现代英文选评注 | The Great Fire of 1945 一九四五年大火记 Margaret Shedd

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本文选自《1947年欧·亨利奖金得奖小说集》(Prize Stories of?1947, The O. Henry Awards)。《欧·亨利奖金得奖小说集》由专家评选,自1919年起,每年刊行一本,为一有历史地位之著名短篇小说选集。本文作者玛格丽特·谢特(Margaret Shedd,1900—1986)为美国女作家,有长短篇小说多种问世。

原题《一九四五年大火记》,文中叙一巨宅被焚之时,宅中女主人仓皇逃出(她已与其夫别居,其子战死,生活本甚孤寂),今身处火场之外,目睹火势蔓延,巨屋被毁,勾起种种回忆。本文于火景描写之中,参以心理活动,勾勒深刻,描写生动。此处所录,因篇幅所限,略加节删(如关于其儿子之处,均已节去),但大体俱在,仍不失为一短篇杰作也。

Standing on the high ground behind the house, she saw that one small flame had separated itself from the matrix of fire within the house and was gliding up the wall. It licked the shingles nimbly and delicately, and, still only a golden tongue, found the window of her room. She herself had left that window open and leaned out of it helplessly calling help before she ran from the room down the hot stairs out of the house to the earth never more friendly than then.

  • 女主人于小说开幕时,已站立在屋后高地,全篇小说描写,即由此观点出发。
  • matrix:母体,模型,原体。从它那里,别的东西可以分化出来的。matrix of fire within the house:屋内之火,本是浑然一体,今有一小股火焰,离母体而独立,缘壁而上。这股火焰,作者比之为“金黄色的舌头”。它的动作是“舔”(licking),而且舔得轻巧(delicately)灵活(nimbly)。
  • shingles:护墙木板(小木板排列成行,用以护墙,或铺屋顶)。found the window of her room:她的卧室在楼上,火从外面墙上爬上去,找到了它的窗。
  • had left that window open:她“刚才”把窗开了,探身出去叫救命,后来就没有关。本文所用动词时态,大致用“过去式”时,即为当前之事;用“过去完成式”时,表明过去之事。
  • never more friendly than then:形容earth。她奔出卧室,冲下热楼梯,逃到地上;“地对于她的友善,从未甚于此时者”:她那时觉得土地比任何时候都待她好。

Up to now the house had still looked quite natural. From the little hill where she stood, too dumfounded to speak or call out any more, it had seemed to be alight for some grand secret festival. The flame which had darted out of a cellar window or a rathole or who knows what tiny aperture and had run swift as a lizard up to the second story had found its kind; and with the flourish of grand finale the vaporous curtain of smoke puffs was transfigured into billows of flame-shot black and then into the pure roaring triumph of fire, fire. From down the valley she heard the engines, but they had a long way to come.

  • looked quite natural:起初火势不大,房子看上去还没有走样,还像一幢房子。
  • dumfounded:慌乱。alight:点燃起来。festival:节日庆祝。secret:大抵指邪教或秘密团体举火以行庆祝仪式一事。
  • darted:急射。火从小孔里喷出,其势甚锐。这个缘墙而上的火焰从哪里来的呢?可能是从地窖小窗,或老鼠洞(rathole),或是不知别的什么小窟窿里(aperture)钻出来的(她自己也没看清楚)。
  • 火焰初升时,吞吐伸缩,故以“舌”为喻。今一气窜上,轻快迅捷,又以“壁虎”(lizard)为喻。its kind:它的同类,也是火。爬上去的火焰,到了二楼,又和二楼的火内外相应。
  • flourish(音乐名词):盛奏。finale(意大利文):最后之乐章。音乐奏至最后一章,百音齐鸣,气象万千,今火势之盛,亦复如此。
  • vaporous:雾气状的。transfigured:形状变易。billows:波涛。shot:本用于丝织物,经线用一种颜色,纬线用另一种颜色,交织而成的。flame-shot black:黑烟中夹杂着火焰。烟气笼罩,本如雾幕;忽火烟翻腾,红黑间杂,声势汹涌;继而黑烟退尽,纯然炽火(pure)声如怒吼(roaring)。气势雄壮(triumph),火势之盛极矣。
  • engines=fire engines:救火车。山下有救火车声,但不能立刻赶到。

The house, which she could see was going to be burned to its bones before any help could reach it, was the summing up of her life. Logically included in the slant of its roof, its closet spaces, its lonely distance from the village, was everything that had ever happened to the woman, and included as well were all the other houses she had lived in.

