I was born in Brooklyn, the youngest of six children, 20 minutes after my twin brother Larry, . Life was tough for the Braun family, who lived in extreme poverty in what was then called a cold-water flat. But we all survived. Fortunately I did listen to my mother when she told me that the way to a better life was through education.
I attended Bishop Loughlin High School in Brooklyn, where I decided that I wanted to be a French teacher in high school. Then I won a full-tuition scholarship at Teacher’s College of St. John’s University, which was then located in Brooklyn; I received my B.A. in French Education there in 1955. After a wonderful year in Valence (a small city on the Rhône River in France, about 100 km south of Lyon), where I was an assistant d’anglais at the Lycée Emile Loubet, I was drafted in the army (my serial number began with US, which stands for Unwilling Soldier). Basic training and secretarial school in El Paso, then 16 months in Ludwigsburg, Germany, on the Neckar near Stuttgart. I was discharged after serving 1 year, 9 months and 20 days.
My life took up again in 1958, when I began the first of 8 years as director of Holiday Farm, a summer camp for poor boys from the New York City area run by the Humes Foundation (now defunct), and graduate study at the University of California, Berkeley, from which I received my M.A. in French in 1961 and my Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures in 1965. In the French Department, I made friends with a young woman and fellow T.A. Anne Wildman who, unbeknownst to both of us, was to become my bride and joy. At Berkeley I also met Paul Barrette, one of my oldest friends and the collaborator of my French textbooks.
I was in Paris in 1963-1964, researching my Ph.D. topic and beginning to write what was to become a 500-page dissertation on Jean-Jacques Le Franc de Pompignan (1709-1784), who has remained an important focus of my research, along with Voltaire. In 1964 I was appointed assistant professor of French at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, and in 1968 became an associate professor. Meanwhile, Anne and I were married in 1965, just a week before my Ph.D. was officially awarded. Not too many people know that a major street in Paris, and a metro station, celebrate our anniversary, le 4 septembre. You can look it up!
In 1970 we moved to Newark, Delaware, as I was appointed professor of French at the University of Delaware, where I have remained. A high point in our life occurred in 1972, when our lovely daughter Jeanne Rebecca was born. Jeannie had a good education at the Newark Center for Creative Learning, Wilmington Friends School, and Haverford College, from which she graduated in 1994 with a major in Music Technology. She also took extra courses in her field at the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado and at New York University. This all paid off when she became the assistant to 4-Grammy winner for classical music recording and producing, Judith Sherman; three of those Grammys have been awarded while Jeanne was collaborating with Judy.
In 1995 Jeanne married one of my former students, John Velonis, an honors student in Computer Science with three minors, one of which was French. From this union there came three marvelous children, a boy born in 2000 and boy-girl twins born in 2002, who are like their parents big readers, very good students and wonderful people.
During my career I’ve published 12 books, book-length studies, critical and other editions of works by Voltaire and Le Franc de Pompignan, co-edited collections of articles on topics like Man , God, and Nature (with Donald C. Mell of the UD English Department), chaos theory (with John McCarthy of the German Department at Vanderbilt University) and the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 (with John Radner of the English Department at George Mason University). Overall, I’ve had some 20+ collaborators from UD programs in French, Spanish, Classics, and two computer programs in French with members of what was then called Instructional Technology. I’ve also published 80 or so articles (on topics of French, English, Italian, Spanish and comparative literature, over 70 book reviews, and have read even more papers, and have organized many panels and even co-organized three major meetings at professional meetings in the U. S. (15-20 states), Canada, France, Scotland, England, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Ireland, and Hungary. I’ve been a founding member of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, the International Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, the Ibero-American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, and the Society for Eighteenth-Century French Studies, in all of which I have held office. Not to mention the fact that I also published a science-fiction novel.
I’ve received lifetime achievement awards from the Ibero-American Society, from the East-Central ASECS and the South-Central SECS. I’ve become by invitation a corresponding member of the Académie de Montauban (founded by Le Franc de Pompignan), an honorary citizen of the Ville de Montauban, a chevalier in the French Ordre des Palmes Académiques, and the recipient of an award for distinguished service from the College of Arts and Science of the University of Delaware. And I’ve received a great compliment from my daughter Jeanne who, after I had told her sometime around the year 2000 that I don’t know whether I’m in my second or third childhood, replied, “Dad, you’ve never left your first!”