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Reading in French; 'Les Grandes Nouvelles Françaises du Vingtième Siècle'

(49 Posts)
IsFuzzyBeagMise Sun 17-Jan-21 10:29:36

This thread is a read-along thread for anyone who enjoys reading in French. All welcome.

We are going to start with a collection of short stories. The edition of the book is in French and English for side by side reading.

I don't know how to do links, but perhaps someone else could add the link onto my post.


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IsFuzzyBeagMise Sun 17-Jan-21 10:49:20

1: 'Paysage de Foule' by Octave Mirabeau.

I thought that this was very good. It was short, but it packed a punch in the space of its four pages.

Characters in the story are la dame, le mendiant, le cocher, le commissaire de police and la foule.

We get the strong impression that the narrator does not approve of the crowd who only speak in disjointed, repetitive phrases, 'au voleur! voleur!...'quoi?...quoi?...'They are a mindless, malevolent mob.

This contrasts with la dame, who is the only person to defend the beggar. She is described positively as someone who cares for the less well-off and who can think for herself and who isn't influenced by the mentality of the mob; 'un souci de vivre pour elle et non pour les autres'.

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highlandcoo Sun 17-Jan-21 15:59:59

Yes, it's interesting that when la dame is introduced to the story, she is described as well respected in the town (where she spends the winter to escape Paris) because of the money she spends there. The narrator then goes on to describe her as seen as independent by the prejudiced townspeople and finishes " And, was she not married to a Jew?"

We see, as soon as the theft occurs, how very quick the crowd are to scream and to hate. "Quarante poings" and "Vingt bouches" .. they are not even described as human beings at this point, but body parts.

Le commisaire is less concerned about the victim of the attempted theft than "Le bon renom de la ville" et "le respect". He cares about the town's - and his own - reputation above all else.

As soon as la dame's refusal to press charges against le mendicant becomes clear, the crowd turn their hate upon her. So did they always resent and despise her, and hate her for having a Jewish husband, or are they frustrated because their desire for vengeance on the beggar has been thwarted? Are they just looking for someone to hate?

As I said on the prevous thread, the English version of the story does not read smoothly as a translation. It's useful as a dictionary; no more than that. So the last phrase took a little working out for me. Does it mean:

^ pursued by the jeers of the crowd from whose claws and fangs the small hand of a woman had just torn free some human flesh^

Interested to hear others' opinions

IsFuzzyBeagMise Sun 17-Jan-21 17:10:07

I took it literally, that it was a woman in the crowd who attacked the beggar and tore at his face. I think it serves to compare the barbarity of this woman with the compassion of la dame.

The English text was useful. I wouldn't have grasped the finer details such as the various delicacies in the shop window, for example. As you say, highlandcoco it isn't a smooth translation, but it's a useful aid all the same.

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MaMaLa321 Sun 17-Jan-21 17:27:19

thank you for setting this up IsFuzzyBeagMise

Yes, I found that last sentence problematic, even in english. I shall have another look at it and a think. Looking back briefly, it was interesting that the lady was 'toutes fremissante', which I would have put as 'she was all shudders'. Rather more emphatic.

I thought the anti Jewish feeling was very cleverly introduced.

I find, when I'm reading french, that it all goes very fluently, then I'm brought up short by it becoming more complex, and I have to stop and unpick it. This happened, oddly enough, when the action started.

I love the word grellotants.

I will come back to this as the week goes by, if that's OK.

highlandcoo I'd be interested to hear where else the translation falls short.

IsFuzzyBeagMise Sun 17-Jan-21 20:34:33

It was no bother, MaMaLa321. Yes, we can come back to this any time during the week. We'll aim to discuss the next short story for next Sunday.

The anti-Jewish sentiment was cleverly introduced, I agree. I think the mob was looking for its next target. They were baying for blood and they turned their attention to her, as she wasn't one of them and she didn't give them what she wanted.
The author has a scathing view of mob mentality.

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IsFuzzyBeagMise Sun 24-Jan-21 10:29:50

2. 'Portrait d'Eliane à quatorze ans' by Valéry Larbaud.

This short story is about the fantasies and desires of a young girl who is impatient for the freedom of adulthood. She visits a park with her mother and baby brother and makes eye contact with a young man in the park and she feels satisfied; 'j'aime et je suis aimée'.

Although this story was published in 1908, the experience of loneliness as a teenager is still relevant today. Eliane doesn't get on with her mother. Her mother is critical of her in company and calls her a fool, with her head in the clouds.

This story is very different in style to the previous one. It is long and meandering with very little action, but the thoughts of Eliane herself. The author is sympathetic to her.

