1

The question is on the last two sentences of this passage from Flaubert's L'Éducation sentimentale.

Des arbres la couronnaient parmi des maisons basses couvertes de toits à l’italienne. Elles avaient des jardins en pente que divisaient des murs neufs, des grilles de fer, des gazons, des serres chaudes, et des vases de géraniums, espacés régulièrement sur des terrasses où l’on pouvait s’accouder. Plus d’un, en apercevant ces coquettes résidences, si tranquilles, enviait d’en être le propriétaire, pour vivre là jusqu’à la fin de ses jours, avec un bon billard, une chaloupe, une femme ou quelque autre rêve. Le plaisir tout nouveau d’une excursion maritime facilitait les épanchements. Déjà les farceurs commençaient leurs plaisanteries. Beaucoup chantaient. On était gai. Il se versait des petits verres.

Question

  1. Am I correct to think that Il refers to on in the sentence just before?

  2. If yest to 1, is it an acceptable alternative to repeat on so that we get:

On était gai. On se versait des petits verres.

  1. If no to 1, what is Il then referring to?

Background

Please also see this related post. In it, I assume the substance of qoba's answer below (i.e. saying no to 1 and saying that Il is an impersonal pronoun) and ask further questions.

2

No. "Il" is an impersonal pronoun here, as in "Il pleut". This translates to English passive voice, as in "Small glasses were being poured".

  • Thanks. I guess it is se that turns the verb into the passive (or "middle") voice? Then is des not an indefinite article, but de + les? – Catomic Jun 2 '16 at 4:09
  • The use of the impersonal pronoun has for main effect that the subject of the verb isn't specified. It roughly translates to English passive voice because that's how English speakers would typically make a sentence where the subject is implied, but it doesn't actually need to be used with "se". For example "il tombe de la neige" (snow was falling). However, aside from weather, I think the construction is mostly only used with reflexive verbs (il se fait tard, il se fait faim, il se trouve beaucoup de gens dans cette situation, il ne s'en trouve pas un pour rattraper l'autre, etc.). – qoba Jun 2 '16 at 5:26
  • As for "des", it is not the contraction of "de les" but the indefinite article, denoting the many glasses being poured, which are not specifically identified at this point in the sentence. – qoba Jun 2 '16 at 5:28
  • Here are some more examples from etudes-litteraires.com/forum/… -- Il manque deux euros. Il se passe de drôles de choses. Il reste trois parts. Il règne une atmosphère étrange. Il jaillit du pétrole. Il court une rumeur. Il flotte une bonne odeur. Il pousse ici de nombreuses plantes. Etc. Il y a également, entre autres, les pronominaux à sens passif. Il se vend beaucoup de livres. – qoba Jun 2 '16 at 5:51
  • 1
    Given context, it's obvious that it's not someone in particular who is pouring himself some shots, but rather people in general. I agree that it's uncommon and in this case literary. – qoba Jun 2 '16 at 6:17

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