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Tout ce que vous avez toujours voulu savoir sur John Bull

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Mr Esclave

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"John Bull" in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon by Washington Irving

Ligne 39-46
Plain: frank, outspoken, blunt, free from duplicity.
Downright: plain and direct in speech sometimes implying bluntness.
Matter-of-fact: prosaic.
John Bull, selon toute apparence, est un gaillard franc direct et terre-à-terre dont le style est bien moins poétique que richement prosaïque. Son tempérament n'est guère romantique mais abonde d'un bon gros sentiment naturel. jovial plutôt que guilleret, mélancolique plutôt que morose. Il peut facilement et subitement être ému aux larmes ou éclater par surprise d'un ample rire. Il abhorre le sentimentalisme et n'a guère de penchants à la plaisanterie légère. C'est un joyeux drille si on le laisse suivre son humeur et parler de lui-même et ses amis le trouveront toujours à leurs côtés dans une querelle offrant sa vie et sa bourse quels que soient les risques de franche bastonnade. Sur ce dernier point, à dire vrai, il n'a que trop tendance à se montrer quelque peu prompt. C'est un personnage intrusif qui ne pense pas seulement à lui-même et à sa famille mais à tout le pays environnant et est très (most) généreusement disposé à être le champion de tout un chacun. Il est toujours à offrir ses services pour régler les problèmes et s'offusque fort qu'ils s'engagent dans une affaire de conséquence sans lui en demander conseil. Bien que lui-même s'engage rarement dans une telle besogne amicales sans finir par se quereller avec toutes les parties avant de se lamenter amèrement de leur ingratitude. Il eut le malheur de s'initier dans sa jeunesse à la noble science de la défense et étant devenu accompli tant dans l'art d'user de ses membres que de ses armes, et passé maitre dans l'art de la boxe et du maniement du gourdin, sa vie s'en est depuis trouvée fort tumultueuse.

Deux écueils à éviter au concours blanc dans la mesure où ça sera aussi un portrait. D'une part, la reformulation et une paraphrase. Dans la mesure où c'est une description on peut difficilement résumer, le commentaire ne doit pas être un portrait. Comme c'est un portrait allégorique, attention à ne pas prendre le portrait comme prétexte pour parler de l'identité nationale anglaise.

Some historians have posited that "Britain (Britain but not Great Britain, thus England) is an invented nation not much older than the USA" (Washington Irving premier homme de lettres américain). That provocative statement could be … (mot manquant, si quelqu'un peut me le communiquer) by how much John Bull (as an embodiment of England) may appear as a recent construct to which English people have "adapted themselves". In this sketch national identity feeds on fiction and caricature to seek confirmation of its roots and antiquity (ancienneté) and quasi biological nature. Irving underscores the mendacity (tromperie, illusion) of the construct while paying tribute to its comical effectiveness and political verisimilitude.

John Bull first appears as a character in a series of satires by John Arbuthnot (1667-1735). His series of John Bull pamphlets (= leaflet # libel) satired Whig policy and introduced John Bull as the typical Englishman: "An honest plain dealing fellow choleric, bold and of a very inconstant temper." "Law is a bottomless Pit(t)." In political cartoons he compares to the US' Uncle Sam. He is a cartoonish character.
His ancestors or forefathers can be clearly identified as former figures from English culture the first of whom is Sir John Oldcastle (who became Falstaff) who spawned a fruitful line of "amiable eccentrics". There is a striking echo to be found in Walter Scott's Ivanhoe (1820) where one of Robin Hood's companions is shown as equally accomplished in the use of his cudgel. Irving himself presents the cudgel as a necessary symbolical attribute of feisty John who is found of avenge it around and handling it as if it was a magic wand (baguette magique) or a scepter.

An English joke: Satire is a species of humor in which the English excel caricaturing and giving ludicrous appellations or nicknames. In this way whimsically designated not merely individuals but nations. And in their fondness of pushing a joke they have not even spared themselves. Irving lays the stress on this self-derisive (autodérision) impulse that drives Englishmen to exhibit "their most intimate foibles" as as a safe means towards asserting their national character to "an insensibility to foreign refinements". The caricature as said to be so successful a statement of Englishness that people made a point to conform to the exaggerated/ inflated/ overblown/ fulsome picture. What is remarkable is that John Bull's eccentricity (what is out of the norm) should have become typicality (exhibiting the qualities, traits or characterizing that identify the kind, class, group or category).
-> The main point is that centuries of civilization failed to scrub away the English people's original ruggedness. Such ruggedness is all the more enduring as it was born amidst strife and pain from 1066 onwards.

An American point of view: Through John Bull Irving reinterpreted the changing and difficult relationship between England and America, cultural friends and historical foes (enemies). The image of the old spider is redolent of America's view of England as a stale, isolated, and selfish country that sought to catch in its/his web as many bounties as possibly while being protected from invasion in his island-like "den" (tannière). Similarly, the nave image is a tribute to Britain's supremacy offshore and to the power of the royal navy and its instrumentality in putting and end to Napoleon's adventurous conquests.By the same tokenJohn Bull's generosity in assisting his friends (what friends?) in needy times must be seen as a mention of England's leading role in the Napoleonic wars, making excessive demands on the public finances and taxing the patience of the people (to tax: exiger trop de).

=> What seems indisputable is that having his cudgel quiet and at rest goes ill with John Bull. Even though it was England who reaped the most substantial political and territorial rewards from Waterloo the economy had been geared for so long to war that the outbreak of peace precipitated a severe slump in agriculture, trade and manufacturing which persisted until the early 1820's. But with the recycling of John Bull's propensity to quarrel into commercial aggressiveness, all this would be soon resolved.

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