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Madame Bovary (Lydia Davis Translation)

Madame Bovary (Lydia Davis Translation)

3.4 205
by Gustave Flaubert
     
 

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A literary event: one of the most celebrated novels ever written, in a magnificent new translation

Seven years ago, the incomparable Lydia Davis brought us an award-winning, rapturously reviewed new translation of Marcel Proust's Swann's Way that was hailed as "clear and true to the music of the original" (Los Angeles Times) and

Overview

A literary event: one of the most celebrated novels ever written, in a magnificent new translation

Seven years ago, the incomparable Lydia Davis brought us an award-winning, rapturously reviewed new translation of Marcel Proust's Swann's Way that was hailed as "clear and true to the music of the original" (Los Angeles Times) and "a work of creation in its own right" (Claire Messud, Newsday). Now she turns her gifts to the book that defined the novel as an art form. 

When Emma Rouault marries dull, provincial doctor Charles Bovary, her dreams of an elegant and passionate life crumble. She escapes into sentimental novels but finds her fantasies dashed by the tedium of her days. Motherhood proves to be a burden; religion is only a brief distraction. She spends lavishly and embarks on a series of disappointing affairs. Soon heartbroken and crippled by debts, Emma takes drastic action with tragic consequences for her husband and daughter. When published in 1857, Madame Bovary was embraced by bourgeois women who claimed it spoke to the frustrations of their lives. Davis's landmark translation gives new life in English to Flaubert's masterwork.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[Flaubert's] masterwork has been given the English translation it deserves."
-Kathryn Harrison, The New York Times Book Review

"[A] brilliant new translation."
-Lee Siegel, The New York Observer

"[Davis] has a finer ear for the natural cadences of English, in narrative and dialogue, than any of her predecessors, and there are many moments in her Madame Bovary when one pauses to admire how clean and spare a sentence seems by comparison with its earlier translated versions. . . . Only a very good writer indeed could have written it. . . . The bones of the original French show clearly through her English, and the rawness of her translation is, on the whole, invigorating."
-Jonathan Raban, The New York Review of Books

"How tickled Madame Bovary herself would be by the latest homage paid to her. . . . I'm grateful to Davis for luring me back to Madame Bovary and for giving us a version which strikes me as elegant and alive."
-Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air

"Flaubert's obsessive masterpiece finally gets the obsessive translation it deserves."
-New York

"Davis is the best fiction writer ever to translate the novel. . . . [Her] work shares the Flaubertian virtues of compression, irony and an extreme sense of control. . . . Davis's Madame Bovary is a linguistically careful version, in the modern style, rendered into an unobtrusively American English."
-Julian Barnes, London Review of Books

"Davis captures with precision the sensitivity of the novel's language. . . . [Her] version . . . ultimately demonstrates her own empathy with Emma."
-The New Republic

"At last, the real Madame Bovary . . . The publication of the Davis version is an event. . . . Davis has come closer than any previous translator to capturing Flaubert's style and content accurately for English-language readers. . . . Her version benefits from her finesse as a writer and seems fresh and different compared to other translations."
-The American Spectator

"Davis has produced a very fine [translation that] displays a cool detachment not at all dissimilar to Flaubert's own."
-The New Criterion

"Davis [is] operating in top form in her new translation of Madame Bovary. . . . I was struck delirious by the force of Flaubert's writing, and the precision (the perfection) of Davis's translation."
-Macy Halford, The New Yorker's Book Bench

"Davis's edition should bring a new generation to Flaubert's classic of bourgeois ennui and adultery."
-Newsday

"A new translation that spans the ages [and] hews as close to the original as may be possible. . . . Davis's translation strives for-and largely achieves-the flavor of Flaubert's realism. . . . It provides such an unfussy, straightforward narrative that it underscores how truly modern a writer Flaubert was."
-BookPage

"Davis has forged a masterpiece out of a masterpiece. . . . This Madame Bovary is a veritable page-turner. . . . In French, the story leapt out at me like a hallucinatory Technicolor poem; in the lapidary English of Lydia Davis, I receive the same frisson of recognition-that the novel still lives. . . . Thanks to Lydia Davis, the book remains: a great, companionlike, eternal gilded mirror of Flaubert's world."
-Neil Baldwin, The Faster Times

"Davis . . . does a brilliant job of capturing Flaubert's diamond-hard style. . . . Davis's English prose has precisely the qualities she notes that Flaubert was striving for in French; it is 'clear and direct, economical and precise.' This translation reminds you what an aggressively modern writer Flaubert is."
-Kirkus Reviews

"[Davis] is one of the most innovative prose stylists of our time, and thus an excellent match for Flaubert's masterpiece. Flaubert's sentences are certainly sonorous in French, and the sentences in this translation reveal a similar attention to sound. . . . We are in debt to Flaubert for his influence on much of the writing we have today; the extent of our debt has never been so clear."
-The Believer