Personally, I preferred the first story in the collection, but I can appreciate why this story could have made an impact at the time it was published as teenage fantasies especially for girls, was a taboo subject.

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MaMaLa321 Sun 24-Jan-21 18:01:01

It made me think of Colette, who was also writing at the time. She wrote
'They are numerous, those barely nubile girls who dream of being the spectacle, the plaything, the erotic masterpiece of an older man. It's an ugly desire that they expiate by fulfilling'
Do we gain something by reading it in French? I think it makes me concentrate a lot more that I would do if it was in English.
It is interesting to see the translation. At the top of page 18, 'c'est le dernier age qu'elle a donne de cet amour' becomes 'he is the last age that she gave from this true love'. which seems a bit 'off'. I would have thought it would be something like ' he is the last result/evidence'.
Is there a better translation for 'cerne' than 'marked (referring to her eyes. My dictionary says it means 'dark ringed'.
It's also interesting that 'dogaresse' becomes 'duchesse', when the author , given the location, meant a female doge. Which I believe was used by the author to indicate her naivety (i.e. there's no such thing as a female doge)
I enjoyed reading it, the evocation of the little park, so near the station. And Eliane? Well, I'm not sure if the author sympathises with her. It's almost as though he's dissecting her, mentally.
She makes me think of a little Madame Bovary. Interestingly enough, I can't think of a comparable figure in fiction from other countries.

IsFuzzyBeagMise Sun 24-Jan-21 18:25:55

I also thought of a likeness to Mme Bovary.

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Taswama Fri 29-Jan-21 18:57:56

Hello everyone!

I learnt the word 'cocher' but thought coachman would be better than driver as a translation. Will reread it as I read it a week before this thread started and have been meaning to find you.

IsFuzzyBeagMise Sat 30-Jan-21 15:41:02

Hi Taswama!

I think 'coachman' would have been more appropriate too, than 'driver'. I think the translation is a bit rough, though it is useful.

See you tomorrow to discuss 'Iceberg'!

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Taswama Sat 30-Jan-21 15:55:24

Ok, I'd better get reading!

IsFuzzyBeagMise Sat 30-Jan-21 16:04:35

It's a short one grin

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IsFuzzyBeagMise Sun 31-Jan-21 11:05:51

3. 'Iceberg' by Fred Kassak.

This short story is about the relationship between Irène, Bernard and Georges. We learn early on that Bernard is jealous of the bond between Irène and Georges and will do anything to break it and have Irène for himself.

I enjoyed this short story very much. It was well written and it kept me guessing up to the end.

Bernard is a nefarious character; he is ruthless, single-minded, and will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Irène seems gullible; she doesn't seem to suspect anything. I noted that they use 'vous' rather than 'tu', so it suggests that while friendly, they are not intimate. The reader hopes that she will come to her senses sooner than later and leave Bernard.

The story finishes with Irène rescuing her baby son from certain death, but we are left with the unsettling impression that Bernard has become even more determined and there is more trouble to come.

I also liked the title of the story; the hidden danger of the iceberg; the menace that this person represents for Irène and the devastation that he could cause for her.

'Je préfère rester pour elle un iceberg: un cinquième visible et le reste immergé'.

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MaMaLa321 Sun 31-Jan-21 13:39:33

Hi Taswama!
I enjoyed this very much - it was not too long, and I really didn't see the denouement coming.
[sidepoint - I've just realised that there is no adequate replacement for 'denouement' in english. Unless anyone else can think of one? ]
Perhaps if I hadn't been concentrating so hard on translating, I might have picked it up sooner. I started to think something was amiss when the narrator said that he stayed in the car. Once one realises who George is, it's fun to look back and see Bernard's description of him. Of course! He's a baby.
I enjoyed the Bernard's character, and the way he assesses Irene. In a negative fashion, but he wants to be with her.
It makes me realised how many adjectives I don't know. I suppose one can get by without them, unlike verbs and tenses. I got a mediocre 'O' in French (back in the day when they taught languages properly) so I am learning a lot doing this - and hoping it sticks.
I would be very interested if either of you had thoughts about the translation - where it could be improved.
Out of interest, how are you both doing it? I started by taking it page by page, but I've decided that paragraph by paragraph suits me better.

IsFuzzyBeagMise Sun 31-Jan-21 14:48:16

Hi MaMaLa321!

No, I didn't guess Georges' identity either, until the end (the dénouement!). I think that the author was careful to not give too much away, prior to that.Yes, it is a funny description, the poor little mite, it's not a bit flattering ('à moitié chauve').

