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The question is on the highlighted words in this passage from La porte étroite by André Gide. The "je" in it is Alissa.

Grande émotion, en passant rue de Paris avant-hier, de voir, à la devanture de M…, bien indiscrètement étalé, le livre d’Abel que tu m’avais annoncé, mais à la réalité duquel je ne parvenais pas à croire. Je n’ai pu y tenir ; je suis entrée ; mais le titre m’en paraissait si ridicule que j’hésitais à le dire au commis ; j’ai même vu l’instant où j’allais ressortir de la boutique avec n’importe quel autre ouvrage. Heureusement, une pente pile de Privautés attendait le client, près du comptoir – où j’ai jeté cent sous, après m’être emparée d’un exemplaire, et sans avoir eu besoin de parler.

QUESTIONS

  1. Suppose that Alissa had brought herself to believe (succeeded in believing) in the reality of the book. Which of the following would express that?

(A) . . . le livre d’Abel que tu m’avais annoncé, et à la réalité duquel j'étais parvenue à croire
(B) . . . le livre d’Abel que tu m’avais annoncé, et à la réalité duquel je parvenais à croire

  1. If the answer to 1 is (A), then it would appear that negation affects the form of verb. Gide has:

(G) . . . le livre d’Abel que tu m’avais annoncé, mais à la réalité duquel je ne parvenais pas à croire

Plus-que-parfait for the affirmative vs. imparfait for the negative version. Why is that when, presumably, the same thing is being affirmed or negated?

  1. If the answer to 1 is (B), why should we use the imperfect when the action spoken of is a "completed" action, just like m’avais annoncé?

  2. Could one have said:

(G') . . . le livre d’Abel que tu m’avais annoncé, mais à la réalité duquel je n'étais pas parvenu à croire

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  1. I'd say (A) means what you think, but I could see (B) being correct too, with a nuance in meaning. In (A) she believed it and it's done, but in (B) she managed to believe it but she's not that convinced and could stop believing at any time. (By the way it's "parvenue")

  2. It's not that hard to understand that negation changes the tense, it's not a yes/no, symmetrical thing here. If you try but you don't succeed, you can keep trying, but if you succeed, you stop trying. It's the same reason you can say "I'm trying but it doesn't work" but not "I'm trying and it works", you have to say "I tried and it works". That is not related to how tenses work, but more about what the opposite of "not succeeding" implies.

  3. I'll still cover that question, juste in case. "Annoncer" is a definite action you don't do during an extended period, but "parvenir à y croire" in (B) is not a completed action. Something like "I managed to believe it, for now".

  4. Yes, but a different tense has a different meaning. This would imply the whole thing is farther in the past. "Je ne parvenais pas à y croire" means she's still trying to believe it, while with "je n'étais pas parvenue" she stopped trying and has moved on.

I hope that covers it all.

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The "imparfait" denotes a lasting state or a habit while the "passé composé" is used for a short action which is now completed. "Ne pas parvenir" is a long lasting state, while "parvenir" is a transition which is now done.

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