Acclaim for Lydia Davis and her translation of Swann's Way

"[Her] capacity to make language unleash entire states of existence reveals the extent to which Davis's fiction is influenced by her work as a translator."
-The New York Times

"Few writers now working make the words on the page matter more."
-Jonathan Franzen

"Davis is the best prose stylist in America."
-Rick Moody

"Swann's Way is transformed into something even more enchanting in Lydia Davis's new translation."
-Vanity Fair

"Davis is closer, much closer, to Proust's French. . . . [Her] Swann's Way is one of those translations . . . that put the question of languages out of your mind, and leave you only with questions of language."
-The Village Voice

"Accessible and faithful to Proust. Davis replicates the hesitations and digressions, the backward looks and forward glances that swell Proust's sentences and send them cascading to their conclusion-without sacrificing the natural air of his style."
-Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Davis is an extraordinary technician of language, capable of revealing elusive human tendencies through the most unusual means."
-Bookforum

"[Davis] commands language and imagery, playing the reader like a master."
-Los Angeles Times

"The subtleties of the French language, in spite of their difficulty, hold no secrets from you. . . . No literary genre deters you. You helped to make known to the English-speaking public some of the finest French literature of the century. . . . You have found a way not only to put your many talents at the service of the French language and culture, but also to place your stamp on the literary legacy of our times."
-French Insignia of the Order of Arts and Letters citation

Kathryn Harrison
Given the pressure Flaubert applied to each sentence, there is no greater test of a translator's art than Madame Bovary. Faithful to the style of the original, but not to the point of slavishness, Davis's effort is transparent—the reader never senses her presence. For Madame Bovary, hers is the level of mastery required…It is a shame Flaubert will never read Davis's translation…Even he would have to agree his masterwork has been given the English translation it deserves.
—The New York Times

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780670022076
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/23/2010
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
728,891
Product dimensions:
6.96(w) x 11.30(h) x 1.27(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

[1]

We were in Study Hall, when the Headmaster entered, followed by a new boy dressed in regular clothes and a school servant carrying a large desk. Those who were sleeping woke up, and everyone rose as though taken by surprise while at work.

The Headmaster motioned us to sit down again; then, turning to the study hall teacher:

"Monsieur Roger," he said to him in a low voice, "here is a pupil I am entrusting to your care; he is entering the fifth. If his work and his conduct are deserving, he will be moved up to the seniors, as befits his age."

Still standing in the corner, behind the door, so that one could hardly see him, the new boy was a fellow from the country, about fifteen years old, and taller than any of us. His hair was cut straight across the forehead, like a village choirboy's, his manner sensible and very ill at ease. Although he was not broad in the shoulders, his suit jacket of green cloth with black buttons must have pinched him around the armholes, and it showed, through the vents of its cuffs, red wrists accustomed to being bare. His legs, in blue stockings, emerged from a pair of yellowish pants pulled tight by his suspenders. He wore stout shoes, badly shined, studded with nails.

We began reciting our lessons. He listened to them, all ears, as attentive as though to a sermon, not daring even to cross his legs or to lean on his elbow, and at two o'clock, when the bell rang, the teacher was obliged to alert him, so that he would get in line with us. We were in the habit, when we entered the classroom, of throwing our caps on the floor, so that our hands would be free; from the doorsill, we had to hurl them under the bench, in such a way that they struck the wall, making a lot of dust; it was the thing to do.

But either because he had not noticed this maneuver or because he had not dared go along with it, after the prayer was over, the new boy was still holding his cap on his knees. It was one of those head coverings of a composite order, in which one can recognize components of a busby, a lancer's cap, a bowler, an otter-skin cap, and a cotton nightcap, one of those sorry objects, indeed, whose mute ugliness has depths of expression, like the face of an imbecile. Ovoid and stiffened with whalebones, it began with three circular sausages; then followed alternately, separated by a red band, lozenges of velvet and rabbit fur; next came a kind of bag terminating in a cardboard-lined polygon, covered with an embroidery in complicated braid, from which hung, at the end of a long, excessively slender cord, a little crosspiece of gold threads, by way of a tassel. It was new; the visor shone.

"Stand up," said the teacher.

He stood up; his cap fell. The whole class began to laugh.

He bent over to pick it up. A boy beside him knocked it down again with a nudge of his elbow; he retrieved it again.

"Get rid of that helmet of yours," said the teacher, who was a wit.

There was a burst of laughter from the class that disconcerted the poor boy, so that he did not know whether he should keep his cap in his hand, leave it on the floor, or put it on his head. He sat down again and laid it on his knees.

