2

The question is on the tense of the highlighted verbs in this excerpt from Camus's The Stranger. The narrator is being tried for murder of a man. The narrator's mother has died some years ago.

Il [le juge] m’a dit qu’il devait aborder maintenant des questions apparemment étrangères à mon affaire, mais qui peut-être la touchaient de fort près. J’ai compris qu’il allait encore parler de maman et j’ai senti en même temps combien cela m’ennuyait. Il m’a demandé pourquoi j’avais mis maman à l’asile. J’ai répondu que c’était parce que je manquais d’argent pour la faire garder et soigner. Il m’a demandé si cela m’avait coûté personnellement et j’ai répondu que ni maman ni moi n’attendions plus rien l’un de l’autre, ni d’ailleurs de personne, et que nous nous étions habitués tous les deux à nos vies nouvelles. Le président a dit alors qu’il ne voulait pas insister sur ce point et il a demandé au procureur s’il ne voyait pas d’autre question à me poser.

Questions

  1. If we said the following instead (italics showing changes), would it be grammatical?

Il m’a demandé pourquoi j’avais mis maman à l’asile. J’ai répondu que c’était parce que j'avais manqué d’argent pour la faire garder et soigner. Il m’a demandé si cela m’avait coûté personnellement et j’ai répondu que ni maman ni moi n’avions attendu plus rien l’un de l’autre, ni d’ailleurs de personne, et que nous nous étions habitués tous les deux à nos vies nouvelles.

  1. If yes to 1, does the revised version (in 1) mean the same thing as the original Camus sentence? (Same to the degree that Camus could have used the revised sentence without changing what the reader was supposed to understand.)

  2. It yes to 2, why wouldn't Camus simply use the revised sentence? It seems more consistent on this scheme of events to grammatical tense

    • the time of narration (present) : présent

    • the hearing (past) : imparfait, passé simple or passé composé

    • the events being spoken of at the hearing (a more remote past) : plus-que-parfait or passé antérieur

The highlighted verbs each denote an event or state at the more remote past, and I would have expected them to be in plus-que-parfait (or passé antérieur).

  1. Whatever was Camus's reason for preferring imparfait to plus-que-parfait, why did it apply only to manquais and attendions not to avais mis and others that he left in plus-que-parfait?

Background

I could perhaps account for manquais by thinking that the lack of money continued to the time of the hearing. The narrator is thinking of poverty as an ongoing truth about himself. But attendions seems strange now that the mother is dead.

3
  1. Yes, this seems correct to me.
  2. No it does not have the same meaning. The change to "j'avais manqué" makes it seem like the lack of money was at a very precise point in time whereas "je manquais" is clear that this is a continuous event in time. Similarly, the change to "n'avions attendu" suggests that this is an event that is no longer in effect whereas "n'attendions plus rien" is not clear on the fact that expectations are back.
  3. n/a
  4. The verbs in plus-que-parfait are fixed events in time. There is a date in time to when the mother was put in asylum. Similarly, the personal cost of putting the mother in asylum being directly related to the action of putting her in asylum makes it a fixed point in time as well.

Source: Native French speaker.

  • Thank you. If n'avions attendu suggests that the event is no longer in effect (as you say), isn't that exactly what the narrator should want to say because his mother is dead and anything that can be said of her is surely no longer in effect? – Catomic Mar 26 '16 at 15:13
  • She is dead at the time of narration, or at the time when the narrator answers the judge, but not when the events took place. These events happened in the past compared to the interrogation, but that is covered by the son using any past tense. Pluperfect is used for events or states that were already over when the other events took place. At the time he put his mother in an asylum, she was alive, and didn't expect anything more from him : it was a continuous state, hence the imperfect. – DaWaaaaghBabal Mar 26 '16 at 15:36
  • @DaWaaaaghBabal Can you tell me how you would say in French: "He asked why I hadn't seen him, and I said because I had been running." (You may note that "had been running" went into pluperfect.) If I understand you right, the French equivalent would use imparfait for "run", not plus-que-parfait (because at the time I failed to see him I was running, just like when Meursault put his mother in the home she was still alive)? – Catomic Mar 26 '16 at 15:51
  • Il demanda pourquoi je ne l'avais pas vu, et je répondis [que c'était] parce que j'étais en train de courir. Your reasoning is quite correct. When you use indirect speech in a narrative set in the past ("He asked... I answered..."), what was present in the direct speech becomes imparfait in the indirect speech, imperfect remains imperfect, simple past and compound past become pluperfect. Être en train de... is the equivalent of the present / past continuous to be doing sth : "had been running" = "étais en train de courir", "had run" = "avais couru". – DaWaaaaghBabal Mar 27 '16 at 12:10
  • Ah! So am I OK to understand the following? For manquais what Meursault said at the hearing might be manque or manquais (manque for "because I am poor e.g. at any time"; manquais for "because I was then poor"). For attendions, he probably said attendions as attendons would require some special explanation, e.g. he is being poetic. – Catomic Mar 27 '16 at 17:47

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