MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Erasmus with Freckles [aka Dear Brigitte] (1963)
John Haase
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The novel Erasmus with Freckles (1963) about a college English professor who hates math and science whose son is a math prodigy, was adapted into the film Dear Brigitte (1965) and re-released as a novel under that title.

The father, played in the film by Jimmy Stewart, is interested in the creative humanities (poetry, music, visual arts) and tries unsuccessfully to get his 8 year old son (Billy Mumy from Lost in Space and The Twilight Zone) to express himself through these. He is very disappointed to learn that his son's true talent lies in mathematics.

In the book, the boy who previously had been a talented musician, playing french horn along with his siblings, loses the ability to do so when his mathematical talents are revealed. (His therapist says that rather than playing the music on the page, the boy studies it and then plays a single note, as if he has done some long computation and is playing the final result.) In contrast, in the film the boy is presented as not having any artistic or musical talents from the start.

What the film and book have in common, however, is the father's negative reaction to this "problem". The following exchange takes place in the film:

(quoted from Erasmus with Freckles [aka Dear Brigitte])

Father: When people find out about this, do you know what they're going to say?
Son: No, sir.
Father: They're going to say "There goes that Erasmus Leaf. He's a mathematician. "
Son: Gosh!
Father: And we don't want that, do we?

The son becomes a famous prodigy, and is offered jobs by industry and government. In the film, he is also taken advantage of by those seeking to exploit his abilities. The boy's obsession with Brigitte Bardot, that the father encourages in a rather unhealthy way IMHO, is viewed by the father as evidence that the boy can be saved from his mathematical abilities. In the end, he gets to meet Brigitte Bardot, the starlet upon whom he has a huge crush.

The book is definitely intended to be a joke, in the Catch-22 vein. And, I do often find it funny. (My favorite part is when Professor Leaf applies to the government for some of the subsidies received by farmers for not planting soy. The government official seems upset at first that Leaf does not even have any land on which he could plant things, but Leaf argues back that this should be viewed as an advantage since he -- unlike the farmers -- can be trusted to really not plant the soy even after the inspector has left.) However, the joke is based on the idea that mathematical ability is incompatible with creativity and/or romance. Even though I understand that the author may not have honestly believed this to be true, it does make it a bit more difficult for me to enjoy it.

I am grateful to Bruce Reznick (UIUC) for bringing this work to my attention.

More information about this work can be found at www.imdb.com.
(Note: This is just one work of mathematical fiction from the list. To see the entire list or to see more works of mathematical fiction, return to the Homepage.)

Works Similar to Erasmus with Freckles [aka Dear Brigitte]
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Stand-In by Tay Garnett
  2. Slightly Perfect / Are you with it? by George Malcolm-Smith (Novel) / Sam Perrin (Script) / George Balzer (Script)
  3. Family Ties (Episode: My Tutor) by Jace Richdale (Screenplay) / Sam Weisman (Director)
  4. Nanny and the Professor (TV Series) by AJ Carothers (creator) / Thomas L. Miller (creator)
  5. The Princess Hoppy or the Tale of Labrador by Jacques Roubaud
  6. Numberland by George Weinberg
  7. Recess (Episode: A Genius Among Us) by Brian Hamill
  8. Train Brains / The Runaway Train (Donald Duck) by Carl Barks
  9. Albert's Bridge by Tom Stoppard
  10. Odile by Raymond Queneau
Ratings for Erasmus with Freckles [aka Dear Brigitte]:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
3/5 (1 votes)
..
Literary Quality:
/5 ( votes)
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Categories:
GenreHumorous,
MotifProdigies, Academia, Math as Cold/Dry/Useless,
Topic
MediumNovels, Films,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)