The following passage from chapter XVI of Book I of the novel Le rouge et le noir (The Red and the Black) by Stendhal refers to "un dicton de province", that is, at some kind of saying or proverb (emphasis mine):

Elle quitta le jardin de bonne heure, et alla s'établir dans sa chambre. Mais ne tenant pas à son impatience, elle vint coller son oreille contre la porte de Julien. Malgré l'incertitude et la passion qui la dévoraient, elle n'osa point entrer. Cette action lui semblait la dernière des bassesses, car elle sert de texte à un dicton de province.

This is rendered this way in the translation by Robert M. Adams:

She left the garden early, and retired to her bedchamber. But, unable to control her impatience, she came and pressed her ear against Julien's door. In spite of the uncertainty and violent passions that were devouring her, she dared not enter. Such an action seemed to her the last word in crude behavior, simply because it provides the text of a provincial proverb.

My question is: which saying or proverb is Stendhal referring to in this passage? I believe it's important to fully understand the meaning of the last sentence.

  • 1
    From context, one would deduce it's a proverb about women being so crude as to chase a man they wanted into his bedroom.
    – Mary
    Commented Jun 17 at 0:18

2 Answers 2


In an annotated 2013 edition of Le Rouge et le Noir published by GF Flammarion, Marie Parmentier writes:

On ne sait pas à quel dicton Stendhal fait allusion, et l'on peut supposer qu'il invente cette référence comme tant d'autres.


We don't know which saying Stendhal is referring to, and we can assume that he is inventing it like so many others.


Le Rouge et le noir, edited by Pierre-Georges Castex (Classiques Garnier, 2012) has a note explaining that the expression is "Fi donc!", the same expression Madame de Rênal seemed to have used in the preceding chapter when Julien had told her he would visit her at two o'clock in the morning. Below is the relevant passage from chapter XV (on Wikisource):

Madame de Rênal répondit avec une indignation réelle, et nullement exagérée, à l’annonce impertinente que Julien osait lui faire. Il crut voir du mépris dans sa courte réponse. Il est sûr que dans cette réponse, prononcée fort bas, le mot fi donc avait paru.

In Horace Barnet Samuel's English translation, this is rendered as follow:

Madame de Rênal answered the impertinent declaration which Julien had dared to make to her with indignation which was real and in no way exaggerated. He thought he could see contempt in her curt reply. The expression "for shame," had certainly occurred in that whispered answer.

  • 2
    It's somewhat difficult to me to understand why such "dicton de province" should be the expression "fi donc". Anyway, it's interesting to see what Pierre-Georges Castex said about this.
    – Charo
    Commented Jun 16 at 9:14
  • un dicton de province is not le dicton de province. It seems to me that if this were referring to that fi donc, the point would have been made more clearly.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 17 at 0:08

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