  • burned to its bones:烧到骨头里去;烧完。
  • summing up:总括。这幢房子把她的一生(回忆)都包括在内了(房子烧掉,把许多可以引起过去生活的联想的东西都烧掉了)。
  • 第二句动词(was included)在先,主语(everything)在后,为加强logically included之用。everything…:这个女人所经历的一切,都包括在这座房子里。包括在内,是理之当然,故曰logically。但是作者并不说“包括在这座房子里”,而把“房子”这一概念分成三点来说,一是“屋顶的斜度”,二是“壁橱里的空地位”,三是“房子僻处乡间的形势”。这三点恐怕是房子主人随便想起来的,但是当一个人想起一座房子的时候,很少会空空洞洞地想到房子而已,很容易想起它的屋顶是怎么的,壁橱里可以放些什么东西,左右邻居又是怎么的等等。
  • and以下另一从句,结构如前,她以前所住过的房子也都包括在里边——过去生活的回忆,重重叠叠,层层交织,不可分割,现在一起都要烧去了。

When, shortly before, the housekeeper had come pounding on her door, screaming, beating on the wood, "Wake up, wake up quick, Mrs. James! The furnace has burst, the house is afire, get up quick!" She had had time to get the bracelet and bring it out. She had, half consciously, gone to the window and called for help. Then she had wrapped herself in a heavy gray dressing gown and had looked around the room deciding whether to take out her fur coats and some letters. In her mind's eye she had seen the bracelet lying in the top drawer of her green French Provencal dressing table along with the other trinkets. She had had time to think, No, I won't take it; leave it where it is. So, remembering now the bracelet's earlier associations, which for many years she had forgotten, she was more glad than ever that it was gone. She was honest enough to admit that life had failed her. And as between apathy and pain she had made her choice.

  • 女主人面对大火,回首前尘,想起了丈夫于某年圣诞节所送给她的一只手镯(bracelet)。手镯象征了他们婚姻生活的幸福,现在他们的婚姻既已破裂,她不愿意再想起这只手镯,也不愿意把它从火里救出来。本段之前,原文有三段回忆描写,今已节去。
  • 本段开始,她想起了火起之时,她于睡梦中惊醒,仓皇呼救逃生这一段情景。
  • pounding:用力地打。beating on the wood:打门。管家婆来报讯的时候,她还有工夫把手镯抢救出来。
  • 第二三两句叙她惊醒后所做的事:迷迷糊糊地跑到窗口去叫救命,披起一件灰色的厚晨服,把全身裹住,再检点一下什么东西该抢救出去。
  • In her mind's eye:脑筋里很清楚地想到,好像看见一般。drawer:抽屉。dressing table:梳妆台。Provencal:法国东南部式的(家具的一种形式)。trinkets:小件珠宝玩物。
  • She had had time to think之后跟的是直接引语,可是把引号省去了。
  • So, remembering now之now又跳到她在火场前的那时候了。读英美新派的心理小说,一定要把书中主角所处的时间空间,时时留心辨明,才有线索可寻。因为近代心理小说的特点,就是描写“回忆”,而且是把“回忆”同“眼前情景”夹杂着写,看惯十八、十九世纪那种条理清楚、层次井然的小说的读者,乍读新派小说,往往有“茫无头绪,不知所云”之感。
  • associations:联想。想起了当初和手镯有关的种种联想,她想把它丢了也好。admit:承认。life had failed her:生命没有给她什么好处。
  • apathy:麻木,尤其指对于痛苦的麻木。pain:痛苦。痛苦与麻木之间,她挑选了一样。把手镯带出去,过去的一切悲喜哀乐,又要在她心头重演,这是所谓“痛苦”。让火把手镯给烧了,把过去都毁灭了,这是所谓“麻木”。两者之间,她早已经决定了采取一样。as between这一phrase,是从as for(至于)化出来的。这里的as不可省。

As if to test that decision, the fire peeled off one wall of the house, and the room she had just left opened up before her. There was no distortion; the fire illumined and had not begun to destroy the room which she suddenly realized was dear to her. There was the Provencal dressing table, bought for a white-plastered bedroom they had had in a house in the Berkeley hills.