"Stand up," said the teacher, "and tell me your name."

Stammering, the new boy articulated an unintelligible name.

"Again!"

The same mumble of syllables was heard, muffled by the hooting of the class.

"Louder!" shouted the teacher. "Louder!"

The new boy, summoning an extreme resolve, then opened an inordinately large mouth and bawled at the top of his lungs, as though shouting to someone, the word Charbovari.

Now an uproar exploded all at once, rose in a crescendo, with outbursts of shrill voices (they howled, they barked, they stamped, they repeated: Charbovari! Charbovari!), then continued in isolated notes, quieting with great difficulty and sometimes resuming suddenly along the line of a bench from which a stifled laugh would start up again here and there, like a half- spent firecracker.

However, under a rain of penalties, order was gradually restored in the classroom, and the teacher, having managed to grasp the name of Charles Bovary, having had it dictated to him, spelled out, and read back, at once commanded the poor fellow to go sit on the dunce's bench, at the foot of the platform. He began to move but, before going, hesitated.

"What are you looking for?" asked the teacher.

"My c…;," said the new boy timidly, casting uneasy glances around him.

"Five hundred lines for the entire class!" The furious exclamation put an end, like the Quos ego, to a fresh squall. "Now, keep quiet!" continued the indignant teacher, wiping his forehead with the handkerchief he had just taken from inside his toque. "As for you, new boy, you will copy out the verb ridiculus sum for me twenty times."

Then, more gently:

"Come now! You'll find your cap; it hasn't been stolen!"

All was calm again. Heads bent over satchels, and for two hours the new boy's behavior continued to be exemplary, even though, from time to time, a pellet of paper fired from the nib of a pen came and splattered on his face. But he would wipe himself off with his hand and remain motionless, his eyes lowered. That evening, in Study Hall, he drew his cuff guards from his desk, put his little things in order, carefully ruled his paper. We saw him working conscientiously, looking up all the words in the dictionary and taking great pains. Thanks, no doubt, to this willingness he displayed, he did not have to go down into the lower class; for while he knew his rules passably well, he had almost no elegance in his constructions. It was the curé of his village who had started him on Latin, his parents, for reasons of economy, having delayed as long as possible sending him to school.

His father, Monsieur Charles-Denis-Bartholomé Bovary, a former assistant army surgeon, compromised, in about 1812, in some business involving conscription and forced, at about that time, to leave the service, had then profited from his personal attributes to pick up a dowry of sixty thousand francs, presented in the form of a hosier's daughter, who had fallen in love with his fine appearance. A handsome, boastful man, jingling his spurs loudly, sporting side-whiskers that merged with his mustache, his fingers always garnished with rings, and dressed in gaudy colors, he had the appearance of a valiant soldier, along with the easy enthusiasm of a traveling salesman. Once married, he lived for two or three years off his wife's fortune, dining well, rising late, smoking great porcelain pipes, coming home at night only after the theater, and haunting cafés. The father-in-law died and left little; he was indignant at this, went into manufacturing, lost some money at it, then retired to the country, where he intended to cultivate the land. But since he hardly understood farming any better than he did chintz, since he rode his horses instead of putting them to the plow, drank his cider by the bottle instead of selling it by the barrel, ate the best poultry in his yard and greased his hunting shoes with the fat of his pigs, he soon realized that it would be better to abandon all financial enterprises.

For a rent of two hundred francs a year, therefore, he found, in a village on the borders of the Caux region and Picardy, a dwelling of a sort that was half farm, half gentleman's residence; and there, morose, gnawed by regrets, railing at heaven, envying all the world, he shut himself away at the age of forty- five, disgusted with men, he said, and determined to live in peace.

His wife had been madly in love with him at one time; she had doted on him with countless slavish attentions that had estranged him from her even further. Once lively, expansive, and wholeheartedly affectionate, she had become, as she aged (like stale wine turning to vinegar), difficult in temper, shrill, nervous. She had suffered so much, without complaining at first, when she saw him running after every slut in the village and when a score of low-life places would send him back to her at night surfeited and stinking drunk! Then her pride had rebelled. She fell silent, swallowing her rage in a mute stoicism, which she maintained until her death. She was constantly out on errands, on business. She would go see the lawyers, the presiding judge, remember the due dates of the notes, obtain extensions; and, at home, she would iron, sew, wash, look after the workers, settle the accounts, while Monsieur, troubling himself about nothing, eternally sunk in a sullen torpor from which he roused himself only to say unpleasant things to her, sat smoking by the fire, spitting in the ashes.

