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This question is on the meaning of "à travers" in this sentence from L'Étranger by Camus.

À travers les lignes de cyprès qui menaient aux collines près du ciel, cette terre rousse et verte, ces maisons rares et bien dessinées, je comprenais maman.

In this dictionary, "à travers" gets a meaning of spatial penetration (such as in "regarder tomber la neige à travers la fenêtre") while "au travers de" is said to mean both "through" and "by means of."

But in the sentence, I cannot imagine a spatial penetration through the cypress trees, the red and green earth or the houses. (Meursault does not have Superman's X-ray vision, nor is he going bodily through the earth.)

English translators substitute another spatial/physical relation: "looking at."

Question:

Does "à travers" have a second spatial meaning of "facing"?

Or am I okay to understand the following: "à travers" in the sentence has no spatial meaning, but simply means "by means of." The English translators are themselves supplying the notion of "looking," just from the fact that trees and houses are the sort of things one typically looks at. Strictly speaking the sentence itself says nothing about Meursault "looking at" or "facing" anything. For all that the sentence said, he could have felt the trees, tasted the earth, and lived in the houses and "by such means" come to understand maman.

(I want to thank in advance each person who may give me an answer. The site managers seem to discourage leaving comments just to say thank you.)

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    You are indeed correct in translating this by "through" with the meaning of "by means of". I could not have found better myself. Camus's French is sometimes a bit dated or elaborated (with once in a while a bit of poetry), and dictionaries may fail to help understanding him. We already had some questions about texts which were hard to understand and required some thought, even for natives. – Chop Sep 24 '15 at 5:31
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Instead of attempting to interpret the sentence linearly, and literally, think of each image it calls to mind as a separate element:

les lignes de cyprès qui menaient aux collines près du ciel

The cypress trees that extend to the hill 'near' the sky

cette terre rousse et verte

This red and green land

ces maisons rares et bien dessinées

These rare and well-designed houses

It would probably also be helpful to imagine je comprenais maman as coming at the beginning of the sentence, rather than at the end (which is done for emphasis), so it becomes:

Je comprenais maman à travers les lignes de cyprès qui menaient aux collines près du ciel, cette terre rousse et verte, ces maisons rares et bien dessinées

Taking the above into account, Mersault is saying that he understood his mother "through" (à travers) each of the referenced images

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L'option By the way du 'dictionnaire' me semble intéressante, mais n'étant pas anglophone, je reprends le commentaire de Riquefort, et retiens : By way of car c'est par le chemin[ement] du regard qui traverse et parcours un paysage que Camus arrive à [comprendre] sa mère.

C'est un double parcours simultané du regard extérieur dans un paysage et du regard intérieur dans la mémoire confrontée à l'instant présent.

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    Je pense qu'on veut dire by way of et non pas by the way... Merci. – user3177 Sep 24 '15 at 9:36
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    Je veux bien croire qu'il y a un cheminement, mais celui-ci porte plus selon moi sur la pensée et la réflexion que sur le regard. Je suis aussi d'accord avec la remarque de Riguefort Ultraquaillette. – Chop Sep 24 '15 at 12:37
  • @Chop Parmi les textes précédents l’Étranger : Noces transcrit la sensibilité, la sensualité totale d'un être vibrant sous le soleil de l'Algérie. Caligula, Le Mythe de Sisyphe signent la révolte du même homme contre l'absurde qui nie cet état. Le texte cité indique un parcours du regard, comme un plan de cinéma : il n'y a pas de réflexion du mental, mais réflexion lumineuse vers un regard avide de lumière intense, dans le silence vibrant des chaleurs de Tipaza, silence qui renvoie à sa mère mutique. La pensée prendra racine dans ces instants, et dans sa propre histoire pour s'affermir. – cl-r Rendez confiance à FL Sep 24 '15 at 15:24
  • I have deleted some comments that preceded those by cl-r as not directly on the grammatical issue in question. I am sorry that this leaves cl-r's comments without context. – Catomic Oct 6 '15 at 5:53
  • @Catomic La traduction n'est pas qu'un problème de grammaire et de mot à mot, le contexte, la connaissance de l'œuvre et de l'auteur induisent parfois une transposition que l'on peut justifier. – cl-r Rendez confiance à FL Oct 6 '15 at 6:31

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