PHILOPENA.

As mentioned in the thread that wouldn’t die (where even as we speak le Cimentier Martien is leading a dubious group of revelers in some sort of catered affair), I am reading Proust to my wife in the evenings, and we recently hit the following in our passage through Mme. Swann’s house (also frequently the scene of dubious gatherings):

But at the same time, to these animated dresses the complication of their trimmings, none of which had any practical utility or served any visible purpose, added something detached, pensive, secret, in harmony with the melancholy which Mme Swann still retained, at least in the shadows under her eyes and the drooping arches of her hands. Beneath the profusion of sapphire charms, enamelled four-leaf clovers, silver medals, gold medallions, turquoise amulets, ruby chains and topaz chestnuts there would be on the dress itself some design carried out in colour which pursued across the surface of an inserted panel a preconceived existence of its own, some row of little satin buttons which buttoned nothing and could not be unbuttoned, a strip of braid that sought to please the eye with the minuteness, the discretion of a delicate reminder; and these, as well as the jewels, gave the impression—having otherwise no possible justification—of disclosing a secret intention, being a pledge of affection, keeping a secret, ministering to a superstition, commemorating a recovery from sickness, a granted wish, a love affair or a philopena.

(It says something about Proust that that is the minimum amount of context needed to understand how he was using the last word. The original French is in the extended entry.) We had no idea what philopena might mean; fortunately, I keep the Cassell Concise Dictionary by the bed, so I was able to learn at once that it was “a game in which two people share the double kernel of a nut, the first being entitled to a forfeit, under certain conditions, on the next meeting with the other sharer; the kernel so shared; the forfeit.” The etymology given was “corr[uption] of G[erman] Vielliebchen, dim[inutive] of viellieb (viel, much, lieb dear).” The next day, I checked with the OED and discovered both the sense and the etymology were more complicated:

[Immediate origin unknown. Cf. French philippine (1869 in the phrase Bonjour, Philippine! (see note below), 1898 denoting the game, c1900 denoting an almond or nut with a double kernel), Dutch filippien (1883 or earlier denoting the game; also in sense ‘nut with a double kernel’; now usu. filippine), Danish filippine (1851 as philipine denoting the game, a1883 in sense ‘nut with a double kernel’; also as philippine (1868-73 or earlier)), Swedish filipin (1881 denoting the game, 1920 in sense ‘almond or nut with a double kernel’), and German Vielliebchen (1822 denoting the game, also denoting an almond or nut with a double kernel; also as Filipchen, Philippinchen (now regional; cf. German regional (Rhineland) Filipche, Filipke, Philippche, etc., (Luxemburg) Philippchen)). The relationship between these words is unclear (see note). Later forms in -paene, -pena, -poena app. show folk-etymological alteration after PHILO- comb. form and POENA n. or its etymon classical Latin poena.
   Both the French and German words app. represent folk-etymological alterations, but it is unclear whether the French word was borrowed from the German or vice versa. Luxemburger Wörterbuch (1950) I. 370, s.v. Philippchen, suggests that the German word is ult. < VALENTINE n., via French valentin or its corresponding feminine valentine, which was altered to philippine and thence borrowed into Mosel Franconian dialects of German, and etymological dictionaries of French and German have largely accepted this view. However, there are serious difficulties: the motive for folk-etymological alteration within French is unknown (and without folk-etymological influence, the development of French valentin or valentine into philippine is impossible), and only the sense ‘sweetheart’ or ‘suitor’, not ‘Valentine's Day present’, appears to be recorded for valentin and valentine in French.
   The traditional greeting in the German game (see sense 1) is Guten Morgen, Vielliebchen!; in the French game it is Bon jour, Philippine!]
    1. A game or custom, originating in Germany, in which a gift or forfeit may be claimed by the first of two people who have shared a nut with two kernels to say ‘philopena’ at their next meeting; an occasion on which this is done; a gift or forfeit claimed in this way. Also: a nut with a double kernel, or a kernel from such a nut.