When she had a child, he had to be put out to nurse. Back in their house, the little boy was spoiled like a prince. His mother fed him on jams; his father let him run around without shoes, and, imagining himself an enlightened thinker, even said that he could go quite naked, like the young of animals. In opposition to the mother's inclinations, he had in mind a certain manly ideal of childhood, according to which he tried to mold his son, wanting him to be brought up ruggedly, in a spartan manner, to give him a good constitution. He sent him to bed without a fire, taught him to drink great drafts of rum and to jeer at church processions. But, peaceable by nature, the boy responded poorly to his efforts. His mother kept him always trailing after her; she would cut out cardboard figures for him, tell him stories, converse with him in endless monologues, full of melancholy whimsy and beguiling chatter. In the isolation of her life, she transferred into that childish head all her sparse, shattered illusions. She dreamed of high positions, she saw him already grown, handsome, witty, established, in bridges and roads or the magistracy. She taught him to read and even, on an old piano she had, to sing two or three little ballads. But to all this, Monsieur Bovary, little concerned with literature, said it was not worth the trouble! Would they ever have enough to keep him in a state school, to buy him a practice or set him up in business? Besides, with a little nerve, a man can always succeed in the world. Madame Bovary would bite her lips, and the child would roam at will through the village.

He would follow the plowmen and drive away the crows, throwing clods of earth at them till they flew up. He would eat blackberries along the ditches, tend the turkeys with a long stick, toss the hay at harvest time, run through the woods, play hopscotch on the porch of the church on rainy days, and, on the most important holy days, beg the sexton to let him ring the bells so that he could hang with all his weight on the great rope and feel himself borne up by it in its flight.

And so he grew like an oak. He acquired strong hands, good color.

When he turned twelve, his mother saw to it that his studies were begun. The curé was entrusted with this. But the lessons were so brief and so poorly understood that they could not be of much use. They were given at idle moments, in the sacristy, standing up, in haste, between a baptism and a burial; or the curé would send for his pupil after the Angelus, when he did not have to go out. They would go up to his room, they would settle in; the gnats and moths would circle around the candle. It was warm, the child would fall asleep; and the good man, dozing off with his hands on his belly, would soon be snoring, his mouth open. At other times, when Monsieur le curé, on his way back from carrying the last sacrament to some ill person in the environs, spied Charles wandering the countryside, he would call out to him, sermonize him for a quarter of an hour, and profit from the occasion to make him conjugate a verb at the base of a tree. The rain would come and interrupt them, or an acquaintance passing by. Moreover, he was always pleased with him, even said that the young man had a good memory.

This could not be as far as Charles went. Madame was emphatic. Ashamed, or, rather, tired out, Monsieur gave in without a struggle, and they waited one more year until the boy had made his first communion.

Another six months went by; and, the following year, Charles was finally enrolled in the school in Rouen, taken there by his father himself, toward the end of October, at the time of the Saint-Romain fair.

It would be impossible by now for any of us to recall a thing about him. He was a boy of even temperament, who played at recess, worked in study hall, listening in class, sleeping well in the dormitory, eating well in the dining hall. He had as local guardian a wholesale hardware dealer in the rue Ganterie, who would take him out once a month, on a Sunday, after his shop was closed, send him off to walk along the harbor looking at the boats, then return him to the school by seven o'clock, before supper. In the evening, every Thursday, he would write a long letter to his mother, with red ink and three pats of sealing wax; then he would review his history notebooks or read an old volume of Anacharsis that was lying around in the study hall. Out walking, he would talk to the servant, who, like him, was from the country.

By dint of applying himself, he stayed somewhere in the middle of the class; once he even earned a first honorable mention in natural history. But at the end of his third year, his parents withdrew him from the school in order to have him study medicine, convinced that he would be able to go on alone to the baccalaureate.

His mother chose a room for him, on the fifth floor, overlooking the Eau de Robec, in the home of a dyer she knew. She concluded the arrangements for his room and board, procured some furniture, a table and two chairs, sent home for an old cherrywood bed, and bought, as well, a little cast-iron stove, with the supply of wood that was to warm her poor child. Then she departed at the end of the week, after a thousand injunctions to behave himself, now that he was going to be abandoned to his own care.

The curriculum, which he read on the notice board, made his head swim: a course in anatomy, a course in pathology, a course in physiology, a course in pharmacy, a course in chemistry, and one in botany, and one in clinical practice and one in therapeutics, not to mention hygiene and materia medica, names with unfamiliar etymologies that were like so many doors to sanctuaries filled with solemn shadows.

He understood none of it; though he listened, he did not grasp it. He worked nonetheless, he possessed bound notebooks, he attended all the lectures, he never missed a hospital round. He accomplished his little daily task like a mill horse, which walks in circles with its eyes covered, not knowing what it is grinding.

