Texte de Jonathan Coe

Énoncé

« All the time I knew Madeline, there was always the sense that she didn't fit  – with me, with London, with the rest of the world. I noticed it the first time I saw her: she looked so out of place, in that gloomy bar where I was playing the piano. I'd been in London for nearly a year, and I'd thought that this might turn out to be my first break. A place in some side street just off the Fulham Road that had a clapped-out baby grand(1) and called itself a "jazz club": I saw an advert they had placed in The Stage and they offered me twenty pounds cash and three non-alcoholic cocktails of my choice to play there on a Wednesday night. I turned up at six, scared out of my mind, knowing that I had to play for five hours with a repertoire of six standards and a few pieces of my own – about fifty minutes' worth of material. I needn't have worried, because there was only one customer all evening. She came in at eight and stayed till the end. It was Madeline. I couldn't believe that a woman so well dressed and so pretty could be sitting on her own in a place like that all night. Maybe if there had been other customers they would have tried to chat her up. In fact I'm sure they would. She was always getting chatted up. That night there was only me, and even I tried to chat her up, and I'd never done anything like that in my life before. But when you've been playing your own music for nearly an hour to an audience of one, and they've been clapping at the end of every number and smiling at you and even once saying. "I liked that one", then you feel entitled. It would have seemed rude not to. So when the time came to take another break I got my drink from the bar and went over to her table, and said: "Do you mind if I join you?" "No. Please do." "Can I buy you something?" "No thanks, I'm all right for the moment." She was drinking dry white wine. I sat down on a stool opposite her, not wanting to appear too forward. "Is it always this quiet in here?" I asked. "I don't know. I've never been here before." "It's a bit tacky, isn't it? For the area, I mean." "It's only just opened. It'll probably take a while to get off the ground." She was lovely. She had short blonde hair and a grey fitted jacket, a woollen skirt that came just above the knee and black silk stockings – nothing provocative, you understand, just tasteful. […] Her voice was high and musical and her pronunciation – like everything else about her – showed that she was from some high-powered background. Her hands were small and white, and she didn't paint her fingernails. "I like the way you play the piano", she said, "Are you going to play here every week?" "I don't know. It depends." (I never did play there again, as it turned out.) […] "You live near here?" "Yes, not far. South Kensington. What about you?" "Oh, it's like another world to me, an area like this. I live in South East London. On a council estate."(2) After a pause, she said: "Do you mind if I ask you for something? A request, I mean. A piece of music." I felt a sudden tight grip of anxiety. You see, the reason I never made it as a cocktail bar pianist was that my repertoire was never wide enough, and I was hopeless at playing by ear. Customers are always asking pianists to play things and the only way I could have covered myself against situations like this was by learning every standard in the book. That would have taken months. It usually took me a few hours to get a piece into shape, sometimes more. Take My Funny Valentine, for instance. […] It had just taken me two days to get it sounding exactly how I wanted, I'd been listening to some of the most famous records, seeing how the masters had handled it and working out what I thought were some pretty neat substitutions of my own. I could play it well, now, I thought, but that had been the result of two days' hard work, and anything she was to ask for, even if I knew roughly how the tune went, was bound to come out sounding amateurish and embarrassing. "Well… try me", I still said, for some reason. "Do you know My Funny Valentine?" I frowned. "Well… the title's familiar. I'm not very quick at picking things up, though. Can you remind me how it goes?" Wouldn't anybody have done the same thing? I think that was the best version I've ever played. I've never topped it since: it was a real heart-breaker. »
Jonathan Coe, The Dwarves of Death, Penguin, 1990

Compréhension
Answer using complete sentences.
1. When and where does the scene take place exactly?
2. What is the atmosphere like there? Why?
3. Who are the characters? From whose point of view is the story told? Justify with one quotation.
4. 
Say if it is right or wrong. Justify by quoting from the text.
a) From the start he knew that they were made for each other. (one quote)
b) He was really looking forward to his first performance in the bar. (one quote)
c) The club was a popular place. (one quote)
d) She was a sophisticated young lady. (two quotes)
e) They came from similar areas. (one quote)
f) He could play anything he was asked to. (one quote)
5. "I'd thought this might turn out to be my first break." What does this suggest about his professional life? Answer in your own words and find two other examples which confirm this. (quote the text, 30 words in all)
6. Find four reasons in the text why the narrator started talking to the young woman. Answer in your own words. (40 words)
7. "I couldn't believe that a woman so well dressed and so pretty could be sitting on her own in a place like that." Explain this sentence in your own words. (20 words)
8. Read from "I felt a sudden tight grip…" to the end. How did he react to her request for "My Funny Valentine"? Show the evolution of the narrator's feelings in this part. (three elements required)
9. Choose a suitable title for this passage in the following list (two of them are possible). Write your choice and justify it in your own words.
  • A Newcomer to London
  • Worlds Apart
  • Music to her Ear
  • On the Road to Fame
Expression
Vous traiterez un des deux sujets suivants en 300 mots.
1. A few months later the young woman writes to her wealthy parents about her decision to live with an impoverished jazz musician.
2. To what extent are significant differences between people a serious obstacle in love or friendship?
Traduction
Translate into French from "I felt…" to "…playing by ear".
(1)Baby grand: a smaller-sized grand piano.
(2) Council estate: municipal (inexpensive) housing.

