The Only Way is Français?

It’s fast becoming clear that if I intend to delve into circus criticism in any meaningful way, I’m going to have to revisit (and significantly improve upon) my GCSE French.

Whilst there are English volumes of research into circus history, these appear to be mostly rather dated, and broad in their scope; I’m currently reading Duncan Wall’s ‘The Ordinary Acrobat, published only last month and, from his position as a student at the French National Circus School, he was able to access a far greater depth of material in his research.

My position as I began this blog was that of an investigative explorer into circus in Britain today. I knew that, due to the nature of the form, this would include a large degree of internationalism, but rested on my assumptions that English is the commonly accepted ‘world language’ these days; however, it seems that if I’m to do critical justice to UK circus, I’m going to need to do a significant amount of research in French.

Across the Channel, circus has been held in higher cultural regard than in any other nation. In days gone by, British scholars were generally among a class whose education included a thorough grounding in the French language; nowadays, that is the exception rather than the norm. Unfortunately, circus arts haven’t been high enough on the British agenda to spawn the same levels of published study in our own tongue.

I’m sure there’s an argument to be put forward to various funding bodies about the value of translating some of the classic French texts into English, especially as circus arts are currently growing in both popularity and prominence. I’m keen to speak to course co-ordinators at CircusSpace to find out whether they have a library, and what elements of academic study are involved in their Degree course.

Whilst various accounts of circus history and memoirs are fascinating, they often omit the more technical skills-based information that I’d like to investigate – and it’s beginning to seem that the easiest place to find these will be in the French language.

And, once I’ve reminded myself how to read those, then I wouldn’t be surprised if I have to teach myself Russian next…


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  1. This has hit me as well, but luckily I understand French quite well. Do you have any advice on where to look for good books about circus to read?
    In case someone who is reading this knows Swedish, I strongly recommend this homepage:, where Tilde Björfors (cofunder of Circus Cirkör) write about her reaserach of circus.

    I am very happy that I found your blog and I find it very interesting, so now I will read your other posts! 😀

    1. Hi Ellinor, I can often find good selections of recent books through Amazon, just by searching, but I also find the bibliographies of other books very useful. This website often has some older titles and there’s a great bibliography of print articles (rather than books) here
      I do try to get some reviews up on this site, but haven’t found much time for extensive reading lately! There are a few at
      Great to have you as part of the conversation!

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