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This is from Guy de Maupassant, "La maison Tellier," in Contes et nouvelles, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Éditions Gallimard 2008, page 270.

Des carrioles arrivaient des communes voisines, déchargeant au seuil des portes les hautes Normandes en robes sombres, au fichu croisé sur la poitrine et retenu par un bijou d'argent séculaire.

Am I correct in believing that this means "Norman women of high rank," or perhaps "haughty Norman women," and has nothing to do with how many centimeters they stand from heel to crown?

Mme Bach my highschool French teacher told me that to say someone is tall, one says "grand," not "haut." And https://www.littre.org/definition/haut seems to make no mention of tall stature. Whereas it does say, for instance,

14 Qui a de l'élévation morale et de la fierté.

Thus, I might translate this as follows. No attempt here to follow the sentence structure but rather to capture the imagery and the social dynamics.

Two-wheeled carts showed up from nearby townships. They stopped at people's doorsteps and high-ranking [or haughty] Norman women got out. They wore dark dresses. Their scarves were tied across their breasts and secured by silver heirlooms.

I have not tried to check this against a published translation of Maupassant.

I add the following after reading the reply and comments.

The irony of this Maupassant story is why I lean toward "haughty," or maybe "upstanding," as the sense of "hautes" in this context.

"Upstanding" as in the Rogers and Hammerstein song, "Mister Snow." Mister Snow

Mme Tellier owns and operates a house in Fécamp, a small port town in Normany. She and her five employees, all attractive women, work hard in a profession regarded by polite society, especially by the Church, as the most despicable.

But one day Mme Tellier closes her house---to the consternation of all the men in Fécamp, both the sailors in port, English and French, and the top rungs of Fécamp government---to bring her ladies by train to another small town, Virville, where Mme Tellier's goddaughter, her brother's daughter, is going to receive her first communion.

Her brother and sister-in-law know perfectly well how Mme Tellier makes her money, but no one else in Virville does.

Mme Tellier and her ladies, in their flamboyant clothes, become stars as soon as they arrive, are seen as belonging to the top rung of society, their participation is central to preparing the girl for her first communion, and finally, in church, at the moment when the bread is transformed into the body of the Savior, one of the prostitutes breaks down in tears---thinking of her own mother---and her emotion triggers what an American evangelical would call a revival.

Her emotion spreads like fire and soon everyone in church is overcome.

At the end, the elderly priest himself, the officiant, proclaims that their town has experienced a miracle today, a miracle such as he has never witnessed. He thanks the ladies of Fécamp and identifies them as vessels of the Holy Spirit.

Mme Tellier and her ladies catch the next train back to Fécamp, singing bawdy songs, and get right back to work that evening. The men of Fécamp have been waiting desperately.

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  • If this had been in Brittany, the "haut" would come from the women wearing a typical "coiffe". Maybe something with hair?
    – MasB
    Mar 30, 2023 at 11:25
  • A good question, the fact nobody agrees attests the meaning is unclear even to native speakers.
    – jlliagre
    Mar 31, 2023 at 9:32

4 Answers 4

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High-ranking wouldn't be my first interpretation of hautes here.

Depending on the context, that might be women from Haute-Normandie (although the spelling Hautes-Normandes might be preferred) or a literary way to tell they are tall, which is less likely.

In light of the additions to the question, it appears that the first interpretation is the most likely.

Although the Normandy province was already commonly split at least in the 16th century and possibly earlier between a region whose capital was Rouen called "Haute Normandie" and a region around Caen called "Basse Normandie", the demonym Haute Normande (or Haut-Normande) seems to have been very unusual, and possibly not justifiable in the case of the story which is precisely located in Fécamp, a town where all women could share this designation.

The adjective haut(e) with the meaning high ranking is mostly found in rather fixed expressions like haute société, haute assemblée, haute couture, haut gradé or standalone:

TLFi Haute
E.-, 1. Expressions.
Les hautes classes de la société, la haute société et par ellipse, emploi substantivé, populaire, la haute. Le grand monde. Les gens de la haute, ceux de la haute. Les gens de la haute, comme disent aujourd'hui les bonnes gens, trouvèrent le milieu trop roturier, et la vogue des beaux noms se porta sur le Sacré-Cœur et sur l'Abbaye-aux-Bois (George Sand, Histoire de ma vie, t. 3, 1855, p. 250). La haute société de New-York parle français couramment, surtout les femmes, comme l'aristocratie russe d'avant-guerre; parler français est élégant (Paul Morand, New-York, 1930, p. 221).

I didn't found any other hautes Normandes with this meaning but in La nouvelle Babylone by Eugène Pelletan, 1862, this adjective appears in hautes Parisiennes with clearly the "upper class" meaning:

Voici même qu'à Trouville la haute Parisienne, en pleine émancipation, porte le chapeau empanaché à la Robespierre, la canne à pomme d'or de la Régence, la robe relevée jusque-là pour montrer un bas de soie diabolique noir et rouge, et dire en quelque sorte au passant : on marche ici dans la flamme du sabbat.

