English language, from France, has a funny way to use present participles. When we study it, we notice the easy and constant use of present participles, the “ings”.
- I saw my friend eating his dinner
- I say nothing, just watching her fixing up her looks
Etc. We also have a “participe présent” in French, and we can use it your way, but we don’t. We would say here “J’ai vu mon ami manger son dîner/I saw my friend eat his dinner”. Using the present participle here would be understandable but a bit weird.
Joyce and Faulkner invented a great “literature tool” in English, which is :
Putting a microphone in a character’s head instead of describing the thoughts.
It’s the “Stream of Consciousness“, an interior monologue, an interesting narrative mode (sometimes with no punctuation), making a river of words – we don’t punctuate when we think, right?).
Put a mic in a head? OK : example with Joyce (Ulysses) :
a quarter after what an unearthly hour I suppose theyre just getting up in China now combing out their pigtails for the day well soon have the nuns ringing the angelus theyve nobody coming in to spoil their sleep except an odd priest or two for his night office the alarmlock next door at cockshout clattering the brains out of itself let me see if I can doze off 1 2 3 4 5 what kind of flowers are those they invented like the stars the wallpaper in Lombard street was much nicer the apron he gave me was like that something only I only wore it twice better lower this lamp and try again so that I can get up early
See? Faulkner uses this often in The Sound and the Fury.
French translators used, then, our present participles to build the French text. They could have “fixed it” our way, but they kept it. It is OK to translate my first example with “J’ai vu mon ami mangeant son dîner”. It’s just different.
It’s why I think that reading these translated novels in French provides us un surplus, a gain, a spare of poetry. Interior monologue weaved with present participles, it’s a river of sensations, a transmission (it’s written), a surgespurt of feelings, actions (“ing”) and thoughts.
In part II, I’ll tell how French writers used this idea to invent “another French”, full of marvels and spells…
Spell, in French, is a good word, a fantastic word : Sortilège…
Thanks for reading !