Now, that’s some hardcore etymology. A rather prim look at the game is displayed in a century-old Sears Roebuck catalog (quoted in David Lewis Cohn’s The Good Old Days: History of American Morals and Manners as Seen through the Sears Roebuck Catalogs), which says:

Another and highly reprehensible way of extorting a gift is to have what is called a philopena with a gentleman. This very silly joke is when a young lady, in cracking almonds, chances to find two kernels in one shell; she shares them with a beau; and whichever calls out ‘philopena’ on their next meeting, is entitled to receive a present from the other; and she is to remind him of it till he remembers to comply. . . .
There is a great want of delicacy and self-respect in philopenaism, and no lady who has a proper sense of her dignity as a lady will engage in anything of the sort.

And Frank R. Stockton’s story “The Philopena” begins by describing a particularly drastic forfeit:

There were once a Prince and a Princess who, when quite young, ate a philopena together. They agreed that the one who, at any hour after sunrise the next day, should accept any thing from the other—the giver at the same time saying “Philopena!”—should be the loser, and that the loser should marry the other.


The original Proust quote:

Mais en même temps à ces robes si vives, la complication des «garnitures» sans utilité pratique, sans raison d’être visible, ajoutait quelque chose de désintéressé, de pensif, de secret, qui s’accordait à la mélancolie que Mme Swann gardait toujours au moins dans la cernure de ses yeux et les phalanges de ses mains. Sous la profusion des porte-bonheur en saphir, des trèfles à quatre feuilles d’émail, des médailles d’argent, des médaillons d’or, des amulettes de turquoise, des chaînettes de rubis, des châtaignes de topaze, il y avait dans la robe elle-même tel dessin colorié poursuivant sur un empiècement rapporté son existence antérieure, telle rangée de petits boutons de satin qui ne boutonnaient rien et ne pouvaient pas se déboutonner, une soutache cherchant à faire plaisir avec la minutie, la discrétion d’un rappel délicat, lesquels, tout autant que les bijoux, avaient l’air — n’ayant sans cela aucune justification possible — de déceler une intention, d’être un gage de tendresse, de retenir une confidence, de répondre à une superstition, de garder le souvenir d’une guérison, d’un vu, d’un amour ou d’une philippine.

Comments

  1. Er, philopena!

  2. I wonder if St. Philibert, eponym of the filbert, contributed to the deformation of Valentin to Philippchen.

  3. St. Philibert contributed to a lot of things but I don’t think the deformation of Valentin to Philippchen was one of them.

  4. My God, the thread that wouldn’t die is amazing. Somehow I missed it the first time.
    I strongly recommend a LH greatest-threads compilation, possibly even in printed form.

  5. marie-lucie says:

    In France the couple sharing a double almond are supposed to say to each other (the order depending on which one starts) “Bonjour Philippe! – Bonjour Philippine!” This custom is obviously multicultural – I remember reading of a similar incident occurring in the Himalayas between a European traveller and a local woman who offered him one of the halves (i can’t remember whether it was in a work of fact or fiction but he remarked that the nut in questions was not an almond).
    About the word “philippine”, I find a derivation from “valentin(e)” very unlikely. Both names Valentin and Philippe have been known in Europe since the beginnings of Christianity there, and they are not similar enough to ever have been confused. And the dictionary quotation does not explain the Greek-looking “philopena” unless this is an attempt to dignify “philippine” with a bogus etymology.

