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Friday, October 18, 2019

Thème M2/agrégation suggested translation passage from Martin du Gard


The booklet including the passage translated here can be found on this blog on September 4th. This suggested translation will only remain online for two weeks.


What appears to be happening here is that the daughter is extremely ill and may die,[1] but the mother does not know where her husband is. The story takes place around 1904, so we need to be careful not to introduce anachronisms.

Madame[2] de Fontanin went back to her home. Jenny was in bed, sleeping fitfully.[3] She raised[4] her feverish face, gave her mother an inquiring[5] look and closed her eyes again. 'Take Puce[6] away. The noise is hurting me [7]'.(*) Madame de Fontanin went back to her room and, suddenly feeling dizzy, sat down without even taking off her gloves. Was she going down with a fever  too? She must[8] stay calm, be strong, be confident. She bowed her head in prayer and then stood up purposefully. She had to contact her husband and get him to return.[9] She crossed the hallway,[10] paused[11] in front of a closed door, and then opened it. The room was cool and did not seem lived in.  The sharp smell of verbena and lemongrass, and a lingering odour of perfume emanated from it.  She drew back the curtains. There was a desk in the middle of the room. A fine layer of dust covered the blotter, but there were no papers around, no addresses, no clues at all. The keys of the furniture were in their locks. The occupant was quite trusting. She pulled open the desk drawer and revealed[12] a pile of letters, some photographs, a fan, and, rolled up in a corner, an ordinary black silk floss glove.[13] Her hand suddenly stiffened on the edge of the table. A memory struck her.[14] Her attention wandered and she stared into the distance… One summer[15] evening, two years previously,[16] as she was in a tram[17] travelling alongside the river, she thought she saw, and she sat up[18] and recognized Jérome, her husband.[19] He was sitting beside a woman, even leaning over a young woman on a bench, who was crying! And her cruel imagination, working on that fleeting perception, had many times taken pleasure in rearranging all the details – she saw again the woman’s vulgar grief, her hat slipping down[20] as she quickly pulled a coarse white handkerchief[21] from her petticoat, and above all, how Jérôme had kept his composure.[22] Oh, how certain[23] she felt that she had guessed from his attitude all the feelings that had beset him that evening. He showed[24] a measure of sympathy, of course, because she knew he was weak and easily moved, some irritation too at being the centre of such a scandalous incident in the street, and lastly, a part of callousness![25] Yes, he did! In his posture, half-leaning over but quite collected, she was sure she had seen the selfish calculations of the lover who has had enough, and who, already no doubt attracted by other fancies, has decided, despite a feeling of pity and secret shame, to make a complete break.

(*) Note that this is British punctuation. American punctuation would use double inverted commas, and would put the full stop after 'hurting me' inside the inverted commas, not outside. See https://www.thepunctuationguide.com/british-versus-american-style.html 


[1] She recovers later in the novel.
[2] It is not a very important point, but we normally would not translate as « Mrs de Fontanin ». « Mdame » is transparent to anglophone readers, and allows to maintain a French colour in the passage.
[3] Someone tried “to doze off », but that is to *begin* to sleep. « She was drowsing » is extremely rare, but apparently correct.
[4] If you’re not certain,this is a good time to revise the differences between the verbs to raise, to rise and to arise. Not to be confused with the differences between the nouns rise and raise.
[5] Or a questioning look.
[6] Better not to translate proper names of animate beings.
[7] Someone was tempted by « pains me », but, oddly, this (literary) expression is only used for emotional pain. E. g. « It pains me to see that you neglected to take my feelings into account ».
[8] A translation like “Stay calm” would be confused with an imperative. “had to” is possible, but, given the inner voice involved, “must” is better. One cannot translate with “To stay calm” etc.
[9] You must avoid all translations which would make the reader think there are telephones centrally involved here.
[10] « Corridor » is not so good, since it normally refers to a passageway in a larger building – a hospital corridor, a school corridor etc.
[11] Someone was tempted with « got hesitant ». There are two problems with this. Firstly, adjectives used after « to get » are a restricted list – you may not use the verb with any adjective. Secondly expressions with « get » will often not be sufficiently literary for passages like this one.
[12] As often, it is much better to add a verb here.
[14] Nothing can be done with the verb « to reminisce » here.
[15] Note: no capital letter.
[16] This is a more formal register than « earlier », thus is better here. « Before » is no doubt not formal enough in register. « Ago » is not possible because it would mean two years before today, not two years before the moment of the main narrative (deixis problem then).
[18] Note that she did not stand up.
[19] There are advantages to dividing the sentence when translating, not least that the procedure adds a verb.
[20] Words like « capsize » or « topple » are too spectacular, really.
[21] Not a « tissue » which is made ofpaper and is anachronistic here. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facial_tissue
[22] Notice there are more verbs in a good English translation of this section than in the original French.
[23] Better than « sure » because more formal in register.
[24] A structure with “must have » is possible, but not with « might have ».
[25] “Callousness » is better than « cruelty » since it is less used to designate a permanent part of one’s personality, and more for a particular attitude or action.


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