1. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    The meaning of L'Arlésienne is clear and explained in Wikipedia/French:-


    It is someone/something one speaks about or thinks about all the time, yet one never actually sees/meets the person/object in question. An ultimate example could be God in the Bible...

    I was wondering what expressions would be used in English for that. I can think of certain phrases, but would like to get contributors' input.

  2. jann

    jann co-mod'

    English - USA
    Well if you scroll down that French wikipedia article to check the "other languages" box on the left side of the page, you'll find a link to the equivalent English-language article:


    It mentions several examples of literary characters who play a similar role and might be referenced in a similar way. However, I don't know that the names of these characters would be used as a translation. "Unseen character" seems quite reasonable to me. :)
  3. mgarizona

    mgarizona Senior Member

    Phoenix, AZ
    US - American English
    One can argue whether or not Keyser Söze is ever seen, but that argument is really about whether or not he ever existed.

    Far more common are characters we wait hear about long before we ever see them: Kurtz or Harry Lime.

    I'd say your best bets for filling the bill are probably going to be Godot among a certain class of people, Rebecca among another.

    And Rebecca shd really win because we know for a fact she existed.

    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 29, 2009
  4. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    "Unseen character" is probably a good one - and I missed that bit at the bottom of the French Wiki-article. Thanks.

    "Unseen character" does sound more like it relates to literature, though, whereas in French "L'Arlésienne", as I understand, can be applied to any situation - but maybe this is splitting hairs and "unseen character" would indeed be a good equivalent expression.

    The reference to Keyser Söze is an interesting one. His existence - real or not - is at the heart of the film, yet we never see him. Having said that, in the film "The Usual Suspects", Keyser Söze is identified at the very end. People who have not seen the film and intend to see it should not read the following: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keyser_Söze
  5. LILOIA Senior Member

    I have never heard this word "L'Arlésienne" applied to any situation, but always referring to somebody.
    En tout cas, "unseen character", ça le fait pas ! :
    I recently said to a friend of mine : "Ton mari, c'est l'Arlésienne !" (= on ne le voit jamais) :D
    What about : "Your husband, he's an unseen character!" :mad:
  6. wildan1

    wildan1 Moderando ma non troppo (French-English, CC Mod)

    Your husband is like a ghost--we never see him.
  7. mgarizona

    mgarizona Senior Member

    Phoenix, AZ
    US - American English
    Are you married to a Sasquatch?
  8. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    OK, maybe you are right - in fact I think you are, when you say 'L'Arlésienne' is a person, never a thing: in A Daudet's story, of course, it is a person, i.e. a girl from the city of Arles, hence the name.

    I also feel that 'unseen person' does not quite capture the many possible meanings of the French expression, which does not just apply to the plot, in a story (be it a novel, or a film, etc.).

    If you spoke about someone in an office context who is never at his desk, I suppose people would just say:

    -He's never around, is he?
    -You never see him in the office, do you?
    -It's a great mystery where he spends all his time.
    -He has a knack for disappearing at the critical moment.

    But the above are just ways of rendering the meaning, not idiomatic expressions as such.

    PS What is a Sasquatch?
  9. LILOIA Senior Member

    :confused: :confused: :confused:
  10. mgarizona

    mgarizona Senior Member

    Phoenix, AZ
    US - American English
    Sasquatch: "A name for a huge, hairy, man-like monster supposedly inhabiting the north-west of the U.S. and Canada." (OED)

    Also known as a Bigfoot. ... A sort of yéti, you might say. It would imply that while some physical or photographic evidence of this husband may exist, no one has actually seen him.
  11. mgarizona

    mgarizona Senior Member

    Phoenix, AZ
    US - American English
    I would imagine such a person would be nicknamed The Phantom. Perhaps The Phantom of the _____ if an applicable 'site' suggests itself.
  12. LILOIA Senior Member

    As I try to tell you (in vain), to call somebody l'Arlésienne will bring a smile :) on the face of the people you are speaking to, not a :D, but a :), which is not the case with ghosts, phantoms, sasquatch, bigfoot, Rebecca or other unseen characters.
    Don't ask me why. It could be that we use it as a kind of sort of joke (though "L'Arlésienne" was a melodrama !)
  13. wildan1

    wildan1 Moderando ma non troppo (French-English, CC Mod)

    Mentioning Sasquatch or even a ghost would be likely to make somebody smile in English--if said in the right way.

    Said in anger, of course, they could be quite critical.
  14. mgarizona

    mgarizona Senior Member

    Phoenix, AZ
    US - American English
    Yes all of these are humorous in English. Sorry if that doesn't translate. In fact that's precisely why I said Sasquatch and not Bigfoot ... The oddness of the word Sasquatch makes it a more amusing line.
  15. Topsie

    Topsie Senior Member

    Avignon, France
    Or "spook" like in the novel The Human Stain!
  16. wildan1

    wildan1 Moderando ma non troppo (French-English, CC Mod)

  17. Topsie

    Topsie Senior Member

    Avignon, France
    Yes of course - that's one of the novel's main themes! But here I meant it like mgarizona's phantom:)
  18. LILOIA Senior Member

    No, no, I will stand behind my Arlésienne. There is no such word in English, it's what all your messages tend towards. Isn't there any French around to back me ?
    All your Keyser Söze, Rebecca and other Godot are hardly in the same league as her (= ils ne lui arrivent pas à la cheville).
    18 messages ! This thread is becoming hot ! :D
  19. zanzi

    zanzi Senior Member

    in South Africa
    French from France
    I liked the comparison with Godot ;-) "Godot; c'est un peu l'Arlésienne" !!
    But yes, it's definitely too idiomatic to translate easily in English.

    Although I'd say, quite simply "The Invisible Man" ... it makes it explicit for everybody !
  20. LILOIA Senior Member

    The Invisible Woman ?
    It's not simply idiomatic, it's cultural.
  21. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    Many interesting suggestions - I think 'phantom' or 'ghost' being closest, or 'unseen character' if in the literary field. 'Invisible man' would be OK in context, but otherwise it makes me think of someone who is invisible on purpose and thanks to a techological/scientific trick (cf the novel and sci-fi) - miles (or light years) away from 'L'Arlésienne'!
  22. Jane Austin Member

    British English
    I would appreciate your comments on how to translate "jouer l'Arlésienne" in the following extract: "... il pria discrètement Laurence de sortir de la scène, de ne pas jouer le troisième larron, ou de jouer l'Arlésienne, ce qui revenait au même."

    Laurence is the mistress who has arrived just as the man has met his wife outside his place of work. He wants her to disappear without making a fuss.

    Having read other threads on this topic on this forum, I suggest "The Invisible Woman" for l'Arlésienne.
  23. Garoubet Senior Member

    French - France, Quebec
    L'Arlésienne defines a no-show/elusive woman rather than an invisible woman; but it makes no sense in your extract. I guess the writter was confused and his meaning was really the invisible woman.
  24. ain'ttranslationfun? Senior Member

    US English
    Yes, often referred to but never seen. An "invisible" person would be like the title "character" in the 1944 play Harvey by Mary Chase. I'd plunk for Godot.

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