‘The Baccalaureate’ by Ion Luca Caragiale, translated by Marina Sofia

Caragiale is one of Romania’s major literary figures, best known for his plays but also his sharp satirical sketches. His short stories paint a discomfiting picture of the pretentiousness of Romanian society in the late 19th Century, although one might argue that the targets of his sarcasm – corruption, snobbishness and self-serving hypocrisy – are universal subjects. Most Romanians can recite many of his catchphrases, but I chose a slightly less well-known short story about helicopter parenting and influencing exam outcomes, which still shows his talent for capturing human foibles and rhythms of speech.

“Let me give you just a few examples of what schools do to the younger generation. I’ve seen children with excellent academic abilities being forced to repeat a year because they didn’t have pass marks in music or PE… You do realise the injustice of that, to be a year behind because of not having musical or athletic aptitude?… You have to agree, this is in the same vein, equally as absurd, as letting a young man who wants to study Law repeat a year because his Ethics is not quite there yet… What does Ethics have to do with practising Law, anyway?… Wouldn’t you agree?”

First published in 1900, you can read a work-in-progress translation of it on my blog

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