  • peeled off:剥去。屋子有一面的墙已经烧去,但是烧得很快,干净利落,好像剥去一层皮似的。
  • 墙剥去以后,她的卧室赫然在目,好像要考验(test)她所下的决心似的:到底她真是麻木呢,还是痛苦。she had just left是定语从句。
  • 她的卧室还没有烧坏,还没有走样(distortion)。illumined:照亮。火还没有把房间毁了,只是把它照亮了,使她看得更清楚。realized:觉悟。
  • 盛手镯的梳妆台就在眼前。她想起了这只梳妆台还是以前住在别所房子的时候所买,后来搬来的。white-plastered:四周墙壁和天花板涂白灰的。

Now she saw the fire whirl up in a rotating gesture to snatch the clock and the vase with its white flowers, and, as if that were the signal for holocaust, the room was blotted out in a dance of up-prancing, laughing, clapping flames and the dressing table writhed in their grip. I never saw the bed, she thought, nor the curtains, the fabrics I loved. Now they were gone and, again to her surprise, she was grieved; she had thought she was immune to simple emotions like nostalgia or the faint sadness of having old friends depart who forget to say good-by.

  • whirl up:回旋而上。in a rotating gesture:以旋转之势。snatch:抢走,攫取。形容火势之迅速。
  • holocaust原意为“燔祭”,烧全牛全羊以祭神,转为“彻底毁灭”,尤其是用火来烧毁的。signal:信号。火把台钟和花瓶一烧去,好像是一声信号似的,立刻火势大作。blotted out:涂没。满室是火,房间都看不见了。
  • 形容flames的三个形容词都很有力量:prancing原意为马用后脚站起来跳,借作“跳跃”。up-prancing:往上跳的。laughing, clapping:火焰会笑,会鼓掌吗?这三个形容词都和前面的名词dance呼应。
  • writhed:辗转反侧,受煎熬之状。in their grip:在火焰的魔掌之中。盛手镯的梳妆台终于不保了。
  • she thought的前后是没有加引号的直接引语。从墙壁被剥去,到卧室被毁,只有很短的时间,她来不及周览全室,很多东西已经不可复见了。床没有见到,帐子幕帘等也没有见到,而这些编织物(fabrics)是她所喜欢的。fabrics是curtains的同位语。
  • again to her surprise:又是使她惊奇的。她历经沧桑,自以为已经磨炼得心如铁石,冷酷无情。不料今晚大火一起,所见所思,无不触目惊心,甚至悲从中来,她自己也觉得惊奇起来了。
  • immune(形容词):有力抗拒,不受支配或伤害。其所以“支配”或“伤害”的东西放在介词to(或from或against)之后。她本来以为(had thought)她可以不受简单情感的支配。简单的情感有两个例子,一是思乡病(nostalgia),一是当老朋友远行忘了来辞行时所感觉到的那种“淡淡的轻愁”(faint sadness)。这一类的情感,她自以为是不能支配她的了。现在床和帐子被焚,其最后一瞥,她竟亦未能见到,直如老友之不辞而别,心中难免怅然耳。

Someone was walking that way, hailing her. "They've got here at last, Mrs. James. They may be able to save some of the things downstairs."

"It's all right." She did not try to compete with fire and hose roar and the bells of rescuers arriving.

"What?" the voice shouted to her. "What did you say?"

"Never mind."

  • hailing:高声招呼。
  • they指来救火的人。compete:竞争。hose:(救火车上的)水管。火声、水声、警钟声,一片喧哗,讲话很费力,她没有提起嗓子说话,“她不想同那些声音竞争”。rescuers:解救的人。
  • 来人没听清楚她说什么,所以嚷着问:What?她根本没有注意来人是谁,她只听见有个声音同她说话而已,故曰:the?voiceshouted to her,而不说the?manshouted to her。

"They've already got out some of the papers from Mr. James'study, and they've started on the furniture. That brocade settee."The shouting voice was triumphant, an achievement boasted. It was an achievement, men risking their lives to extract furniture from a burning house. She tried to remember if they had ever used that settee. Yes, there had been a time, and she was forgetting it on purpose…. The last time she had seen of Mr. James, she was sitting on the brocade settee....

  • papers:文件。study:书房。started:开始(抢救)。brocade:锦缎。settee:沙发似的长椅子。boasted(过去分词):夸耀。achievement:(救火的)成绩。extract:取出。
  • if用来引起一个名词从句时=whether。
  • on purpose:故意地。过去的事情想起来太痛苦,她故意地要忘了它。
  • The last time三个字连起来当conjunction用。这一类表示时间的所谓group conjunction常用的有the moment、every time、by the time等等。为什么这只椅子所引起的回忆是痛苦的呢?因为最后一次她同她丈夫吵架的时候,她就是坐在这张椅子上。

The fire had blown to statuesque grandeur. It had taken hold of the house trees, which were now dying. The three tall sentinel firs made their pyre apart, but the others, among them the maple outside her window, were meeting common death with the house they shaded. This was a great fire, the biggest in these parts for twenty years. The firemen drew back to safer distances. The rescued settee, which had not been carried out far enough, began to smolder, and no one would brave the heat to rescue it again.

