easily away with it. But could we still afford to do it today ?"
In the past few years—ever since he had left the Director's job of the Princess Grace Library of Monaco—, the learner and trouble-maker has been moving into other fields, such as Communication Studies; his web site is one of the vehicles. "The phenomenon of communication is like health : when it is fully there, it doesn't exist! You, as an outsider, only know something is wrong when Communication collapses. And then, even wonder why !"