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This question is on this passage from chapter 7 of La porte étroite by André Gide.

Jérôme had noted certain 'ouvrages de piété vulgaire' at Alissa's bedside. Now, in this passage, Alissa gives her view of Pascal. The passage ends with Alissa reverting to 'ouvrages de piété vulgaire,' which she calls 'Les pauvres âmes que voici.'

I doubt we need this much context for my question, but I give it just in case.

     – Tant de grandiloquence étonne, et tant d’effort ; et pour prouver si peu. Je me demande parfois si son intonation pathétique n’est pas l’effet plutôt du doute que de la foi. La foi parfaite n’a pas tant de larmes ni de tremblement dans la voix.
      – C’est ce tremblement, ce sont ces larmes qui font la beauté de cette voix – essayai-je de repartir, mais sans courage, car je ne reconnaissais dans ces paroles rien de ce que je chérissais dans Alissa. Je les transcris telles que je m’en souviens et sans y apporter après coup art ni logique.
      – S’il n’avait pas d’abord vidé la vie présente de sa joie, reprit-elle, elle pèserait plus lourd dans la balance que…
      – Que quoi ? fis-je, interdit par ses étranges propos.
      – Que l’incertaine félicité qu’il propose.
      – N’y crois-tu donc pas ? m’écriai-je.
      – Qu’importe ! reprit-elle ; je veux qu’elle demeure incertaine afin que tout soupçon de marché soit écarté. C’est par noblesse naturelle, non par espoir de récompense, que l’âme éprise de Dieu va s’enfoncer dans la vertu.
      – De là ce secret scepticisme où se réfugie la noblesse d’un Pascal.
      – Non scepticisme : jansénisme, dit-elle en souriant. Qu’avais-je affaire de cela ? Les pauvres âmes que voici – et elle se retournait vers ses livres – seraient bien embarrassées de dire si elles sont jansénistes, quiétistes ou je ne sais quoi de différent. Elles s’inclinent devant Dieu comme des herbes qu’un vent presse, sans malice, sans trouble, sans beauté. Elles se tiennent pour peu remarquables et savent qu’elles ne doivent quelque valeur qu’à leur effacement devant Dieu.

Let me name the bits in question so I can refer to them.

(A) Elles se tiennent pour peu remarquables et (B) savent qu’elles ne doivent quelque valeur qu’à leur effacement devant Dieu.

QUESTION

  1. Is the whole thing--i.e. (A) & (B)--a good, natural sounding sentence?

    (I assume it is. Just want to make sure.)

  2. Does (B) standing alone without (A) also sound OK?

    (I mean (B) with an 'elles' to serve as its subject.)

BACKGROUND

The motivation for this question is as follows.

In English,

(C) They know that they owe a little worth only to their effacement before God.

would not sound very good. (I know that quelque can also mean some. Please make the substitution in your mind if you wish.)

You would want to say something like:

They know that they owe their little worth only to their effacement before God.

or,

They know that they owe only to their effacement before God what little worth they have.

That is, you want to make it a definite parcel of worth as it were, not an indefinite quantum.

One way to make that definite parcel may be to say (C), but somehow emphasize a little (e.g. pause right after owe and shrug your shoulders at a little). (I am not even sure if that's going to work.)

In English again, little or nothing to serve as contrast to a little might help. For example, this might sound better than (C):

They see nothing remarkable in themselves and know that it is a little worth they have, all of it owing only to their effacement before God.

The question is whether there is no similar pressure on quelque and whether quelque standing in the middle of (A) + (B) or even (B) alone sounds just fine.

2
  1. Yes it works. "Natural" - it depends. Probably not in everyday conversation. The language is pretty "elevated".

Elles savent qu’elles ne doivent quelque valeur qu’à leur effacement devant Dieu.

Is IMHO perfectly, although nobody speaks like that anymore. It would be ancient, literary ... but completely ok. Plus all those qu sounds - not my thing.

  1. Yes, it works. There is no need to have (A) first to say (rather, write) (B).
  • Great! That's all I wanted to know. And 'say' would have been fine. None of us make needless objections. – Catomic Feb 10 '17 at 15:14
  • Oh well, you're telling me that it works, and Teleporting Goat is at least not contesting it. So I can live with that. – Catomic Feb 10 '17 at 15:28
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Il s'agit d'un emploi pronominal réfléchi où se tenir (pour) (sur un modèle qqn/qqc. tient qqn/qqc. (pour)) est synonyme de s'estimer (TLFi) ou se considérer comme (Larousse). Il s'agirait d'un truc du genre de hold oneself as little remarkable, la faible estime, mais l'idée c'est qu'on s'estime d'abord peu remarquable puis qu'on met toute valeur qu'on pourrait avoir sur le compte d'un comportement particulier (l'effacement devant Dieu). C'est à mon avis une réduction de quelque valeur qu'elles puissent avoir, en contexte quelque (peu de) valeur qu'il puisse leur rester vu le constat préalable sans lequel c'est moins cohérent au niveau du sens (une précision ou une surenchère vers le bas dans l'estime), ou plus générique (deux explications distinctes : leur opinion d'elles-mêmes puis la valeur uniquement attribuable à un comportement et non à une qualité en soi), si grammatical, toujours selon moi. Dans tous les cas c'est d'un français magnifique et limpide.

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  1. I can see that it's elevated language, but I didn't know you could use the words that way. I know what it means, but it's really rare even for literary style.

    I don't know if that qualifies as "natural" or not, a lot of literary stuff would feel super weird said in a verbal conversation.

  2. Yes, (A) and (B) are not linked by anything grammatical whatsoever.

  • Oh, you "didn't know you could use the words that way"? So it doesn't sound good? I think you native speakers will have to--somehow--come to a consensus if at all possible. I don't know what to think now. – Catomic Feb 10 '17 at 15:18
  • @Catomic As I said, "I know it's elevated" : it sounds like good French that I've never seen yet. I don't know if that's what you meant or not. It's Gide, so I trust him to use correct French. – Teleporting Goat Feb 10 '17 at 15:22
  • By "natural" I mean in the context of something literary and now 100 years old. If you were reading out loud Dickens or Fielding, they are going to sound natural. – Catomic Feb 10 '17 at 15:22
  • @Catomic I don't think languages evolved in the same way, and at the same pace, and I think 1800s English is closer to current day than 1800s French. It's specific to every language. Here, 95% of the book sounds "natural" (you gave a lot of extracts), but in a 1800's book in French at some point you'll always find phrases that aren't used anymore. When I read Zola or Maupassant, I had to look stuff up because some words or phrases fell completely out of use. – Teleporting Goat Feb 10 '17 at 15:30

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