To spare him expense, his mother would send him each week, by the carrier, a piece of roast veal, on which he would lunch in the morning when he returned from the hospital, stamping his feet against the wall. Then he would have to hurry to his classes, in the amphitheater, in the hospital, and return home along all those streets. In the evening, after the meager dinner provided by his landlord, he would go back up to his room and back to work, his damp clothes steaming on his body, in front of the red-hot stove.

On fine summer evenings, at the hour when the warm streets are empty, when servant girls play at shuttlecock in front of their doors, he would open his window and lean on his elbows. The stream, which makes this part of Rouen into a kind of sordid little Venice, fl owed past below him, yellow, violet, or blue, between its bridges and its railings. Workmen, squatting on the bank, washed their arms in the water. On poles projecting from the tops of attics, hanks of cotton dried in the air. Across from him, beyond the rooftops, extended the great, pure sky, with the red sun going down. How good it must be out there! How cool under the beech trees! And he would open his nostrils wide to breathe in the good smells of the country, which did not reach him.

He grew thinner, his body lengthened, and his face took on a sort of plaintive expression that made it almost interesting.

Quite naturally, out of indifference, in time he released himself from all the resolutions he had made. Once he missed the hospital rounds, the next day his class, and, savoring this idleness, gradually he did not return.

He acquired the habit of going to taverns, along with a passion for dominoes. To shut himself up every night in a grimy public room, in order to tap on a marble table with little mutton bones marked with black dots, seemed to him a precious assertion of his freedom, which raised him in his own esteem. It was like an initiation into the world, an access to forbidden pleasures; and as he went in, he would put his hand on the doorknob with a joy that was almost sensual. Then many things that had been repressed in him opened up; he learned songs by heart and sang them to his lady friends, he developed an enthusiasm for Bèranger, knew how to make punch, and at last experienced love.

Owing to this preparatory work, he completely failed his public health officer's examination. They were waiting for him at home that very evening to celebrate his success!

He set off on foot and stopped at the entrance to the village, where he sent someone to get his mother, told her everything. She made excuses for him, shifting the blame for his failure to the unfairness of the examiners, and steadied him a little, taking it upon herself to sort things out. Only five years later did Monsieur Bovary know the truth; it was old by then, he accepted it, incapable, moreover, of supposing that any man descended from him could be a fool.

Charles therefore set to work again and prepared, unremittingly, the subjects for his examination, for which he learned all the questions by heart in advance. He passed with a fairly good grade. What a great day for his mother! They put on a grand dinner.

Where would he go to practice? To Tostes. There was only one elderly doctor there. For a long time, Madame Bovary had been waiting for him to die, and the old gentleman had not yet breathed his last when Charles was installed across the road, as his successor.

But it was not enough to have raised her son, seen to it that he got his medical training, and discovered Tostes for his practice: he needed a wife. She found him one: a bailiff 's widow from Dieppe, who was forty-five years old with an income of twelve hundred livres.

Although she was ugly, thin as a lath, as thick with pimples as the spring is with buds, Madame Dubuc certainly had no lack of suitors to choose from. To achieve her ends, Mère Bovary was obliged to supplant them all, and she very skillfully foiled even the intrigues of a pork butcher favored by the clergy.

Charles had foreseen in marriage the advent of a better situation, imagining that he would have more freedom and would be able to do as he liked with himself and his money. But his wife was the one in charge; in company he had to say this, not say that, eat no meat on Fridays, dress as she expected, pester at her command those clients who had not paid. She would open his letters, spy on his movements, and listen to him, through the wall, when he saw patients in his office, if they were women.

She had to have her hot chocolate every morning, she wanted endless attention. She complained incessantly about her nerves, about her chest, about her spirits. The sound of footsteps was painful to her; if people left her, the solitude would become loathsome to her; if they came back, it was to see her die, no doubt. In the evening, when Charles returned home, she would take her long, thin arms out from under her sheets, put them around his neck, and, having made him sit down on the edge of the bed, begin telling him about her troubles: he was forgetting her, he loved someone else! They had told her she would be unhappy; and she would end by asking him to give her some tonic for her health and a little more love.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"[Flaubert's] masterwork has been given the English translation it deserves."
-Kathryn Harrison, The New York Times Book Review

"[A] brilliant new translation."
-Lee Siegel, The New York Observer

"[Davis] has a finer ear for the natural cadences of English, in narrative and dialogue, than any of her predecessors, and there are many moments in her Madame Bovary when one pauses to admire how clean and spare a sentence seems by comparison with its earlier translated versions. . . . Only a very good writer indeed could have written it. . . . The bones of the original French show clearly through her English, and the rawness of her translation is, on the whole, invigorating."
-Jonathan Raban, The New York Review of Books