  6. Yes, I think “philopena” is very important here, signaling the cost of love (which of course means war for Proust). Mme Swann is a seasoned love/war hero(ine)–I put the (“ine”) in parentheses because she is also the cross-dressed Miss Sacripant and this is enough in the Proustian cosmos, where gender is largely conceived of as performative, to put hers in question–and some of her decorations are quite clearly evoked as war-decorations: “des médailles d’argent, des médaillons d’or”. She wears her signs of victory on her body showing Swann’s defeat in this love/war to have been inevitable. These decorations are “un rappel délicat”–for whom?–the narrator himself–that engaging, i.e. engaging and marrying a mistress, in such a love-war is a mistake that he is being cautioned not to repeat. Swann marries Odette but he ends up a “celibataire de l’art” as the narrator calls him at the end of A la recherche. The narrator of course will not properly read the signs the first time around and will engage in this kind of love/war extortion game with Albertine in _La Prisonnière_where he himself becomes a prisoner of his prisoner of love/war. Here I agree with Deleuze that the book is about learning, through trial and error, to properly read signs.

  7. marie-lucie says:

    About the “particularly drastic forfeit” in the Stockton story: of course those young people would not have decided on this extraordinary outcome if they did not already wish to get married to each other – nobody would agree to play this “game” unless they were ready for at least a flirtation if not a romance – sharing a double almond is an excuse to begin one, and the “forfeit” was not necessarily a present but also a kiss.
    Forgive me if I am not very familiar with Proust and even less with his exegetes, but I am skeptical of the “philippine” here symbolizing “the cost of love” – from the paragraph I understand that all the bling items that Mme Swann is wearing appear to have special meaning for her, especially as reminders of secrets and very personal events in her life – from illnesses to love affairs to even very short flirtations.
    Incidentally the ever-trusty Petit Robert derives “philippine” from “Vielliebchen” and not the other way around, which makes sense since “Viellieb” to a French ear means nothing but sounds practically the same as “Philippe”, while having a meaning in German that is transparently about love (perhaps the discovery of a double nut was considered an omen). I think it is relevant that all othe other words given (except French and English) are also from Germanic languages, although there must have been reformations inspired by the French word “philippine”. As for “philopena”, as I wrote earlier it has to be a later, half-learned concoction – the mix of Greek and Latin in the same word gives away the fact that it is not genuinely ancient.

  8. marie-lucie says:

    about the “médailles” and “médaillons”:
    “une médaille” can be a medal awarded for prowess in battle or achievement in some other fields, worn pinned to one’s clothing, but it can also be a small thin metal pendant representing a saint, most often the Virgin Mary, worn (at least by Catholics) for protection, usually on a thin chain under one’s clothing – some people never take the chain and pendant off, even at the beach. So “médaille” does not necessarily call to mind a military context. As for “un médaillon”, it is normally a larger piece of jewellery also worn on a chain, over one’s clothes, with a shape (round or oval) and decoration reminiscent of a “médaille”, often used as a tiny box containing a small picture or a lock of hair – and it can also mean an architectural decoration of the same shape, or even a roundish piece of meat as you see on some fancy menus (“médaillon de veau”, etc). .
    So even if Mme Swann’s “médailles” might remind some people of “love is war”, her “médaillons” do not. Instead all these various baubles seem to be worn for protection (along with “des porte-bonheur”, “des trèfles à quatre feuilles”, “des amulettes”) while the non-functional decorations on her dresses suggest to the narrator that they are souvenirs, reminding the lady of personally meaningful episodes of her past.

  9. Yes, Marie-Lucie, as far as the literal meanings of “médaille” and “médaillon” are concerned. But, as you yourself say, “médaille” *does not necessarily* indicate war medals but it *can also* indicate a pendant etc. Proust is nothing if not polysemious. What any word can also mean must be figured into any literary interpretation provided that the multiple semantic possibilities add any layer of meaning that is relevant to and justified by the context. For Proust, love/war implications are ubiquitous throughout _A la recherche_ and I think it would be selling the author short to suggest that he wasn’t purposefully and consciously exploiting the full potential of these words: sentimental bling for sure but *also* the love/war dichotomy. There is a paronomastic chain linking “émail,” “médailles,” “médaillons,” each one overflowing sonorously and semantically into the other. And the strong predicative placement of “philippine” at the end of such a long series accentuates (I believe) its significance and all that it *can* imply. I’d be hard pressed to think of much that is more quintessentially Proustian than the idea of the pain of love and the “battle of wills” (to quote Leo Bersani) that love entails.