I think that the character of Bernard is more defined than Irène's, as we have access to his thoughts. He calls himself sensitive, almost as if he is a nice, decent individual, who cares about a woman in distress. Almost. But his cold, calculated nature comes to the fore. He isn't fooling anyone, except Irène.

I was wondering what was preventing an engagement between Bernard and Irène. I think she only sees him as a friend and doesn't have deeper feelings for him. He is blaming Georges for that and so hatches his dastardly plan.

I read the French version and refer to the translation when I need to, usually for vocabulary or idioms that I don't know. I found that this translation reads well on its own, and the story was straightforward to read too.

I liked this phrase: 'J'ai de la suite dans les idées' meaning 'I have great persistence'. I wonder if this phrase is still in use today.

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MaMaLa321 Sun 31-Jan-21 14:53:36

A guess Bernard is the archetypical unreliable narrator

IsFuzzyBeagMise Sun 31-Jan-21 15:21:07

Or he likes to think of himself as caring, but he really only cares about himself!

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Taswama Mon 01-Feb-21 07:38:01

I enjoyed this one but guessed early on that Georges was a baby. I think if I hadn't read the introduction to the story, telling me that there was a twist, I would have enjoyed it more as I wouldn't have been looking for clues.
For me, when she said he was having a 'sieste' , I immediately thought baby, while being aware that in France it's perfectly ok for an adult to have a nap after lunch. Then when she was doing up her top, I was briefly thrown off the scent but then thought, aha, she's been breastfeeding.

I read the French text, doing my best to ignore the English unless there's a particular word that I don't quite understand or I want to double check or I'm interested how it has been translated. That's only about 3 or 4 words per page really.

IsFuzzyBeagMise Mon 01-Feb-21 09:02:27

Well done on guessing, Taswama! I'm often like thatt though, when I read. I usually find out at the end!

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Taswama Tue 02-Feb-21 07:24:00

Bernard is well drawn as someone who considers himself sensitive, not like all the heartless people who walk past a crying woman. But in the few short pages he reveals himself to be utterly cruel and heartless. That is the talent of a good short story writer, to pack so much information and interest in a few short pages.

I haven't read the second one yet, so will try and do that in the next few days.

IsFuzzyBeagMise Tue 02-Feb-21 08:43:12

Yes, definitely. I'm going to look up this author and see what else he has written.

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Taswama Sun 07-Feb-21 11:22:51

Place marking to post my review of Pleure, pleure later. I have read it but don't have enough time now.

IsFuzzyBeagMise Sun 07-Feb-21 11:41:26

4. 'Pleure, pleure!' by Andrée Maillet.

This short story is centred around a conversation between a girl and her parents. Réjane's fiancé has called off their engagement and she is breaking the news to her parents over lunch. They are upset, but they react in different ways.

M. Bélisle is outraged that this has happened to his family. It will be a stain on his family's reputation. He talks very negatively about Jean-Charles and even considers taking him to court or using his contacts to hinder his career.

He sees the broken engagement as a nuisance, a problem for him to deal with. It's an annoyance, much like what is happening in the news with the French-Canadian minority who have issues on a daily basis in their struggle to achieve equal status in society. The news distracts him and he zones in and out of the conversation.

The title, 'Pleure, pleure' refers to Mme Bélisle's entreaty to her daughter to cry on her shoulder to help her get over it. We get the impression that she is sympathetic to Réjane, but is rather vacuous, only interested in recipes and the social pages of magazines. Her husband is scathing of both of them in his annoyance, 'L'une avec ses grands mots, l'autre avec son mouchoir: les femmes sont toutes les mêmes'. He comes across as an unlikeable character.

While M. Bélisle loves his daughter, we get the impression that he is proprietorial where she is concerned. He is glad to be able to hold onto her for a while longer. Réjane herself feels frustrated as she goes upstairs to her bedroom. She despairs that she will never leave her parents' ornate apartment and that she will become an old maid.

The reader questions the engagement; it almost feels like an arranged marriage with little love on either side.

I enjoyed this story. I think it succeeded in depicting the expectation placed on young women from the upper classes during that time (1950s/60s) to marry well. It was well written. I particularly liked the author's technique of inserting the excerpts of news reports in the text to illustrate the distraction in the thoughts of M. Bélisle. The story worked well in that it focussed on the family drama against the backdrop of 'The Quiet Revolution' in Canada.

From a language point of view, I liked the opening paragraphs that described the hustle and bustle of the city at mid-day and especially the description of the students coming out of school. I also liked the phrase 'les coups de bec' to mean 'a few harsh words'.

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MaMaLa321 Sun 07-Feb-21 12:29:26

I have got to catch up, I'm afraid, as I haven't read it yet, sorry. I'll get on with it.

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