  • blown:膨胀。statuesque:像雕像似的。grandeur:雄伟。
  • firs:枞树。sentinel:哨兵。枞树三棵,本耸立守卫,犹如哨兵,今均焚去。pyre:火葬堆。apart与common death相对照,三棵枞树分三处烧,别的树同屋子一起烧去。maple:枫树。they shaded是定语从句。they=the trees:屋本居树荫之下。
  • drew back:向后撤退。火势太大,救火人员都不敢再走上前去了。
  • smolder:焚化(火不冒出来的)。长椅本已着火,抢救出来后,没有搬多远,现在它自己烧起来了。brave(动词):冒,犯,敢去碰。

The fire chief, village druggist disguised in a helmet, came up to comfort her and apologize, "It's a pity, Mrs. James, we couldn't save anything to speak of. The way the draft carried the flame you'd have thought that house was built to be burned. Excuse me, ma'am, I guess you're feeling bad enough."

  • druggist:卖药的,药剂师。乡间守望相助,救火会亦为村民所组成。disguised:化装。helmet:(铜)盔。
  • to speak of:值得一提的(东西)。draft:气流,风。The way也是一个group conjunction,这里的意思好像是From the way:从火随风走这种情势看来,你会以为那屋子是造来专给火烧的。

She had no idea what words he expected from her, so she pointed toward the fire, as much as to say, What is there to say? But he thought she was indicating the settee, now smoking like a Christmas pudding, and he felt guilty about it.

"I know," he said humbly. "I thought we sure had it out far enough."

  • idea后有一介词of省去:她不知道他期待她怎样答复。
  • What is there to say?前后引号省去:还有什么可说的呢?这句话并没有说出来,可是从她的姿势看来,效果上是等于说了(as much as to say)。
  • Christmas pudding:圣诞布丁。面粉、鸡蛋、牛脂、葡萄干、梅干等调制而成,食时热气蒸腾。guilty:自责,内疚(自觉救火不力)。
  • sure当副词用。I thought we had…用过去式:“我起初还以为……”,现在才知道那张长椅子搬出来得还不够远。

"Throw it back into the fire." She heard her own harsh, unkempt voice and she hadn't meant to offend the druggist-fireman, who backed off hurriedly, disconcerted by her ferocity; it was just that she could not help voicing exactly what was in her mind…because she had decided to throw into the fiery furnace every shred of her life that she could lay hands on.

  • harsh:粗声粗气的。unkempt:随便的,不检点的。offend:得罪。backed off:向后走开。disconcerted:弄得很窘。ferocity:凶狠之状。
  • it was just that:句子这样开头往往用来说明上文“事实只是这样”。could not help:不得不。voice当动词用,解作“表达出来,形诸语言”,这里是动名词。
  • furnace:炉,是暗喻(metaphor),指焚烧中的房子。shred原意是极细的布条。生命里的“一丝一缕”,她都要掷到火里去,那张长椅子也不必说了。that she could lay hands on:定语从句,“凡是她的手所拿得到的”。

But the house burned brightly enough, as fine a fire as hell.

It was hell, nor more nor less. It tore at her eye-balls, and looking at it was more than looking because it had already begun to devour her.

  • 照基督教传说,地狱里不断地烧着火。一个在基督教传统里长大的人,看见大火,很容易联想起地狱(hell)。
  • nor more nor less:不多也不少,正是(地狱)。
  • tore at本意为“使劲地拉”。屋子大火,刺激她的眼睛,好像要抓破她的眼球似的。looking at it:对它看。more than looking:不止是看而已。大火不单对她的“视觉”发生作用,她的整个身心都受到影响:它已经开始把她吞下去。

The clawing flame fingers began to encircle her heart. What did they want? Could they release the dream that had been walled up in her? A dream as soft-feathered and surely molded as a thrush, but lifeless now, head battered and wings shredded from beating against the walls of defeat. This dream of life, giving and taking and of loving—poor love—was dead. She had failed; and the heart was a tomb and the flame fingers could probe and claw to no purpose—forever. That was it. She had forgotten. Hell was a flame forever; that was the whole point. Eternal fire.

