à-la-mortal

geve

Senior Member
France, French
Hello,

This is from Jane Austen, Mansfield Park. Context: Fanny Price is to attend her first official ball, and gets engaged for the two first dances by a man whose repeated attentions she finds embarassing, but at the same time she is relieved to be secure of a partner.

Her happiness in this occasion was very much à-la-mortal, finely chequered.
(in case more context is needed the text can be found here - this sentence is in the 8th paragraph)

What does à-la-mortal mean?
 
  • timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    Thanks! I'm surprised to find an adjective there - isn't the form "à la ..." usually followed by a substantive?
    It could just be an English misunderstanding of the French original, or equally it could have meant more to the french at the time, after all it was written 200 years ago. There are certain phrases in English which we picked up at the time and modern French has now moved on. I'm not saying this is one, but it's just a thought.

    But - and I hope this isn't moving off topic - is "à la" always followed by a noun in French? Surely A l'anglaise is short for "à la façon anglaise" and not "in the way of an Englishwoman" ? In fact, are you right in saying it is normally followed by a substantive (noun)?
     

    geve

    Senior Member
    France, French
    Of course, you are both right! In French à la (in the meaning of "à la façon de...") could be followed by either an adjective, or a name: à l'anglaise, à la Jane Austen. There might be other structures that I can't think of for the moment - maybe this thread should be moved to French-English if we want to investigate the differences in construction?

    But I was wondering about the English: it seems to me that I've seen the "à la ..." form used more than once in English texts. I'm not sure of this since I have no other examples at hand right now... Am I mistaken? If not, how is it used in English? Can you think of more examples?

    I am also curious to know, is à-la-mortal in this sentence easily understood by English-speaking modern readers? (probably not that easily, if there is a note - but there wasn't any in the edition I have)
     

    . 1

    Banned
    Australian Australia
    a-la-mortal sounds like a flowery way of saying that her joy was shortlived or was limited in lifespan. Her pleasure was limited to appearances but she did have a physical response so maybe the pleasure was of the body not of the mind.

    .,,
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    Of course, you are both right! In French à la (in the meaning of "à la façon de...") could be followed by either an adjective, or a name: à l'anglaise, à la Jane Austen. There might be other structures that I can't think of for the moment - maybe this thread should be moved to French-English if we want to investigate the differences in construction?

    But I was wondering about the English: it seems to me that I've seen the "à la ..." form used more than once in English texts. I'm not sure of this since I have no other examples at hand right now... Am I mistaken? If not, how is it used in English? Can you think of more examples?
    Yes - I was specifically thinking of English here. I think that we use "à la" identically to French but when we use it there is always the added sense of pretentiousness because it's not our language of course.
    I am also curious to know, is à-la-mortal in this sentence easily understood by English-speaking modern readers? (probably not that easily, if there is a note - but there wasn't any in the edition I have)
    It would mean absolutely zero to me, but I'm shockingly badly read in English.
     

    geve

    Senior Member
    France, French
    Ok, so à la followed by an English adjective is not strange. What was puzzling here was more the meaning of mortal then. The "à la" doesn't seem to add much if mortal means "Of great intensity or severity" as Ireney's link says...
    It would mean absolutely zero to me, but I'm shockingly badly read in English.
    That was precisely the sample population that interested me, so thanks! ;)

    Punctuated-Man, pleasure of the body not of the mind? You must not know the character of Miss Price to say that! :rolleyes:
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    Ok, so à la followed by an English adjective is not strange. What was puzzling here was more the meaning of mortal then.
    Oh, not quite. It can be followed by an adjective but I would expect that adjective to written the French way. For example, instead of saying "we're going to try French cooking tonight" someone pretentious might say " we're going to cook à la française tonight" never "à la French". I have honestly heard someone say "spaghetti à l'italiennes" (pronounced italienz!) before !
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)

    geve

    Senior Member
    France, French
    Oh, not quite. It can be followed by an adjective but I would expect that adjective to written the French way. For example, instead of saying "we're going to try French cooking tonight" someone pretentious might say " we're going to cook à la française tonight" never "à la French". I have honestly heard someone say "spaghetti à l'italiennes" (pronounced italienz!) before !
    Because it takes the agreement, of course! :D (just like boh-kooz)
    I have found à la king (interestingly translated by "à la reine" in French = à la queen...) which is probably a gastronomic exception!
     

    geve

    Senior Member
    France, French
    I wouldn't worry overly about this. A google search removing "combat" and "kombat" and limiting to English speaking sites give no results where "à la mortal" is used like that other than in quotes from the faux-gothic austen classic itself.

    http://www.google.com/search?as_q=&num=100&hl=en&btnG=Google+Search&as_epq=à+la+mortal&as_oq=&as_eq=kombat+combat&lr=lang_en&as_ft=i&as_filetype=&as_qdr=all&as_nlo=&as_nhi=&as_occt=any&as_dt=i&as_sitesearch=&as_rights=&safe=images
    Worry, hell no! :p There were too many words I didn't know in this book, I can't be worrying too much on this one:D
    But I was intrigued by the structure of it, and the meaning of "mortal".
     

    . 1

    Banned
    Australian Australia
    Punctuated-Man, pleasure of the body not of the mind? You must not know the character of Miss Price to say that! :rolleyes:
    Quite right.
    I never have nor will I ever read Jane Austin in full. The small parts that I have seen seem to be concerned with appearance or style and lack any substance for my mind to grasp.

    It fascinates me to see the number of times Ms Austen is quoted as being the doyen of correctness for English. I suspect that the books were written in an idiosyncratic style completely identifiable as being Jane Austen and Jane Austen alone.

    .,,
    I don't know how to do that fancy crossed out thing so I just edited the name of Austen
     

    geve

    Senior Member
    France, French
    Quite right.
    I never have nor will I ever read Jane Austin in full. The small parts that I have seen seem to be concerned with appearance or style and lack any substance for my mind to grasp.

    It fascinates me to see the number of times Ms Austin is quoted as being the doyen of correctness for English. I suspect that the books were written in an idiosyncratic style completely identifiable as being Jane Austin and Jane Austin alone.

    .,,
    I would not discuss the worthiness of Jane Austen's work here, but her name does take an E ;)
     
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