The choice of a language in which to write obviously depends much less on the constraints of the external context than does the choice of a language for any given utilitarian speech utterance. […] Or consider Julien Green, who wrote novels drawn from his American experience in French, whereas he wrote a book about his French childhood in English. It is true that he had begun what was to become Memories of Happy Days in French and then switched to English after about twenty pages because, living in America during World War II, he despaired of finding a French publisher and felt it would be more “natural” to write in English in an American context, even though the subject was French. But what is curious about Green’s experience with Memories is that when he compared the beginnings written in French and in English, he saw that they were significantly different, not because the subject was different or because his intended audience was not the same, but because the languages were different:
So I laid aside what I had written and decided to begin the book again, this time in English, my intention being to use practically the same words, or, if you wish, to translate my own sentences into English.
At this point something quite unexpected happened. With a very definite idea as to what I wanted to say, I began my book, wrote about a page and a half and, on rereading what I had written, realized that I was writing another book, a book so different in tone from the French that a whole aspect of the subject must of necessity be altered. It was as if, writing in English, I had become another person. I went on. New trains of thought were started in my mind, new associations of ideas were formed. There was so little resemblance between what I wrote in English and what I had already written in French that it might almost be doubted that the same person was the author of these two pieces of work. This puzzled me considerably and still does.
Clearly, it is not so much that Green’s personality changes when he changes languages as that the language he has chosen changes the persona embodied in the work: “In reading the proofs of my book, I was struck by all that I had left unsaid and that I should most certainly have said in that book, had I written it in French. For instance, all that had to do with the development of religious feeling. I was even tempted to suppress the little I had said on that subject in the second half of the book. Why? I cannot say. Probably because I had written the book in English. It was as if the language itself had opposed certain disclosures in a book of that type (MFBIE, 232).
(I find, by the way, that I don’t make as clear a mental distinction as I should between Julien Green and Henry Green, probably because I still haven’t read anything by either. Recommendations will be welcome.)