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I'm reading "Du côté de chez Swann" by M. Proust (Part 2). I stuck at a sentence:

Il vit alors que dans sa résolution de ne pas prendre acte, de ne pas avoir été touchée par la nouvelle qui venait de lui être notifiée, de ne pas seulement rester muette, mais d’avoir été sourde comme nous l’affectons quand un ami fautif essaye de glisser dans la conversation une excuse que ce serait avoir l’air d’admettre que de l’avoir écoutée sans protester, ou quand on prononce devant nous le nom défendu d’un ingrat, Mme Verdurin pour que son silence n’eût pas l’air d’un consentement, mais du silence ignorant des choses inanimées, avait soudain dépouillé son visage de toute vie, de toute motilité ; son front bombé n’était plus qu’une belle étude de ronde bosse où le nom de ces La Trémoïlle, chez qui était toujours fourré Swann, n’avait pu pénétrer ; son nez légèrement froncé laissait voir une échancrure qui semblait calquée sur la vie.

I cannot understand the meaning of une échancrure. Wiktionary says it is an indentation, or low neckline or slot. However I cannot imagine any slot / indentation on the face "qui semblait calquée sur la vie". Is it hole in a nostril or philtrum?

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  • her slightly wrinkled nose revealed a philtrum that seemed taken from life. [I have no idea what he meant, really.] It is as if this philtrum were true to life, as real as life. Modeled on life, which is what it actually says, is not great as a translation.
    – Lambie
    Nov 24 '21 at 19:50
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The word is indeed not usual at all when describing a face, and we must have in mind that it is the face of an elderly person (Mme Verdurin) with age beginning to show on her face.

If you look at the definition of the word "indentation" in English:

A recess or sharp depression in any surface.(Wiktionary)

then we may understand Proust is using the word to mean a "wrinkle", which in French is ride. More exactly with échancrure he would be referring to the furrow part of the wrinkle, as opposed to the ridge.

This is one interpretation, but in the next sentence Proust is mentioning Mme Verdurin's mouth:

son nez légèrement froncé laissait voir une échancrure qui semblait calquée sur la vie. On eût dit que sa bouche entrouverte allait parler. Ce n’était plus qu’une cire perdue, qu’un masque de plâtre, qu’une maquette pour un monument...

and after giving it a second thought I am almost convinced that with échancrure Proust is referring to the mouth. He says it is an échancrure because she keeps it half open (On eût dit que sa bouche entrouverte allait parler), and it is probably rather wide. And also Proust is here describing Mme Verdurin as he would describe a statue, in this part of the description she hardly moves, until, in the next sentence she becomes alive and speaks:

Mais le marbre finit par s’animer et fit entendre.

Mme Verdurin's mouth is central to the passage.


I was curious to see how this passage had been translated into English, and I read C. K. Scott Moncrieff's translation (available on Gutenberg and this is how he translated the passage:

her nose, just perceptibly wrinkled in a frown, exposed to view two dark cavities that were, surely, modelled from life.

I must admit I am not completely convinced by his interpretation. How can une échancrure turn into two? But he is a Proust specialist, so...

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    I think the bouche is not related to this échancrure. The paragraph deals with her forehead, then her nose, then her mouth.
    – Lambie
    Nov 24 '21 at 19:55
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    I had started to reply to your now deleted 1st comment to say I had mentioned the philtrum as a possibility but changed my mind . Thanks, I had noticed the paragraph deals with the forehand the nose and the mouth ! I am not saying otherwise. I am giving my interpretation and C. K. Scott Moncrieff. He's a Proust specialist, I am not. OP knows.
    – None
    Nov 24 '21 at 20:06
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    His translation is carrément a rewrite. Very elegant, very nice, but two large cavities? That seems a real stretch.
    – Lambie
    Nov 24 '21 at 20:20
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    Je plussoie la bouche. Proust décrit Mme Verdurin comme une statue, la ronde bosse, où cette échancrure (Littré : coupure en forme de croissant, de demi cercle) imite/reproduit (calquée) une vraie bouche (sur la vie). La traduction anglaise semble curieusement substituer les narines à la bouche...
    – jlliagre
    Nov 25 '21 at 0:55
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    Les traductions italiennes, espagnoles et portugaises respectent l'unicité de cette fameuse échancrure: it: il naso leggermente contratto lasciava scorgere un incavo che sembrava medellato sul vivo (cavité, encoche), es: la nariz se frunció levemente en una arruguita que parecía de verdad. (petite ride) & pt: seu nariz, levemente franzido, mostrava uma chanfradura que parecia calcada sobre o natural. (lit. chanfrein, échancrure)
    – jlliagre
    Nov 25 '21 at 14:00

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