mes enfants


Marguerite (in La Dame aux camélias, Act I) interrupts a spiteful wrangle between two of her guests, inviting the party to sit down to supper: "Mes enfants, servez-vous, buvez, mangez, mais ne vous disputez que juste ce qu'il faut pour se raccommoder tout de suite." I have been told by a native speaker of French that in such a situation, "mes enfants" means no more than "my friends" or "my dears." Yet Marguerite's tone and the substance of her reproof suggest to me that she is mildly scolding the couple for acting like adolescents: "Now, children. . . ." Is this possible?
  • Yes and no. I don't know if you're familiar with Japanese, but the phrase Marguerite use is close to what a senpai would say adressing a kouhai (someone younger). So yes, she is the host, but she is also adressing someone younger than her (young enough to be her own children possibly). So what you are trying to express is here, but just as a connotation. Because if it goes too near of a real scolding (as would a teacher), then this attitude of superiority is bound to enhance conflict. But you respect the words of an elder (espcially when she is the host).
    I hope this clarifies things a bit...
    Yes, I think the scolding is very mild indeed, quite good-humored. However, one or perhaps even both of the squabblers are older than Marguerite. St.-Gaudens appears to be significantly advanced in years (his age is remarked on in several exchanges), and although Olympia, the courtesan he is with at the moment, may be much younger than he, she may be older than the hostess. In fact, the actual difference in age between the speaker and those she is attempting to control is the source of the amusement in the speech, provided that "enfants" can be interpreted as still possessing some vestige of its root meaning. Sometimes, expressions quite lose their original meaning, but it can be revived by placing them in contexts that remind us of it: "In old New Hampshire." When this happens unintentionally, we get things like the mixed metaphor: "She was at death's door, but the doctor thought he could pull her through." But it can also be done deliberately, the result being wit: "We thought our car a peach, but it turned out to be a lemon." That is what I think is happening here, and I desire to translate the words, "Now, children, help yourselves, eat, drink, but please limit your quarreling to what you can make up for in a hurry." Do you think this might be justified, or should I say, "My friends . . ."?
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    Thanks for the heads up. Yes, the scolding is good-humoured, and humourous (party jest tone), so yes "come, now, children " is justified. Just avoid "my children", that would sound disastrous.

    Maybe "kids" sound like a better alternative -- children sound a bit too literal in English, doesn't it?
    Maybe "lad and lass", or "chap, chapesses", "boys and girls"?
    "Kids"!!! Oh, yes. I'll also try "boys and girls" and even "kiddies" when we stage this thing and see if one of them works. I will certainly avoid "my children" even though that is the literal translation. Thank you.
    Well, you seem to agree that "mes enfants" is decidedly a put-down. Good. As for "reconcile" instead of "make up for," it certainly makes more sense. Thanks. I think I'll say, "but please limit your quarreling to what admits of a quick reconciliation." I really like "limit your quarreling" and don't want to lose it.