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This is one of Proust's better sentences but right now my question is much more mundane:

Mais lui à qui jusque-là rien n’aurait pu paraître aussi fastidieux que tout ce qui se rapportait à la vie cosmopolite de Bade ou de Nice, apprenant qu’Odette avait peut-être fait autrefois la fête dans ces villes de plaisir, sans qu’il dût jamais arriver à savoir si c’était seulement pour satisfaire à des besoins d’argent que grâce à lui elle n’avait plus, ou à des caprices qui pouvaient renaître, maintenant il se penchait avec une angoisse impuissante, aveugle et vertigineuse vers l’abîme sans fond où étaient allées s’engloutir; ces années du début du Septennat pendant lesquelles on passait l’hiver sur la promenade des Anglais, l’été sous les tilleuls de Bade, et il leur trouvait une profondeur douloureuse mais magnifique comme celle que leur eût prêtée un poète, et il eût mis à reconstituer les petits faits de la chronique de la Côte d’Azur d’alors, si elle avait pu l’aider à comprendre quelque chose du sourire ou des regards – pourtant si honnêtes et si simples – d’Odette, plus de passion que l’esthéticien qui interroge les documents subsistant de la Florence du XVe siècle pour tâcher d’entrer plus avant dans l’âme de la Primavera, de la bella Vanna, ou de la Vénus, de Botticelli.

In the English translation of Kilmartin and Enright they actually named the president that Proust apparently is referring to. But, one, was that a good idea, and two, how do they know? Is there something about the French language that I'm missing here. They say it was the McMahon presidency which does not seem like a very French name to me, then again the name of the top British military officer during WWI for a while there was named 'French' which technically speaking is not a French name either. Anyway, according to Wiki, McMahon only served as president from 1873 to 1879 which is six years, not seven, but maybe he left office early.

UPDATE

Actually, now that I think about it, it probably does make more sense to translate it as 'the McMahon Presidency' rather than something strange like 'heptiad' or 'the seven year presidential term' which is too long. So I think what the translators are doing is just choosing something that's easy to understand and doesn't sound awkward.

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  • "Le septennat de Mac Mahon" is the established expression even though he only did 6 years. You'll find many occurrences of that phrase. Not sure which Proust this is excerpted from but at the time, 7-year terms were a novelty so it could easily be guessed from context. I also recommend checking out the origin of the French septennat, it is quite funny. Mar 3, 2023 at 14:42
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    @guillaume31 C'est une réponse, vas-y même si c'est que le début. Les commentaires servent à clarifier la question et ne sont pas très visibles comme réponse.
    – livresque
    Mar 3, 2023 at 18:50

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In a comment, @guillaume31 a répondu :

"Le septennat de Mac Mahon" is the established expression even though he only did 6 years. You'll find many occurrences of that phrase. Not sure which Proust this is excerpted from but at the time, 7-year terms were a novelty so it could easily be guessed from context. I also recommend checking out the origin of the French septennat, it is quite funny.

@jlliagre commented: Septennat means exclusively the 7-year term for which a president of the French Republic was elected. This term was reduced to five years in 2000 and is now called a quinquennat. Proust uses Septennat as a proper noun, which is unusual, and the translator deduced that it could only refer to the first of its kind which is precisely the one of President Mac Mahon. Whether he completed it or not doesn't change the fact that it was a septennat. It is about the planned duration, not the actual one.

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  • O I get it, it's like the 100 days. So if I were to say in English, "after the 100 days the Bourbons were restored to the throne," everyone knows that 100 days is equivalent to "after Napoleon returned from Elba." So I guess 'septennat' uniquely refers to the administration of MacMahon. Also, I looked up how a man with an Irish name became president of France and it seems that his ancestors moved to France around the 1750s. As for the funny origin of the 'septennat' I read half of this long article and haven't found anything funny yet.
    – bobsmith76
    Mar 3, 2023 at 22:06
  • I've got limited time, so should I keep reading this? vie-publique.fr/parole-dexpert/…
    – bobsmith76
    Mar 3, 2023 at 22:06
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    @bobsmith76 Septennat means exclusively the 7-year term for which a president of the French Republic was elected. This term was reduced to five years in 2000 and is now called a quinquennat. Proust uses Septennat as a proper noun, which is unusual, and the translator deduced that it could only refer to the first of its kind which is precisely the one of President Mac Mahon. Whether he completed it or not doesn't change the fact that it was a septennat. It is about the planned duration, not the actual one.
    – jlliagre
    Mar 3, 2023 at 23:35
  • cool, thanks for that.
    – bobsmith76
    Mar 4, 2023 at 1:22
  • @bobsmith76 I've read that 7 years was the estimated life expectancy of an aristocrat who had fallen out of grace but whose heir could take over the monarchy at his death :) Making the Republic nothing more than a morbid stopgap. Can't find the exact source although it is alluded to in fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Septennat#Origines - dans l'attente du décès du comte de Chambord. Mar 6, 2023 at 9:45

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