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I'm reading Willem Elsschot's novel Cheese in a French translation by Xavier Hanotte. In chapter 3, I have found an expression that I believe it can be translated as "Mignon country" (emphasis mine):

Ils parlèrent d’abord de l’Italie, où je n’avais jamais mis les pieds, et je voyageai avec eux à travers le pays de Mignon : Venise, Milan, Florence, Rome, Naples, le Vésuve et Pompéi.

In the Italian translation of the book by Giorgio Faggin this is rendered this way (emphasis always mine):

Continuarono a parlare dell’Italia, dove io non sono mai stato, e potei così percorrere con loro l’intero paese di Mignon: Venezia, Milano, Firenze, Roma, Napoli, il Vesuvio e Pompei.

The context suggests that this expression might mean Italy. Is that correct? Where does it come from? Does it have anything to do with the opera Mignon by Ambroise Thomas? Or with the novel Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship by Goethe, on which the libretto of that opera is based?

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  • Maybe someone can add the translation to English. By the way, I'm not sure if such expression is translated as "Mignon country" in the English version of the novel.
    – Charo
    Commented Jun 6 at 19:08
  • "le pays de Mignon" in another (older) piece of French literature.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jun 6 at 19:14
  • The opera Mignon, from 1866, by Ambrose Thomas, contains the song "Connais tu le pays ou fleurit l’oranger, Le pays des fruits d’or et des roses vermeilles? Ou la brise est plus douce, et l’oiseau plus leger, Ou dans toute saison butinent les abeilles," English version: "Know’st thou not that fair land where the orange tree grows, Land of fruits bright as gold and the reddest of roses? Where the birds fleeter fly, where the wind softer blows, Where all seasons around the honeybee ne’er dozes."
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Jun 6 at 19:31
  • 1
    The Paul Vincent translation into English (London, Granta, 2002) has: "I travelled with them through the whole land of Goethe's Mignon" (p. 17).
    – verbose
    Commented Jun 7 at 0:19
  • @PeterShor Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn?
    – verbose
    Commented Jun 7 at 0:52

1 Answer 1

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In the English translation by Sander Berg (Alma Books, 2017), the corresponding passage reads as follows:

First they talked about Italy, where I've never been, and we traversed the entire length of Mignon's country: Venice, Milan, Florence, Rome, Naples, the Vesuvius and Pompeii.

The English translation also contains a few notes, and the note for "Mignon's country" confirms that Mignon is a character in Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, on which Ambroise Thomas's opera Mignon is based.

Mignon comes from Italy; this is revealed to Wilhelm Meister after she sings the song “Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn?” to him (see Drittes Buch, Kapitel 1 in the German text). The song has been set to music by various composers, including Franz Schubert. Schubert's version predates Ambroise Thomas's opera (where this is a well-known aria) by several decades.


For comparison, the Dutch text reads as follows (quoted from Willem Elsschot: Verzameld werk. Van Kampen en zoon, 1960):

Zij praatten eerst over Italië, waar ik nooit geweest ben, en ik doorreisde met hen het hele land van Mignon: Venetië, Milaan, Florence, Rome, Napels, Vesuvius en Pompeï.

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