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From Blaise Cendrars' story 'Le Saint Inconnu' (1937):

Fardée comme elle l'était pour se rendre au bal nègre et habillée de l'une des dernières robes de Paul Poiret, cette belle femme [...] n'avait pas d'âge'.

I am just wondering why it's 'comme elle l'était' and not just 'comme elle était'. Is this use of the definite article grammatically necessary or stylistically optional?

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  • The pronoun avoids repeating the adjective intelligente. However, it is not necessary. c) Adj. + comme + prop. attributive.Intelligente comme elle est, intelligente comme elle l'est. Intelligente comme elle est intelligente : TFLi As intelligent as she was v. As intelligent as she was intelligent
    – Lambie
    Jun 22, 2022 at 15:43
  • @Lambie You are not dealing simply with a plain adjective; it is not "fardée" but "fardée pour se rendre au Bal Nègre"; this is not the same type of adjectival phrase. I believe that in this case, the verb "être" does not have this property of being a proform; a pronoun is ncessary in French.
    – LPH
    Jun 22, 2022 at 17:07
  • fardée comme elle l'était follows the exact form given in the TFLi: Intelligente comme elle l'est. So, no, it isn't required but is more elegant in French for the reason given in my first comment.
    – Lambie
    Jun 22, 2022 at 17:23
  • @Lambie Elegance at the price of otioseness makes for little elegance but instead for showy frivolity.
    – LPH
    Jun 22, 2022 at 17:39
  • I cannot understand half of what you write. There is nothing hateful (otiose) about citing a French dictionary.
    – Lambie
    Jun 22, 2022 at 17:58

1 Answer 1

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It is not the définite article, but instead the personal pronoun "le". It is put here for "fardée". This could have been written "fardée comme elle était fardée" and it would have the same meaning. The grammatical function of "le" is "attribut du sujet « elle »".

(TLFi) LE, LA, LES, pronom. obj. dir.
I. − [Le est uniquement lié au verbe qu'il précède ou qu'il suit le plus immédiatement]
B. − [Le est attribut du suj.]
♦ C'est un vrai paysan du Danube, et ravi de l'être (Bremond, Hist. sent. relig., t. 4, 1920, p. 495).
♦ Martyrisé par les mouches, il se disait que les taureaux l'étaient encore beaucoup plus que lui, ce qui lui permit enfin d'aimer son mal (Montherl., Bestiaires,1926, p. 527).
♦ Vanité de ce cri d'homme du désert! Vous êtes tels que si vous l'aperceviez comme moi, vous ne pourriez plus l'être (G. Bataille, Exp. int.,1943, p. 82)
♦ Si je ne craignais d'être impoli, je vous dirais tout cru que vous me semblez en démence. − Je le semblerais à beaucoup d'autres, monsieur. Borel, Champavert,1833, p. 191.


Correction after user Guillaume31's comment (see comment section)

The use of this pronoun is not necessary, but still, it is not a stylistic device, and both forms seem to be usable in everyday speech. However, in the given sentence, it seems that it is necessary. The removal of this pronoun could yield another interpretation. One could say that without the pronoun "comme elle était" means "as she was", "without any other sort of prepartion" such as a particular hairdo, or without preliminary washing. I believe that preseving the pronoun permits to avoid any misunderstanding.

After some reflection, it occurred to me that the necessity of this pronoun is dictated by the necessity of an "attribut du sujet" in the subordinate "comme … nègre"; the clause "comme elle était pour se rendre au bal nègre" would not be complete. If the verb "to be" can be a proform in English in that contexte, this is not the case in French.

  • Fardée comme elle l'était pour se rendre au bal nègre et habillée de l'une des dernières robes de Paul Poiret, cette belle femme [...] n'avait pas d'âge'.
  • Heavily made up, as she was when she went to

Ex.

  • — Elle était rapide. — Elle l'était, c'est vrai, mais pas toujours. (The pronoun can't be omited.)
    — She was fast. — She was, but not always.
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    TLFi disagrees on the last part: c) Adj. + comme + prop. attributive. Intelligente comme elle est, intelligente comme elle l'est. cnrtl.fr/definition/comme Jun 22, 2022 at 12:19
  • @guillaume31 Wouldn't you think that a different interpretation is possible if the pronoun is omitted?
    – LPH
    Jun 22, 2022 at 13:42
  • aside from language level - colloquial vs slightly more formal with the pronoun, not that I can see. Are you thinking of something specific? Jun 22, 2022 at 13:48
  • @guillaume31 Yes, I tried to explain it in my answer. It would be "comme elle était" as in "Elle s'est présentée à la directrice comme elle était, avec une blouse déchirée et ses cheveux ébouriffés, car elle n'avait pas eu le temps de se changer."
    – LPH
    Jun 22, 2022 at 14:11
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    @Lambie "Belle femme" hardly refers to apperances as manifested by extrinsic signs of embellishment, but on the contrary to the the person herself, considering the plainest apparel in which her appearance can be so asserted. So, une "belle feme" can be wearing tasteless dresses and showy make-up (but it'll occur to most observers that this is far from being the rule, as the Americans say, pretty is pretty does.).
    – LPH
    Jun 22, 2022 at 16:53

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