Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure.
law-TAHn, zhuhm swee koo-SHAY duh BUN NUHR. Click the link below to hear the sound file!
For a long time, I went to bed early.
This sentence, by Marcel Proust, is among the most famous opening lines in the world. I have no idea when you’ll use it, but it’s bound to come in handy some day.
It’s the opener to Proust’s famous novel, À la recherché du temps perdu (ah lah ruh-SHAIRSH dew TAH pair-DEW). The most famous translation (and the earliest: 1922 – 1930) was done by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, with the title Remembrance of Things Past. A much better rendering of the title is In Search of Lost Time, from D.J. Enright’s revision in 1992.
Perdu, as we have previously remarked in La Salle des pas perdus, can mean both lost and wasted. Proust’s novel explores both: time that has passed, along with the things and people and actions that have disappeared, and time that has been unwisely spent. The narrator bemoans his lost opportunities, particularly in regards to his love, whom he is too nervous or shy to approach for a long time.
De bonne heure: at a good hour. Early is good! Late is bad! Similar to the English expression in good time.
À la recherche du temps perdu has numerous famous scenes. Perhaps the most famous is the “madeleine scene”. The narrator dips his madeleine (mad-LENN), a small butter cake intended for dunking, in his herbal tea, and is astonished at the sudden memories that seem to arise directly out of his teacup, unbidden. The scent, the taste, recreate for him his entire childhood.
The novel in which Proust has his narrator recount this childhood is often called a roman-fleuve (roh-mah FLUHV), a “river novel”, because it is as long as a river and flows as richly and deeply as a river. It is well worth reading, if you haven’t done so already. Look for a lot of symbolism that is highly evocative but never clearly explained, more character development than action, microscopic examination of minute details of thought and vision and feeling. It was ground-breaking when it was published (7 volumes between 1913 and 1927, some of it posthumously), and has never been matched.
A quick note on the grammar: Yesterday’s post (Je suis venu, j’ai vu, j’ai vaincu) talked about the past tense. Today’s sentence is in the same tense, but it’s a little different because it’s a reflexive verb. Reflexive verbs are required to use être for the passé composé, and in addition, the past participle must agree with the subject. Here, the narrator is male, so the ending of couché is singular and masculine. If I (a woman) were to make the same statement, I would have to say Longtemps, je me suis couchée de bonne heure.
And coming soon: an authentic French recipe for les madeleines!