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James Grieve (1934–2020)

You could say I haven’t retired, though I was offered a so-called voluntary redundancy which was neither voluntary nor a redundancy. Since then, for about 12-13 years, I’ve been a grateful tenant (is that the word? one who has tenure of) of a Visiting Fellowship, which enables me to continue teaching (and examining), mainly how to write argumentative French to advanced undergraduates (with occasionally a little literature). I advise post-graduates but because Visiting Fellows are not officially able to be supervisors, I do the work with certain graduate students, though a colleague’s name is on the forms. I also continue the compilation of a magnum opus, all in French, intended to become a website for donation to the universe when, or if, completed. It’s now over 2000 pages and growing by one or two more every day; if completed, it will contain most of what I know about my subject, for the enlightenment of any speaker of English learning French, which is what I’ve spent most of my life being. The undergraduate teaching is paid at casual rates from part-time teaching funds; nothing else is. But I would do it even if it wasn’t paid. 

Being a Visiting Fellow, I visit, every day the School of Languages in the so-called Baldessin Building, which if it was rechristened in managerialspeak would be the Centre for Unfunded National Tertiary Strategies Building. I live surrounded by younger colleagues who complain much about what the University is becoming, about lowering standards, increasing managerial workloads, lessening academic autonomy, shrinking time for research, diminishing intellectual returns. When I hear them, it never sounds like the ANU that I felt privileged and proud to join 50 years ago and grateful to be a member of.

I have also translated a few books for British and American publishers, a couple of them for children, several more learned for Penguin and OUP : Proust; autistic children with speech problems; myrmecology; and the evolutionary origin of language.

I continue to read new books for the Canberra Times and contribute reviews and occasional other little pieces to the paper.

In 2010, Finlay Lloyd published a novella of mine, Something in Common.

I play as much squash as I feel I should, though it is difficult these days to find a partner without white hair. Most young these days think keeping fit is what you do in special uniforms with complicated machinery in front of a bank of television screens. There used to be 6 courts and long queues for regular bookings; now there are 2, and you can book at short notice.

My only other hobbies are bottling wine, collecting Traffic Infringement Notices for not wearing a helmet when biking, chatting up waitresses, sending money to Amnesty and shouting at the young & witless who read the news on television. Life, I think it’s called.

Curriculum Vitae

In November 2011 it will be 50 years since James Grieve was first appointed to teach at ANU; and whether as a full-time member of staff or latterly as a Visiting Fellow, he has been a member of the University without a break ever since.

During his many years as a teacher, he taught mainly French language and prose literature from Rabelais and Montaigne in the 16th century to contemporary novels, eventually designing his own courses in autobiography, the French marriage novel, brief ironies and the theme of freedom versus determinism in human behaviour. In undergraduate language teaching, he came to specialise in the written language, from first year to fourth. He collaborated in inter-departmental courses in History, Philosophy and English.

He was at different times the librarian of the Alliance française de Canberra (and for some years the organiser of the AF’s annual oral examinations in French for pupils from high schools in Canberra and parts of New South Wales), the Secretary of the then Staff Association, the first academic Sub-Dean of the then Faculty of Arts and for some years the Research Secretary of the Humanities Research Centre.

When student agitation reached ANU in 1974, he was a member of the ‘10/10 Committee’. He served as an interpreter or translator for bodies as diverse as the United Nations and the ACT Magistrates’ Court. As a translator, he has Englished, among other texts, Robert Lacour-Gayet’s Histoire de l’Australie (published by Penguin, 1974, as A Concise History of Australia) and the first two lengthy sections of Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu (published as Swann’s Way, 1982, and In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, Penguin, 2002).

As a language teacher, he enjoyed staging and acting in plays in French with students, including (twice, 29 years apart) his own dramatisation in three acts of Voltaire’s Candide. When computers became part of academic work in the 1990s, he devised a system of computerized assistance with the correction of interference errors (sometimes known as ‘negative transfers’) in the written French of advanced students.

One of his main linguistic interests came to be the marked differences between linking words (also known as ‘connectors’) as used in English and French. This project, worked on for many years, led to the slow compilation and eventual publication of his Dictionary of Contemporary French Connectors (Routledge, 1996). He has published two novels for Young Adults (A Season of Grannies, UQP, 1987, and They’re Only Human, Allen & Unwin, 2001).

  • A Visiting Fellow in the School of Language Studies (CASS).
  • Teaches and assesses in undergraduate courses in French (and occasionally in Translation Studies).
  • Supervises post-graduate work in Translation Studies.
  • Has recently translated from French scholarly works in diverse fields (e.g. autism, linguistics, myrmecology) and children’s books.
  • Currently engaged in the long slow gestation of a magnum opus which originally was to have been a companion work to his Dictionary of Contemporary French Connectors (Routledge, 1996), was becoming a behemoth of a book in two large volumes designed mainly for advanced students but (because even advanced students these days read books less than they consult the Internet) has now become an even larger would-be website under the working title The One-Stop Fiche-shop.
  • Contributes book reviews & occasional pieces to The Canberra Times. Serves as the Obituaries Officer of the Emeritus Faculty.

Original Publication

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Citation details

'Grieve, James (1934–2020)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 23 July 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


14 November, 1934


15 January, 2020 (aged 85)
Campbell, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

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