There is then no doubt It is well possible hautes Normandes had a similar meaning, despite being unusual in this context, but the other replies shows the intended meaning is still open to interpretation. The fact is hautes Normandes, whatever it means, is not very idiomatic. I would be equally puzzled if someone wrote Les hautes Françaises arrivent. Are they be from the Hauts-de-France, from the mountains, tall, upper class, ... ?

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  • 2
    In 1881, when the book was published, "Haute-Normandie" didn't exist. Regions started to appear early in the 20th century, and were officially created in 1956, Haute-Normandie included. The modern demonym was haut-normand·e, plural haut-normand·e·s, although it might have been different in 1881. Mar 30, 2023 at 14:22
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    @AmiralPatate Haute Normandie was already used under the monarchy, but deriving haute Normande from it was nevertheless a mistake of mine.
    – jlliagre
    Mar 30, 2023 at 21:53
  • @AmiralPatate Not sure I agree. As jiliagre said, haute Normandie has existed at least since the king appointed two general lieutenants, one for haute and one for basse Normandie in the XVIth century. Maupassant also takes liberties with toponyms and demonyms in his writings and they were not as formalized as today. histoire-normandie.fr/… Mar 31, 2023 at 10:08
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La haute as a name is indeed short for haute société, high society. It is a colloquial expression.

haute n.f.

La haute, les classes riches de la société.

The most likely interpretation from the sentence you give is indeed that these are women from high society, or at least appear as such. The general description, arriving by vehicle, wearing jewelry, certainly correlates.

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  • « La haute » is much more « populaire » than « colloquial » ( TLFi) ; le Larousse a tendance a attribuer des registres de langue plus élevé. « La haute » est un terme que l'on entendait beaucoup dans les milieux de la pègre ou les milieux connexes (dictionnaires d'argot). The proper term is « haute société ».
    – LPH
    Mar 30, 2023 at 17:15
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In Maupassant novel, the scene happens near the church for the first communion of the daughter of the carpenter. It is written :

Des carrioles arrivaient des communes voisines, déchargeant au seuil des portes les hautes Normandes en robes sombres, au fichu croisé sur la poitrine et retenu par un bijou d'argent séculaire. Les hommes avaient passé la blouse bleue sur la redingote neuve ou sur le vieil habit de drap vert dont les deux basques passaient.
Quand les chevaux furent à l’écurie, il y eut ainsi tout le long de la grande route une double ligne de guimbardes rustiques, charrettes, cabriolets, tilburys, chars à bancs, voitures de toute forme et de tout âge, penchées sur le nez ou bien cul par terre et les brancards au ciel.
. . .
Et les dévotes parlaient presque haut, stupéfaites par le spectacle de ces dames plus chamarrées que les chasubles.

Note that the "hautes Normandes" were passengers of horse cart ("carrioles") and not "cabriolets" or "tilburies". They were wearing dark dresses ("robes sombres").
Later in the text, it is written that ladies from the upper class ("ces dames") are wearing colourful ("chamarrées") dresses.

For these reasons , I assume that "hautes Normandes" refers to Haute Normandie and not to upper class.

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I have not tried to check this against a published translation of Maupassant.

I did.

Vehicles of all sorts came from neighboring parishes, and discharged tall, Norman women, in dark dresses, with neck-handkerchiefs crossed over the bosom, and fastened with silver brooches, a hundred years old. (Mme. Tellier's Excursion, in the P. F. Collier & Son Corporation version, author ?)

Vehicles of all sorts came from neighboring parishes, stopping at the different houses, and tall Norman women dismounted, wearing dark dresses, with kerchiefs crossed over the bosom, fastened with silver brooches a hundred years old. (M.C. McMaster, A.E. Hendersion, MME. Quesada version)

So tall is used in those two. This settles nothing. It just means the answer to your question might have quite an impact...

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  • In any case (Haute Normandie or haute société), both translations are inaccurate when using the word tall. The good translations are either "women from Upper Normandy" or "ladies of the Norman high society".
    – Graffito
    Mar 31, 2023 at 1:16
  • @Graffito Je ne sais pas. Mais ces traductions ne datent pas d'hier. Une simple affirmation ne convainc pas. Mar 31, 2023 at 1:50
  • cariole corresponds to a precise sort of vehicle that both carries passengers and goods (search for the painting "La carriole du Père Juniet"). In the translation, tall women means women of more than average stature , what is quite different from french source and is misleading.
    – Graffito
    Mar 31, 2023 at 9:33
  • @graffito J'ai pas vraiment d'opinion, la réponse ajoute à la discussion. Si tu disposes d'autres traductions ayant fait l'objet de publication tu peux ajouter ce contenu dans cette réponse, c'est un community wiki pour ça. Il s'agit de traductions publiées. Je ne demande pas mieux que d'être convaincu mais l'autorité ou le fait que ces traductions ne traitent pas de la cariole ne suffira à défaire ce qui est publié et signé. D'autre part à chacun son opinion. Toutes les réponses ont reçu mon appui, ton +1 et celui d'amiral viennent de moi. Mon but est de faire avancer, pas d'avoir raison. Mar 31, 2023 at 18:10

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