1

The question is on the highlighted sentence in this passage from Camus's The Stranger.

Nous avons attendu très longtemps, près de trois quarts d’heure, je crois. Au bout de ce temps, une sonnerie a retenti. Mon avocat m’a quitté en disant : « Le président du jury va lire les réponses. On ne vous fera entrer que pour l’énoncé du jugement. » Des portes ont claqué. Des gens couraient dans des escaliers dont je ne savais pas s’ils étaient proches ou éloignés. Puis j’ai entendu une voix sourde lire quelque chose dans la salle. Quand la sonnerie a encore retenti, que la porte du box s’est ouverte, c’est le silence de la salle qui est monté vers moi, le silence, et cette singulière sensation que j’ai eue lorsque j’ai constaté que le jeune journaliste avait détourné ses yeux. Je n’ai pas regardé du côté de Marie. Je n’en ai pas eu le temps parce que le président m’a dit dans une forme bizarre que j’aurais la tête tranchée sur une place publique au nom du peuple français. Il m’a semblé alors reconnaître le sentiment que je lisais sur tous les visages. Je crois bien que c’était de la considération. Les gendarmes étaient très doux avec moi. L’avocat a posé sa main sur mon poignet. Je ne pensais plus à rien. Mais le président m’a demandé si je n’avais rien à ajouter. J’ai réfléchi. J’ai dit : « Non. » C’est alors qu’on m’a emmené.

QUESTION

Question 1

From context and translations I know roughly what it is supposed to mean. But I want to understand exactly how the sentence works syntactically, and I came up with these two guesses. Would you kindly tell me if either is correct? If neither, please tell me how it works.

Guess A: Il refers to the situation just described or (if an exact reference is desirable) the que clause immediately above (que le président m’a dit... au nom du peuple français). Il is also the subject of a semblé reconnaître. reconnaître has the meaning of something like confirm here. Thus, we have:

It (what I just heard) seemed to me then to confirm the sentiment that I read on all the faces.

Guess B: Il is a placeholder. The real subject of the sentence is reconnaître or (if you prefer) reconnaître le sentiment que je lisais sur tous les visages. In this case, we need a subject (agent) for reconnaître, which is moi. Thus we have:

It seemed to me (i.e. I thought) then that I recognized the sentiment that I read on all the faces.

If B is correct, these related questions would also arise.

Question 2

How can I expressly work in the subject of reconnaître? Probably by converting the infinitive to a que clause? But is there a way to leave the infinitive reconnaître and add something like par moi?

Question 3

If guess B is right, does that make it a messy sentence? The reader has to hunt down a subject for the infinitive. (Certainly a direct transposition to English does not work: "It seemed to me to recognize the sentiment." There, the agent of recognition would have to be it.)

  • B is right except for the word then; It then seemed to me that I recognized etc. French structure is not English structure but in translation here you have to use I recognize in English. You have to accept the French structure as is. Not try to force it to be English.... – Lambie Apr 26 '16 at 14:24
2

Your Question 1: The correct meaning is given in your second proposition:

"It seemed to me then that I recognized the sentiment that I read on all the faces.

The "il" of "il m'a semblé..." is exactly your "B" guess: it's a placeholder meaning precisely "it seemed to me". So, after "il me semble" you may either place a proposition that must begin with "que" or directly an infinitive verb. It's that form that surprised you, because it seems to me that effectively this form doesn't exist in English.

Your Question 2: In that sentence, reconnaître has no subject, since it's an infinitive form. But the logical subject is the one who recognises, and here it is "m'" : the narrator.

Your Question 3: I think that here you are wrong. I can assure you that to a French speaker, that sentence is not messy at all. By the way, the infinitive form of a verb is precisely the one where there is no grammatical subject, don't you think?

1

Your guess B is right, "il" is unpersonnal, you may rephrase it :

J'ai l'impression d'avoir reconnu le sentiment [...]
J'ai eu l'impression de reconnaître le sentiment [...]

I don't feel the complexity of the sentence. the "m'" makes it clear the subject is "I", and "Il me semble" is a very common way to express a doubt, so you recognize it and you know the subject is not "il".

Using "il" makes the sentence kind of passive, so the narrator is a victim of what happens (all of a sudden, he recognized it). Whereas using "Je" means the narrator does an action to recognize the feeling.

  • How would you say then, "It seemed to me she recognized that..."? Does recognition have to become a que clause? Or can you retain reconnaître and somehow add by her? Maybe you can work this into your answer too? Thank you very much. You've also got "B is write" for "is right." – Catomic Apr 22 '16 at 15:59
  • @Catomic Haha, what a typo... :D – Random Apr 22 '16 at 16:01
  • @Catomic You would say "It seemed to me she recognized that..." this way : "Il m'a semblé qu'elle avait reconnu que..." – Random Apr 22 '16 at 16:02
  • Thank you again. When I feel that two answers provided roughly the same substance, I "accept" the answer from the member with a lower reputation score so as to encourage participation, as happens here. I hope this is OK with you. – Catomic Apr 23 '16 at 3:23
  • @Catomic Approved ! :) – Random Apr 23 '16 at 19:20
1

I would have translated it with something like that:

I had the impression that I could distinguish the feeling that was visible on all the faces.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.