In the summer of 1930, Willa Cather chanced to form a brief friendship with an elderly lady at the Grand Hôtel d’Aix in Aix-les-Bains. As they chatted, Cather realized that her companion was Caroline Commanville, Flaubert’s beloved niece, then in her eighties. At one of their meetings, the novelist mentioned how much she admired “the splendid final sentence of Hérodias” which Caroline then recited from memory, “Comme elle était très lourde, ils la portaient al-ter-na-tive-ment,” drawing out that final adverb which, in Cather’s words, “is so suggestive of the hurrying footsteps of John’s disciples, carrying away with them their prophet’s severed head.” In English this would become something like “as it was very heavy, they took turns carrying it,” and the effect, which in the original accentuates the dead weight of the grisly relic, would be lost.


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