"How tickled Madame Bovary herself would be by the latest homage paid to her. . . . I'm grateful to Davis for luring me back to Madame Bovary and for giving us a version which strikes me as elegant and alive."
-Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air

"Flaubert's obsessive masterpiece finally gets the obsessive translation it deserves."
-New York

"Davis is the best fiction writer ever to translate the novel. . . . [Her] work shares the Flaubertian virtues of compression, irony and an extreme sense of control. . . . Davis's Madame Bovary is a linguistically careful version, in the modern style, rendered into an unobtrusively American English."
-Julian Barnes, London Review of Books

"Davis captures with precision the sensitivity of the novel's language. . . . [Her] version . . . ultimately demonstrates her own empathy with Emma."
-The New Republic

"At last, the real Madame Bovary . . . The publication of the Davis version is an event. . . . Davis has come closer than any previous translator to capturing Flaubert's style and content accurately for English-language readers. . . . Her version benefits from her finesse as a writer and seems fresh and different compared to other translations."
-The American Spectator

"Davis has produced a very fine [translation that] displays a cool detachment not at all dissimilar to Flaubert's own."
-The New Criterion

"Davis [is] operating in top form in her new translation of Madame Bovary. . . . I was struck delirious by the force of Flaubert's writing, and the precision (the perfection) of Davis's translation."
-Macy Halford, The New Yorker's Book Bench

"Davis's edition should bring a new generation to Flaubert's classic of bourgeois ennui and adultery."
-Newsday

"A new translation that spans the ages [and] hews as close to the original as may be possible. . . . Davis's translation strives for-and largely achieves-the flavor of Flaubert's realism. . . . It provides such an unfussy, straightforward narrative that it underscores how truly modern a writer Flaubert was."
-BookPage

"Davis has forged a masterpiece out of a masterpiece. . . . This Madame Bovary is a veritable page-turner. . . . In French, the story leapt out at me like a hallucinatory Technicolor poem; in the lapidary English of Lydia Davis, I receive the same frisson of recognition-that the novel still lives. . . . Thanks to Lydia Davis, the book remains: a great, companionlike, eternal gilded mirror of Flaubert's world."
-Neil Baldwin, The Faster Times

"Davis . . . does a brilliant job of capturing Flaubert's diamond-hard style. . . . Davis's English prose has precisely the qualities she notes that Flaubert was striving for in French; it is 'clear and direct, economical and precise.' This translation reminds you what an aggressively modern writer Flaubert is."
-Kirkus Reviews

"[Davis] is one of the most innovative prose stylists of our time, and thus an excellent match for Flaubert's masterpiece. Flaubert's sentences are certainly sonorous in French, and the sentences in this translation reveal a similar attention to sound. . . . We are in debt to Flaubert for his influence on much of the writing we have today; the extent of our debt has never been so clear."
-The Believer

Acclaim for Lydia Davis and her translation of Swann's Way

"[Her] capacity to make language unleash entire states of existence reveals the extent to which Davis's fiction is influenced by her work as a translator."
-The New York Times

"Few writers now working make the words on the page matter more."
-Jonathan Franzen

"Davis is the best prose stylist in America."
-Rick Moody

"Swann's Way is transformed into something even more enchanting in Lydia Davis's new translation."
-Vanity Fair

"Davis is closer, much closer, to Proust's French. . . . [Her] Swann's Way is one of those translations . . . that put the question of languages out of your mind, and leave you only with questions of language."
-The Village Voice

"Accessible and faithful to Proust. Davis replicates the hesitations and digressions, the backward looks and forward glances that swell Proust's sentences and send them cascading to their conclusion-without sacrificing the natural air of his style."
-Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Davis is an extraordinary technician of language, capable of revealing elusive human tendencies through the most unusual means."
-Bookforum

"[Davis] commands language and imagery, playing the reader like a master."
-Los Angeles Times

"The subtleties of the French language, in spite of their difficulty, hold no secrets from you. . . . No literary genre deters you. You helped to make known to the English-speaking public some of the finest French literature of the century. . . . You have found a way not only to put your many talents at the service of the French language and culture, but also to place your stamp on the literary legacy of our times."
-French Insignia of the Order of Arts and Letters citation

Meet the Author

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) was born in Rouen, France, and was brought to popular attention when Madame Bovary was deemed immoral by the French government.

Lydia Davis (translator) is a MacArthur Fellow, National Book Award finalist, and Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters and was awarded the 2003 French-American Foundation Translation Prize for her translation of Marcel Proust's Swann's Way. She lives near Albany, New York.

