Mme. Louise-Mathilde Glenn: You Can Start Again

by Frances Hurley Ryley '61

“I have a job for you, angel.” Madame Louise-Mathilde Glenn, professor of French language and literature, quickly escorted me, a third-year student that spring of 1960, into an atelier in her home, near the College. She put a sewing machine at my disposal, with a melange of material on the floor. With staged carelessness, this petite dynamo (who began each day with a swim) tossed a huge piece of golden brocade at my feet. Since she knew nothing of my ability as a seamstress, she seemed to be saying, “You are what matters. So what if you botch up some expensive material. Qu’importe? You can start again.”

This was just the vote of confidence I needed. My life seemed to be going downward. I had fallen in love, wanted to be married, was behind in some of my studies. Also, I was losing self-confidence, and my health seemed to be slipping away.

What Mme. Glenn did say, though, was, “Eh bien! Donc! Use your imagination— make the costumes comme vous voulez, just like you want!” Smiling at me with her combined mirth and seriousness, she exited into that large, open room, Chez Glenn, which was the setting for so many festive student get-togethers, as well as our advanced French conversation course this semester. A few of her “angels” soared in this intimate setting, reading and discussing existentialist writers Camus and Sartre.

She and Thomas Glenn, her tall, handsome husband (the strong, silent type) hosted the parties at their home. They were a devoted couple; she called him “Tommy” or “Cheri.” Their lovely, talented daughter, Michelle, attended Stanford University. It was believed that she and Mr. Glenn met in Paris, where she was a professor and he was a student, perhaps at the Sorbonne University. It was also believed that the couple lost one or two children in a tragic accident, years ago.

“Believe me, I know what I am talking about, angels. I know life,” Mme. Glenn would often add as a postscript during her lectures. Another signature comment was: “I am not just teaching you a foreign language. I am giving you general background information that fits in with the Scripps humanities program.” She had a neverending supply of tidbits on history, philosophy, art, and religion.

And her personal advice showed us that she was in tune with each one of us. In the middle of a discussion, this professor, who knew life, might look at one of us, over her reading glasses, and say, “Eh bien! You are looking a little green this morning. Even though you’ve been studying late at night, get some color on your face. Allons! Allons! Put on a bit of lipstick!” She often would say, “Don’t just sit around analyzing yourselves. If you get discouraged or depressed, go, get busy. Do something. This helps. Believe me…”

Meanwhile, as I cut into the material and stitched up and down on my “creations,” I worked from mental images of plays of Molière, in which I had acted and she had directed with her typical joie de vivre and no-nonsense fervor, as though they were Broadway productions. She loved all of her work and all of her angels at Scripps. Nothing was too good for us, and she was, in the words of the French expression, “as good as bread.”

Often, during 1960, she shared with us her feelings about impending retirement, seemingly preparing herself and us for the day she would no longer be a professor. She would explain that it was better to remain effervescent and full of life as an inspiration to her students. “I do not want to turn into a vinegar bottle,” Mme. Glenn would add.

After I had assembled some “costumes,” Mme. Glenn made her appearance. Speaking with her perfect French pronunciation, she praised my work. Over these past 46 years, this particular task [sewing] has always served me well. I’ve learned you can always start again.

 

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