British poet narrowly fails to fulfil dream of joining French 'immortals'

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A Franco-British academic and poet, Michael Edwards, failed narrowly yesterday to become the first Briton elected to the Académie Française, the institution which defends the purity of the French language.

Professor Edwards, 73, fell two votes short of winning a majority of the 25 academicians or "immortals" present during four rounds of balloting. None of the other six candidates, including the celebrity television presenter and novelist, Patrick Poivre d'Arvor, attracted more than two votes.

Professor Edwards, a poet and expert on French language and literature, failed on one previous attempt to join the so-called "immortals" in 2008. He must now wait at least a year to have a further try. The age limit for candidates is 75.

In nearly four centuries, the 40 members of the academy, elected for life, have included great French writers, philosophers, politicians, soldiers, churchmen and a sprinkling of Francophone foreigners.

There has never been an "immortal" born in Britain – nor one whose first language was English.

Mr Edwards received nine votes in the first round and 11 in the fourth – far more than any other candidate. Under the academy's strict rules, however, a candidate must win a majority of the academicians present within four rounds. The vacant seat will therefore remain open until another election is organised.

"To be elected (to the academy) would be the ultimate honour," Professor Edwards, who is married to a Frenchwoman and holds dual nationality, told The Independent in March. "It would be the last tick in the box to prove that, after all these years, I have been accepted as being French, even though I may remain very proud to be British."