  • clawing:用爪来抓的。女主人面对大火,火光刺目,热浪袭人,加以思潮起伏,百感交集,此身似已为大火吞去。本段又云:烈焰嚣张,伸指欲抓,开始向其方寸之间围玫。是则非但身外火势逼近,而且心中焦灼如焚,亦不堪熬炼矣。
  • 这些火焰的手指要些什么东西呢?它们能不能将“砌”(walled up)在她心头的一个梦“释放”(release)出来呢?A dream之下并无finite verb,句子不完全,只是用以说明上一句的the dream。她的梦像一只小鸟(thrush:画眉),羽毛柔软,形体宛然(surely molded:她的梦不是空虚的,而有确定的塑造成的形体的)。现在这只小鸟是死了,因为想破壁而出,自己给撞死的。battered和shredded都是过去分词“头破翅裂”。围着那只小鸟的墙是什么墙呢?是“失败之墙”。她一生多故,累遭挫折,好梦难圆,情思郁结——梦想之鸟,难破失败之墙,终于梦碎鸟死,生机奄然矣。
  • 次句说明“梦”之内容:“生命之梦——施与受”。照语法结构,taking后最好接comma,可是接了comma之后,dream of life和dream of loving硬是成对立之局。作者之意不然,of loving既似与of life对立,又似附属于of life之下,而和giving and taking相平行。此时小说中主角心头本不甚清楚,此种句法似更能代表当时之心境。
  • she had failed:她的生命是失败了。probe:探察(尤其指用尖锐的外科仪器以探察伤口)。to no purpose:没有结果。“她的心已经像一座坟,探察它撕抓它也得不到什么结果了。”
  • she had forgotten:她已经把过去都忘记了。她还是自以为她的过去已经毁灭,她的心已经死去,看下文乃知事实并不如此。
  • that was the whole point:就是如此而已,只剩下大火,地狱,永久的(eternal)火。

And she sighed. For the first time she took her eyes away from the fire. That was all that happened. She paused and looked around.

She saw that oddly enough the woods behind the house had had nothing to do with the fire. Under her feet there were buds of bleeding heart and violets. In the valley, beyond the fire engines, a living thrush twittered. Could it be that the sky was reddening not with blood but with dawn?

  • sighed:叹气。
  • That was all that happened:所发生的就是这么一件事。叹了一口气,眼光转了一下。可是这么一来,她在心理上就大有转变了。
  • had had nothing to do with the fire:跟火不发生什么关系。第一个had表示过去完成式,第二个had表示“有”。
  • bleeding heart:花名,中国俗名“荷包牡丹”或“倒挂金钟”。twittered:啾唧而鸣。reddening:(天色)转红。不是为血所染红的吧?或者可能是天亮了吧?

Spring dawn became something faintly more than the shadow smell of ground flowers under the leaves; and when she breathed she had to unclench her hands, because it was impossible to inhale the violet-tinged, dogwood-tipped air without also moving her neck and shoulders to relax them, then relaxing her arms, and at last her hands, which she held upward waist high and opened into palms.

  • shadow:名词当形容词用,指“依稀恍惚,不可捉摸”——草花之香是如此。花香虽轻淡如影,然对于小说中主人之心理,已起作用;今晨光熹微,春日之黎明已可隐约觉得,在其人心理上亦起作用,其作用略甚(faintly more)于花香。
  • unclench:松开。她因为神经紧张过度,双手一直是紧握着拳的,现在透了一口气,手也松开了。impossible跟without意义相连:不那么做,这个也不可能了。要做这个也得连那个一起来。
  • inhale:吸入。所吸入的空气有两个“复合字”(compound words)形容:violet-tinged(微微的带一点紫罗兰味儿的),dogwood-tipped(尖头上抹着山茱萸香味的)。空气怎么会有尖头(tip)的呢?中文也有“香味钻进鼻孔里面去”的说法,既能“钻”,就可以有尖头了。
  • relax:放松。闻了那种空气,脖子和肩膀就得动一下,以求松弛;然后臂也松了,手也松了。她的手抬得同腰一般高,现在张开来了。palms:手掌。

In one of them, of course, lay the golden bracelet. She had saved it without knowing it, and exactly when she thought she had made up her mind not to save it; and she had taken it because it was all she had worth saving.

  • of course:当然如此,不用说的。她手心里本来就捏着那只金手镯,手张开来,当然还在那里。
  • had saved有一个adverbial phrase(without…)和一个adverbial clause(exactly when…)形容,两者之间有and连接。她把手镯带了出来,自己还不知道;那时候她正还下了决心不把它带出来呢!手镯是她丈夫所送的,她是不愿意再想起这一段姻缘了,决心让那手镯付之一炬。可是人生的神秘就在这里(心理小说的妙处也在这里);意识里想做的是一件事,下意识支配人所做的是另一件事。而迷迷茫茫仓皇逃生的一刹那,亦正是下意识发挥作用之时。手镯还是给带出来了,因为她所有的东西里面值得抢救的,就只是那只手镯而已。

(本文摘自《现代英文选评注》:京东正版购买链接

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