Tricks of memory

I very often awake with a name stuck in my head, usually a person’s name, and usually for no reason I can discern. This morning it was the French actress Arletty, most famous for the film Les Enfants du Paradis (1945, with Jean-Louis Barrault, among others). I recalled her as playing the character Annabella (Smith), whose murder sets off the action of Alfred Hitchcock’s film The 39 Steps. I then spent fruitless hours looking for any connection between Arletty and Hitchcock.

Apparently I’d mixed up the character’s name Annabella and the actress’s name Arletty, on the basis of phonological similarity, and my (somewhat inaccurate) belief that they were both mononymous, plus the fact that the two actresses were both glamorous women whose first language was not English (as far as I can tell, Arletty’s films were all in French, while Lucie Mannheim (who played Annabella) acted in both German and English).

Still, I was utterly convinced that it was Arletty who came to Hannay (played by Robert Donat) with information about a spy network with a connection to something called “the 39 steps”.

Memory is a tricky thing, often undependable.

Basics on the movie (which I recommend enthusiastically):

The 39 Steps is a 1935 British thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll. Loosely based on the 1915 adventure novel The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

Some crucial notes: Mr. Memory, a man with the top joint missing from one of his fingers, fugitive in the Scottish highlands, handcuffed to one another, Mr. Memory (again) at the London Palladium.

Lucie Mannheim, the German singer and actress (30 April 1899 – 28 July 1976), as Annabella Smith in the movie:


There are more glamorous shots of Mannheim, but this one is in character.

On Arletty, from Wikipedia:

(15 May 1898 – 24 July 1992) … a French actress, singer, and fashion model.

Arletty was born Léonie Marie Julie Bathiat in Courbevoie (near Paris), to a working-class family. After her father’s death, she left home and pursued a modeling career. She took the stage name “Arlette” based on the heroine of a story by Maupassant.


Arletty was mononymous ‘one-named’. See my 9/29/12 posting “Useful but rare vocabulary” on the notion:

On ADS-L on the 27th, Victor Steinbok noted the rarity of the useful adjective mononymous (and nouns mononym and mononymy) — cf. homonymous, synonymous, antonymous, etc.  From Paul McFedries’s WordSpy entry (posted 7/18/98) …

For example, Socrates, Cher, Banksy, Pelé, Batman, to choose people from various walks of life.

There’s an extensive but ramshackle Wikipedia page with lots of examples and information. It has a nice section on these French literary mononyms:

Jean-Baptiste Poquelin: Molière, François-Marie Arouet: Voltaire, Marie-Henri Beyle: Stendhal, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette: Colette

and notes:

Some mononym stage names are merely the performer’s given name (e.g., Madonna, Prince, Cher), while others may be the performer’s middle name (e.g. Rihanna), or surname (e.g. Liberace, Mantovani, Morrissey). Some mononym stage names are invented (e.g. Cantinflas, Xzibit), adopted words (e.g. Capucine, French for “nasturtium”) or nicknames (e.g. Sting, Bono, Moby).

One Response to “Tricks of memory”

  1. H. S. Gudnason Says:

    And Arletty’s character in Enfants, Garance “comme la fleur,” is also a mononym in French, though the flower is a duonym–rose madder–in English.

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