"DodO iS noT dEAd"

A punk Naturalist

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Comtesse de Ségur /5: Les Petites Filles Modèles (1858), extract.

Poster for the film Les Petites Filles Modèles by Clément Scheider
An education... My poster for Clément Schneider's adaptation of Les Petites Filles Modèles. More information here.

To conclude my series on the two most famous books by the Countess de Ségur, here is an extract in English from Chap. 16 of Les Petites Filles Modèles ("Perfect Little Girls"), entitled "Le Cabinet de Pénitence" ("The Punishment Room").

To get inspiration for my translation I looked for roughly contemporary English texts with similar themes. An obvious choice was the first part of Jane Eyre, describing the heroine’s childhood. Interestingly both books feature a scene in which the female child is locked in a room to make penance, and threatened (by Mme de Fleurville in Les Petites Filles Modèles; by a servant, Miss Abbott, in Jane Eyre) with the prospect of dying suddenly, before repenting from the cardinal sin of anger.

The similarity ends here however. In Jane Eyre, the child is punished unjustly, and locked in the room where her uncle died. In the throes of extreme fear, she begs her aunt to release her, but the aunt remains deaf to her pleading. In Les Petites Filles Modèles, Sophie is punished for striking her little friend Marguerite, who had rightly criticized her selfishness. Mme de Fleurville forgives Sophie as soon as she sees that the girl sincerely regrets her actions, although she still maintains the punishment.

The original text of Les Petites Filles Modèles, in French, can be found here. As I am neither a native speaker of English nor a professional translator, I will be very grateful for any suggestion of improvement to my text.

Les Petites Filles Modèles, XVI - The Punishment Room (extract).

Meanwhile Sophie, left alone in the punishment room, was crying not out of repentance, but out of rage. She examined the closet to see if there was any means of escape: the window was so high that she could not reach it even by standing on the table; the door, against which she threw herself violently, was too solid to break. She looked for something to break, to tear. The walls were bare, painted grey. There was no furniture but a plain straw chair and a table of plain white wood; the inkwell was a simple hole made into the table, filled with ink; that left only the quill, the paper and the book that she was meant to copy from. Sophie grabbed the quill, flung it to the floor, stamped on it; she tore the paper into a thousand pieces, she swooped on the book, tore every page, which she crumpled and tore to pieces ; she also meant to break up the chair, but was not strong enough and collapsed to the floor panting and sweating. When there was nothing left to break or tear, she had no choice but to calm down. Her anger subsided little by little; she started to think, and was terrified by what she had done.

Sophie closed her eyes, but sleep did not come. She was worried; the slightest noise made her start; every moment she fancied someone was opening the door. One hour passed. She heard the key turn into the keyhole; she was not mistaken this time. The door opened, Mme de Fleurville entered. Sophie stood up, dumbfounded. Mme de Fleurville looked at the papers and ordered quietly:

“Clean this up, miss.”

Sophie did not move.

“I am asking you to pick up these papers, miss,” repeated Mme de Fleurville.

Sophie still made no move. Mme de Fleurville remained calm.

“You will not obey? That is a mistake. You’re only making your case and your punishment worse. Elisa, come one moment, please.”

Elisa entered and was astounded by the mess she saw.

"My good Elisa", said Mme de Fleurville, "would you please clean all this up? Miss Sophie here tore to pieces some paper and a book. Would you then kindly bring me another book of devotion, some paper and a quill?"

While Elisa was sweeping the paper, Mme de Fleurville sat on the chair and looked at Sophie, who, terrified by the calm demeanour of Mme de Fleurville, would have given anything not to have torn the book, the paper and stamped on the quill. After Elisa brought the objects required, Mme de Fleurville stood up, called Sophie calmly, made her sit on the chair and said:

“You shall write out ten times the prayer Our Father, miss, as I told you before; you shall have for only diner bread, soup and water; you shall pay the objects that you destroyed out of the money you receive every week for your little pleasures. Instead of going back to see your friends, you shall spend your days here, except for two hours’ walk with Elisa, who has received orders not to talk to you. I shall have your meal sent here. You shall be set free from your prison only when repentance, true repentance, is in your heart, when you have begged God to forgive you for your callousness towards the poor, your greed and selfishness, your rage against Marguerite, your angry and vicious disposition, which made you tear up everything that you could possibly break and tear, your rebellious character, which incited you to disobey my orders. I was hoping to find you in the right disposition for repentance; but, from what I can see, I will have to wait for tomorrow. Farewell, miss. Pray to the Lord that He does not strike you dead tonight before you repent.”

Mme de Fleurville walked to the door; she was already turning the key when Sophie, rushing towards her, caught her by her dress, fell to her knees, seized her hands, which she covered with kisses and tears, and through her tears said these words – the only words she could utter:

“Forgive me! Forgive me!”

Mme de Fleurville remained motionless, considering Sophie, who was still on her knees; eventually she bent down, embraced her and told her in a gentle voice:

“My dear child, repentance atones for many sins. You were very guilty towards God and then myself. The sincere regrets that you feel will probably earn you forgiveness, but they do not free you from your punishment: you will not go back to your friends before tomorrow evening, and you shall do all the rest as I ordered.”

SOPHIE, forcefully. — O Madam, dear Madam, punishment will be sweet, because it will be an expiation. I am deeply touched by your kindness. Your forgiveness is all that I ask. O madam, I was so mean, so revolting. Could your ever forgive me?

MADAME DE FLEURVILLE, kissing her. — From all my heart, child. Be assured that I bear you no ill feeling. Ask God to forgive you, as you asked me. I shall have your diner sent here and then you shall write everything I asked you to write, and you shall finish your day by reading a book that will be brought to you.

Once again Mme de Fleurville kissed Sophie, who was kissing her hands and could not bear to let go of her ; she pulled away and left the room, this time without taking the precaution of locking it.

See my other posts on the works of the Comtesse de Ségur:
Les Petites Filles Modèles: plot summary and review.
Mothers (and fathers) in Les Petites Filles Modèles and Les Malheurs de Sophie.
Les Malheurs de Sophie: plot summary and extract in English (Chap.15).
Corporal and moral punishement in Les Petites Filles Modèles and Les Malheurs de Sophie.

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