Mère Courage - Mother Courage (Expression)

Discussion in 'English Only' started by James Brandon, Nov 26, 2005.

  1. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    There is a play by B Brecht called "Mère Courage", translated into English as "Mother Courage and her children". In French, "une mère courage" refers to a brave woman who will look after her children against all odds. One could use the expression when referring, let us say, to a neighbour: "She is a single mother and has brought up her children impeccably well, without the help of anyone - she is 'une mère courage'."

    I do not think "mother courage" is commonly known/used in English. My 1st question is: Do you agree it is not? My 2nd question is: If you do, is there an expression that could cover the notion, and if so, what expression would you suggest/have you heard? I can think of a few but they may not quite capture the meaning of "mère courage".

    All suggestions welcome
     
  2. Isotta

    Isotta Senior Member

    France
    English, Hodgepodge
    No, I don't think "mère courage" would be recognised.

    For an English equivalent, I suggest "lioness." Said in Appalachia, but I don't know about elsewhere. The expression does not imply working mother (I have the sense that it's older than that), but it does mean a protective, guarded mother who would do anything for her children.

    Z.
     
  3. I.C. Senior Member

    D
    I'd like to point out that she's following war to profit from it and all her children die.
     
  4. bpipoly

    bpipoly Senior Member

    English, United States
    Never seeing the play, I always thought that Mother Courage was just a name of the man character that noted which was a mother who happened to also be courageous. I think lioness is as close as you can get to any kind of similar phrase in English.
     
  5. Isotta

    Isotta Senior Member

    France
    English, Hodgepodge
    I take it you don't like lioness?

    Z.
     
  6. el alabamiano Senior Member

    English (US)
    To be honest, I hadn't heard of the play until this post, so I checked it out at SparkNotes: Mother Courage. Based solely on that, Mother Carrion seems more like it.
     
  7. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    Indeed you are right to point out that there are potentially two meanings here, and this is helpful:-

    (a) In the play by Brecht, Mother Courage follows the troops in the course of the Thirty Years War that devastates Germany; from what I understand (I have never read the play in full), she is a small-time profiteer; her children die. But she does not lose her courage and her will to fight on. Mother Carrion could be one translation option, but I have never heard this in English! PS The Brecht play is based on a 17th-C German original work staging similar characters caught up in the devastation of the Thirty Years War.

    (b) In everyday French, Mother Courage is a positive description of a person - a woman who is protective and devoted to her offspring. A "lioness" sounds like a possible translation here...

    Thanks
     
  8. I.C. Senior Member

    D
    No, no, I don’t mind lioness for "une mère courage", sounds OK to me.
    I was just wondering a bit whether the use of "une mère courage" in French really has its origin in Brecht’s play.
    I wouldn’t be overly surprised if it does, but the connection would strike me as a bit odd.
    Yes, she is a “Marketenderin”, but I don’t know the English translation. I have a copy of the play.
    But what for? Her children are dead.
    Mother Courage’s last words in the play, are “I must get back into business”, said after the death of her last child. She doesn’t manage to be “a brave woman who will look after her children against all odds“.
    She loses all her three kids to war, even though supposedly they all had such great survival strategies. According to Brecht, in war all virtues become deadly. One of her kids dies because she haggles too long over a bribe which is necessary to save his neck. The play is intended to drive home a particular point, which at the end of the play is even explicitly recited by a choir as the moral of the story: Common people don’t profit from war.
    Brecht borrows the name “Courage” from one of Grimmelshausen’s works, but for a fairly different character, with a different story, I think. I haven’t read the work in question, but Grimmelshausen’s “Simplicissimus”. Important and in my opinion interesting book, by the way. Grimmelshausen did participate in the Thirty Years War. Brecht would have studied Grimmelshausen, who described war as he saw it with his own eyes as a rather unheroical, unjust and gruelsome business invloving plenty of looting and torture.
     
  9. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Could I gently point out that James B is specifically asking about the English equivalent of the normal French expression, Mère Courage.

    Further discussion of character and motivation in Brecht's "Mère Courage" should take place in a different thread, in a different forum:) - perhaps one where the focus is on literature rather than language:D
     
  10. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    Panj is right here. I was asking for a standard English equivalent of an expression found in French, and commonly so. It so happens that this French expression is rooted in a work of literature, and it so happens that this work is German in origin, but none of this is essential, once the meaning of the expression has been established. That is why I stressed the difference between the character in the Brecht play and the meaning in everyday French (and in this respect, initially, looking at the play was a help, if only to better define the meaning of the expression in French). Clearly, the original meaning in German literature has been lost as far as the common meaning in French everyday language is concerned. I am interested in the latter and its possible equivalent in English!
    Thanks all the same - I think "lioness" is a very good suggestion and I had not thought of it.
     
  11. I.C. Senior Member

    D
    You know, I differ a bit here.

    While my last paragraph is superfluous, the previous one was a clarification of my first remark, which apparently was too laconic – a question how sure James Brandon is of the full meaning and also the origin of “mere courage” in French. That would be relevant to translation, I tend to believe. Supposedly it stems from literature, so I explained the apparently widely unknown source a bit. I don't doubt James Brandon's knowledge, by the way, I'm not in a position to do so in the first place.

    The last paragraph I started as a hopefully helpful correction of something previously written by James Brandon, which I perceived as factually wrong. I will refrain from doing similar things in future time. I ended with mentioning a certain like of mine for Grimmelshausen, I will refrain from similar comments in future, too. No problem.
     
  12. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    I.C.,
    There is no real/significant issue here, as far as I am concerned, other than the fact I am, personally, more interested in the English equivalent of a French expression than in the original German work of literature that the French expression in question is apparently linked to and derived from! Having said that, you are right that explaining the source can be interesting in terms of the derived meaning. However, here, it does not seem to help. Having said all this, I am clear as to the fact that I do know the meaning of the expression in everyday French (whether it is close to the original meaning in German or not!); but native French speakers may agree or disagree with me. I am also clear as to the fact that I do not know (or did not know) the exact meaning of the character in the German works referred to. I had heard of both German authors, of course, but I must admit that I have never actually read any of their works. (I have seen plays or films based on them, at most.) In fact, I was totally unaware that the French expression was rooted in German literature! I realised it was the case when I did a preliminary search before posting my query. So, in this respect, the background info. can be illuminating, or at least intriguing, that is perfectly true. Language and literature are linked, but they are not the same thing, obviously...
     
  13. I.C. Senior Member

    D
    I agree. :)
    Which I believe you.
     

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