In Les Misérables, in the poem at the end, Hugo writes « La chose simplement d'elle-même arriva, comme la nuit se fait lorsque le jour s'en va ». Why « d'elle-même » instead of « elle-même »?


In French, arriver de [something] HERE means to happen on its own. See the two examples, with and without d' for this context.

  • Elle arriva elle-même. She herself arrived.

  • La chose arriva d'elle-même. The thing [here, death] happened on its own.

In other words, no one caused it to happen.

Another example:

  • Elle est venue d'elle-même. Il est venu de lui-même.

She came on her own. He came on his own.

[ambiguity alert re the English, in the sense of no one induced her to come or convinced her to come or made her come. But not in the sense of in English of: She came alone.]

  • Arriver de means To come from. It's rather that Arriver d'elle-même which would roughly translate in the present case as Coming from itself is a french way of saying Happening on its own.
    – NovHak
    Oct 21 at 16:06
  • @NovHak I said in my answer that it is, here, happen on its own. Why repeat that in your comment? [French is capitalized in English.]
    – Lambie
    Oct 21 at 16:28
  • You said Arriver de [something] means To happen on its own, which is not true. While your translation of the original sentence is ultimately correct, this was not. For example, Arriver de Limoges means To come from Limoges. I suppose you know that since it's rather simple, so I don't know, maybe your mistyped something...
    – NovHak
    Oct 21 at 18:48
  • @NovHak. I was answering the question in context. Look at my first two examples. I obviously was not answering: arriver de quelque part. Or: arriver d'un coup or any other things.
    – Lambie
    Oct 21 at 18:51
  • This didn't look obvious to me at least, but certainly your edit along with the comments now makes it clear enough !
    – NovHak
    Oct 21 at 19:20

If you say la chose arriva elle-même it means the whatever arrived in person (without any help).
That's not what is meant here. You can bring arriver de soi together with the verbal phrase aller de soi which expresses a logical consequence from one thing to another, an evidence.

What Hugo means is that Valjean's death happened according to the natural course of things, like night succeeds to day.


Here is the analysis of this usage as it can be read through its full definition in the TLFi. This putting apart of this present usage of "de" will at the same time be an opportunity for learning a little about how to read the TLFi. The entry is tagged by the "dependence number" "I. C. 4. e) α)". The subdivision numbers (I, II, … A, B, … 1, 2, … a), b), … etc.) are followed most of the time by a definition. In order to know if there is a definition after a number, and what is this definition, use the colour code (clic on "options d'affichage") and pick a colour for "définition"; all the definitions in your TLFi will be highlighted with this colour. Below, the definitions are in bold type. Do the same for "syntagme"; that will highlight the expressions of the language that are relevant to the entry. The expressions are in italics below.

Here is the information attached to the "dependence number"; ideally this information should be read entirely when it is needed to become better acquainted with the entry.

de soi-même, de lui-même [d'elle-même, d'eux-même, …]

I.De prend une valeur sémantique en corrélation avec celle du mot subséquent.

C.De marque une circonstance qui précise (et parfois conditionne) une modalité d'existence ou d'action.

4. La modalité est une manière d'être ou de se comporter. [Le compl. de + subst. ou pron. est souvent indéterminé, notamment dans des loc. verbales ou adv. au fig.; il correspond à un adv. ou au gérondif, p. ex. accepter de bon cœur « volontiers, en étant d'accord, avec joie »]

e) Loc. adv. de manière. D'habitude, de coutume, d'usage, d'avis, etc. (cf. infra III de formateur de locutions). − Spécialement
α) [Pour exprimer la spontanéité] De + pron. pers. réfl.
De soi-même, de lui-même. De sa propre initiative, de son propre mouvement. Agir de soi-même : 100. Elle y revint plusieurs fois, jusqu'à ce que le pays lui fût devenu si familier qu'elle s'y replaçait d' elle-même sans fatigue, rien qu'en fermant les yeux. Bernanos, Un Mauvais rêve,1948, p. 986. 101. (... ah! plus que le berceau, c'est le cœur battant du tendre petit bébé qui lui communique sa pulsation!) Il naît une mélopée à laquelle viennent s'adapter comme d' elles-mêmes d'humbles paroles. Claudel, Poésies diverses,1952, p. 739.
De soi. Par sa propre vertu, naturellement (en parlant de choses). Cela va de soi. Cela va sans dire. C'est une chose évidente de soi Qu'on doit permettre aux gens leur plaisir, quel qu'il soit (Augier, Ciguë,1844, I, p. 13).Il va de soi que le plan anglais est inacceptable (De Gaulle, Mém. guerre,1959, p. 641).

I In "I" we learn that this usage of "de" belongs to a category of usages for which "de" takes on meaning (prend une valeur sémantique); it is, in this category, something of a content word. Note that you deduce this meaning on the basis of the meaning of the word that follows (en corrélation avec celle du mot subséquent).
This is to be opposed to "de" where there is no meaning to the word; it is then used as a marker of syntactical relation. This second category is found under "II", which is the second and last important category of usages (II.− De marque une relation syntaxique; il est introducteur de substantifs, de pronoms ou d'infinitif en fonction de complément, de sujet, d'attribut, d'apposition, ou en fonction expressive.). For instance, in "venir de Paris", "de" is in the first category as "de" means either "with departure point" or "with origin". On the contrary, in "manquer de pain", "continue de pleuvoir", the preposition has no inrinsic meaning and only shows that the state of being wanting is relative to bread, that the state of being continuing is relative to raining.

C The circumstance that is made more specific (marque une circonstance qui précise) is how it happened (arriva), the modality of the action being what is relevant here since "to happen" confers the idea of action.

4. The modality of the action is what is implied, as already said in "C".

e) The phrase in question (d'elle-même) is an adverbial locution that confer an idea of manner ( Loc. adv. de manière). A few such locutions are given.

α) The locution we are interested in is special as it is used to show the spontaneity of an action ([Pour exprimer la spontanéité]).

De soi-même, de lui-même This means that no external influence causes the action to occur, only the nature of the subject is responsible for it.


As a summary, you can say that this sort of expression is used to show the spontaneity of the subject in carrying out the action involved.

spontanéité A. − Mouvement premier qui ne doit sa cause qu'à lui-même. Anton. inertie.La spontanéité d'une action.


In "normal" french, we will say "La chose arriva simplement d'elle-même, [...]".

Such as it's a poem with lot of rhyme, some word are inversed :

La chose simplement d'elle-même arriVA,

Comme la nuit se fait lorsque le jour s'en VA

For the original question "why d'", we have to "recall" the subject. In this case, it's "La chose" which is represented by "d'"

  • The last sentence is incorrect : "d'" here doesn't represent "la chose", it is a préposition introducing the complément d'object indirect "d'elle-même". "La chose" is represented by the pronom "elle-même".
    – Evargalo
    Oct 21 at 14:27

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