  10. Siganus Sutor says:

    In at least one country where nuts don’t grow but where you have other types of fruit, this “philippine” game can be played — but with bananas. The Siamese bananas themselves are called “bananes philippines” (which, one must reckon, can be rather mind-boggling), philippine becoming an adjective just like what is said in France about the double almond(s). And I suppose that any other conjoined fruits, or even objects, would or could be called the same way, given that they are feminine (since “phillipin” would sound weird and the link wouldn’t be straightforwardly made with the “usual” philippine banana). Des mangues, des bibasses ou des mandarines philippines (I have never seen any of these, but who knows what may happen with those GMOs) or, why not, for instance, des bouteilles en plastique philippines or des chenilles philippines (no need to mention a Filipino hydra, for it cannot be otherwise).
     
     
    Marie-Lucie: perhaps the discovery of a double nut was considered an omen
    Sure! This reminds me of a visit my wife and I paid to someone shortly after we got married. This person, a kind of monk-priest living amongst old ruins he refurbished and planted, gave us a banana from his own garden. It was a double, “philippine” one, and he emphasized the beautiful and strong symbol it represented for a freshly married couple. So we had to eat it almost like it was sanctified food.
    I haven’t said so far that I don’t read Proust to my wife and that she hates bananas (I wonder if there’s any connexion between the two). Here it is then: she really, really hates bananas. She hates them so much that it goes as far as not being able to stand someone eating a banana next to her. Even the bin isn’t allowed to receive any banana skin, however dirty it can be otherwise. So there she was, in front of this man of God she was bound to revere, being offered a banana she would have to eat while certainly thinking that, décidément, l’enfer est pavé de bonnes intentions. We didn’t play the game though, for this wasn’t funny at all. Well, at least not for everybody…

  11. marie-lucie says:

    Blue genes: “”And the strong predicative placement of “philippine” at the end of such a long series accentuates (I believe) its significance and all that it *can* imply. I’d be hard pressed to think of much that is more quintessentially Proustian than the idea of the pain of love and the “battle of wills” (to quote Leo Bersani) that love entails.””
    I am a linguist (student of linguistics) not a poet or literary critic, so I may not be as attuned to word associations as some of you are, but I cannot see how the word “philippine” coming at the end of series of words describing personal experiences and emotions implies “the pain of love” and the “battle of wills” any more than other references to love affairs – of which there are not really many in the paragraph.
    If you are going by the “English” word “philopena” rather than the original French “philippine”, the word is very obviously a fake Greco-Latin invention which even if genuine would not mean “pain of love” but rather “love of pain” (just as “philosophy” means “love of wisdon” not “wisdom of love”) – and in any case the meaning of Latin “poena” is not originally “pain” but “penalty” (which in those days often included physical pain, as in French “la peine capitale” = the death penalty). As a linguist (historical no less) I feel that German Vielliebchen is the most likely origin – not a fancy word but simply a wish for “much love” – which being adapted into the French “philippine” suggested a feminine name. (I don’t know if the Luxemburger Worterbuch -forgive the lack of umlaut – is a reliable source or not about word origins, whatever its accuracy about word meanings, while the OED takes an impartial attitude).
    The various items Mme Swann wears on her clothes are described more in terms of protective charms than of military souvenirs (only “médailles” could suggest both meanings), and the personal feelings and episodes that they suggest to the narrator’s imagination are not all in terms of the lady”s love life – to me the paragraph suggests that the narrator imagines in the lady – who does not look triumphant but thoughtful and melancholy – a richness of experience and mystery that he does not have access to, as well as a need for protection – whether this is justified or not may be the key to the subsequent fate of their marriage.

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