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Madame Bovary 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 205 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Charles, Madame Bovary's husband, is not the brightest of creatures, but he dearly loves his wife, puts her on a pedastal, and indulges her by giving her whatever she wants. Although she repays his loyalty and quiet devotion with emotional, financial and physical ruin, his love is steadfast, pure and true. The title is 'Madame Bovary' but the real hero is her sweet kind husband Charles and, to a lesser extent her child, Berthe, who loves her mother unconditionally despite the fact that her mother hardly seems to truly care about anyone but herself. I have heard that one mark of great literature is that its value changes with a reader in direct relationship to the reader's life circumstances and experience. To a very young reader growing up in a time when cell phones, the Internet, and Nintendo are all old school inventions, this book may seem irrelevant. It makes sense that the very young may have extreme difficulty relating. However, given the maturity, serious study and reflection on human interactions, emotions, and the ability to foresee consequences, a more experienced reader and lifelong student will find themes that transcend the test of time. (Such as self-control, generosity of heart, the consequences of infidelity and other forms of impulsivity, loneliness, boredom, what makes a person ordinary vs. extraordinary, etc.) Which brings me to another point I understand about great literature: it stands the test of time. Written in 1857, then banned in France for 'offenses against public morals and religion' then later considered brilliant by his peers and great writers that followed, this book very easily fits into the category of 'great literature.' Like others have said, if one will only SLOW DOWN and deeply consider each event and how it relates to other events both in the book and in present-day reality, one can find great lessons on morality and the human condition that transcend time. (These same things may be said about many other great works, such as any number of those by Shakespeare.) Yes, one can learn a great deal about humanity in this book, if it is given the fair chance it deserves. And hey, if you get little from it now, don't write it off forever--revisit it in 5 or 10 years and see if this book says something different to you then. A marvelous classic!!! Flaubert was a genius!
fudgemuffin More than 1 year ago
I agree with the second review, very fine novel. Flaubert's talent for description is something few (or none) are able to do today. Some may have a problem with the great detail, however if there are any interested in the nineteenth century and how people lived and breathed, this novel should certainly help. (Other than Flaubert, I might also recommend Balzac for having much of the same gift for realism.) Brilliant book, full of sensuality, but not without its darkness. Easily one of the best I have ever read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the best book I have read in a while. The French tend to write in a flowery and beautiful style that can entertain the toughest of critics. It is delicately permiscuous and extremely interesting. Bravo, Flaubert!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Reviewers of the day were right to say that the Seine, which flowed below Flaubert's window, influenced the work. I believe it. The slow and easy rhythm of the novel carries you on and on, like the current of a large stream. The prose is ever-flowing, seemingly devolving without seeking an end, its goal so far removed from any indivudual part of the novel, it is impossible to see it until you near the estuary of the literary stream, the end, and then you think, 'Of course. Her death was inevitable, as inevitable as water flowing down to the sea. The world is the world. It has rules, unwritten, which are unbendable.' Although the novel is tedious in the accuracy of its scene descriptions, the malaise is soon forgotten when one remembers that Flaubert wrote in the days before television, for a public thirsting for visual descriptions, a public wanting to see inside Emma's house, inside the Marquis' castle, inside the bedrooms where she cheats. But even in these lengthy paragraphs, the rhythm never relents, each item chosen carefully, each phrase crafted skilfully to show the folly of society in letting the media of the day manipulate men, women, and children into wanting the impossible.
Guest More than 1 year ago
At times reading this book felt a bit like a chore that I had brought upon myself, but I couldn't put it down once I got halfway through. A book that makes the reader really ponder the character's motives and traits can only be a good one. And that important questioning of human morality and rationality is precisely what 'Madame Bovary' does.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I did not quite know what to expect, not having read any Flaubert before. I could feel the seething hatred for the societal values that prevailed at the time. All the characters are caricatures drawn from real people that Flaubert knew, yet he impressed his agenda on the plot. I enjoyed myself, and I see why this was a classic.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Emma Bovary believes love and marriage are supposed to be like a flowery romance novel, and is she in for disappointment! She expects marriage to a doctor to provide her with all the adoration and frivolities she desires, but finds that real life can never live up to her fantasies. She involves herself in affairs to fill the emptiness at the expense of a man who truly adores her. She is an actress, the stage is her actual life, and her end is like a tragic heroine...just like she wanted! Amazing cautionary tale, even in the 21st century!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Don't read Madame Bovary for the plot. In this day and age, extra-marital affairs aren't as scandalous as they once were, and in the pastoral setting not all that much happens. But the true beauty of the book lies in Flaubert's characters, especially Emma, a woman who seems to methodically destroy herself and everyone around her. This process is disturbing, but at the same fascinating, because all though her behavior is extreme, the desire to leave everything behind in pursuit of (often hopeless) dreams is not so uncommon.