Corrigé

Compréhension
1. The scene takes place on a Wednesday, the very first night the main character played the piano in a jazz bar off the Fulham road in London.
2. The atmosphere is gloomy since the bar has just opened, as a consequence it is deserted. There is only one customer.
3. There are two characters, a woman named Madeline and the narrator, a pianist/ piano player. The story is told from the man's point of view who is the narrator referred to as "I" in the text. "I noticed it the first time I saw her: she looked so out of place…"
4. 
a) Wrong: "there was always the sense that she didn't fit in – with me."
b) Wrong: "I turned up at six, scared out of my mind, knowing that I had to play with a repertoire of six standards and a few pieces of my own."
c) Wrong: "there was only one customer all evening";
  • "an audience of one";
  • "Is it always this quiet in here?" I asked;
  • "It'll probably take a while to get off the ground";
d) Right: "I couldn't believe that a woman so well dressed and so pretty could be sitting on her own in a place like that […] just tasteful";
"… – like everything else about her – showed that she was from some high-powered background."
e) Wrong: "Yes, not far. South Kensington. What about you?"; "Oh, it's like another world to me, an area like this. I live in South East London. On a council estate."
f) Wrong:
  • "I had to play for five hours with a repertoire of six standards and a few pieces of my own.";
  • "I never made it as a cocktail bar pianist… my repertoire was never wide enough, and I was hopeless at playing by ear."
5. This sentence suggests that he knew his professional life wouldn't be steady, that he would change job many times: "I never did play there again, as it turned out."; "…the reason I never made it as a cocktail bar pianist was that my repertoire was never wide enough, and I was hopeless at playing by ear."
6. The narrator started talking to the young woman since she was the only customer in the bar, then because she enjoyed his playing the piano as she clapped in her hand after each standard he played. Moreover, she smiled at him. Finally he thought that not talking to her would have been a rude attitude, that's why he felt he could talk to her.
7. He was quite surprised to see such a sophisticated woman in the bar, as it is not the place where a woman like her would normally go. The bar doesn't match her social background.
8. When the woman requested from him to play My Funny Valentine, at first he was quite anxious and worried and pretended he roughly knew the tune. It shows that he was quite reluctant at playing it but he felt more self-assured as he had practised it for two days and knew how to play that standard correctly. Eventually after playing it he was quite satisfied since he tells the reader that it was the best version ever from him.
9. 
  • Worlds Apart: the two characters come from different areas and have a different social background.
  • Music to her Ear: the female character appreciates the music he plays as she clapped in her hands. Moreover, he only plays for her since she is the only customer in the bar.
Expression
1. Pour ce sujet d'expression personnelle, pensez à présenter le travail sous la forme d'une lettre (en-tête, formule de politesse). N'oubliez pas que les deux personnages n'appartiennent pas au même milieu social, ce qui peut avoir une incidence sur le contenu de la lettre et les arguments avancés par la jeune femme.
2.  Different types of differences between people can be serious obstacles to love or friendship. These differences may be a matter of social backgrounds like in the text. In such a case, people have to be tolerant enough to understand another point of view, if it is not the case there may be misunderstanding and difficulties to adjust to other ideas. Moreover hostile attitudes and remarks from the families can also weigh heavily on the couple and endanger its balance.
A different cultural background can be a challenge for common life. People have to adapt to a different way of living and thinking and get used to a therefore unknown environment. In both cases, the relationship might be difficult at first, as different social conventions tend to produce segregation towards people coming from different origins, either social or ethnic.
National or racial prejudices and traditions may be obstacles between two people who have to be understanding and open-minded to overcome them. And it is sometimes necessary to put some distance between themselves and their families and friends so as to get along well.
Traduction
J'ai soudain ressenti une bouffée d'anxiété. Voyez-vous, la raison pour laquelle je n'ai jamais réussi comme pianiste de bar, c'est que mon répertoire n'était pas assez étendu (ou vaste), et que j'étais incapable (ou qu'il m'était impossible) de jouer d'oreille.