snowbird922 More than 1 year ago
Emma Bovary was completely self absorbed in what the fantasy of love should be while letting her family life deteriorate slowly for her own pleasures. Charles was a very weak man he let everyone control him especially his wife. What I didn't like is the writer spent lots of time on the characters and places which is all well but I think a little more description of the relationship between Emma and Charles would have been much better. By the end of the book I was tired of hearing any thing that character Homais had to say he was a pompous and arrogant know it all. I have heard a lot about the translation making this a hard read that wasn't the case for me it was the lengthy moments he spent on situations that did not have any impact on the main characters Emma & Charles. The book ended disastrously for the daughter which made me feel even more contempt for Emma's character as well as Charles at least he could have tried to live for his daughter she was the real victim in this story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was eager to read Madame Bovary after finishing Little Children, Tom Perotta. Parts of the novel were so borning, but I pushed through. I did read somewhere that Flaubert was trying to convey in those parts how boring Emma felt in her own life. You did get caught up in the action of the novel through the writing style. I would venture to say that Emma had some type of manic/anxiety disorder mixed with her own selfish desires and a lack of conscience that drove her to the ends of her wits. I still don't know how I feel about Emma as a character. You could literally feel her discontent and meloncholy. I guess that's the mark of a good novel-one that leaves you unsure and disturbed by aspects of humanity.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Falubert is a master of clearly depicting physical, emotional and visual details. It's a painful predicament we find Emma Bovary in, but she is of free will makes her own choices. Don't let the subject of this book dissuade you. If you like great reading, Madame Bovary is a must.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Emma character is not wonderful at all but you can't stop yourself for being sorry for her. She is trapped in a time where women didn't have right to escape their lot in life. This book open a new door for appreciating womans suffrage.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Madame Bovary is an extraordinary book both for the nineteenth century and the present times. Interesting story line and characters make this classic easy to read. The irony of the entire plot made this a book which I could not put down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a classic, and yet I am the first to write a review. What a shame. Mark Twain once said a classic is what everyone esteems, but no one reads. Too bad that this has to be grouped into that category. When I read this book, last Christmas, I anticipated an orgy...a book that had not much merit, but was widely read because of it's shocking subject. I was wrong. Classics are classics for a reason. It's not just about plot. It's not just about character...Flaubert wrote with flinching honesty, and how he understood the psyche of young, frustrated wives is beyond me. The urgency, the feeling that time is just running away with any chance of happiness...the longing to be known, to sadness at realizing greatness has slipped from grasp. We start off wanting feeling...and we end like blind men...searching for anything that slightly resembles it and gain only the opposite. Another question the book forces the reader to ask herself/ himself is whether emotion can really be trusted, or whether it is merely manifestation of what the mind knows and THINKS it wants. Just an overall tremendous read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book about a week ago and have been mystified and entranced by its beauty and captivating voluptuousness.
Anonymous 8 months ago
Ithwp o
Beverly_D More than 1 year ago
This classic novel is about a sensual woman in search of herself. Parts of it are beautiful, and still hold up over time.  Others, not so much. I got glimpses inside Madame Bovary's head, I got the idea that the author was trying to understand women, or at least, one woman (notes suggest similarities to a relationship between Flaubert and his mistress). Sometimes she is sympathetic, sometimes she is despicable, sometimes she is simply a cipher. The tragic ending is inevitable, as Emma Bovary never knows what, exactly, she is seeking. Not sure if there isn't some slightly revengeful satisfaction by the author in the many pages of the character's long, agonizing death throes, but... *shrugging* I am not sure what the takeaway message is, what I am supposed to have learned about life, but as a classic, it is worth reading at least once, and I am sure parts of it will continue to haunt me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TulaneGirl More than 1 year ago
So this is the classics version of Revolutionary Road. Emma Bovary is the depressed, bored housewife of a country doctor. She longs for more out of life and is deeply disappointed with the direction of her life. She wants to dance, wear the latest fashions, and mingle amongst the best of society. At first, she resigns herself to her sacrifice, thinking it will buy her a place in heaven. Her husband, the kindly, portly Doctor Charles Bovary is blind to all that is happening. He believes Emma to be happy and contented. This, of course, serves only to alienate Emma all the more. Emma quickly learns that martyrdom does not come naturally for her and chooses instead to indulge herself. She meets Rudolph and engages in a four year affair with him. She becomes clingy and desperate. She wants to leave to Paris with Rudolph and aggressively pursues that end. Rudolph leads her along but Emma was never nothing more than a passing diversion for him and he leaves her high and dry. Emma throws herself into her depression with the same passion she approaches everything and fall into ill health. Along comes Leon, a man she was attracted to back in her martyrdom days. This time around, she chooses to engage and in doing so, denies herself nothing. She makes extravagant purchases and even becomes so bold as to not come home on certain nights. She lives so lavishly and recklessly her creditors come knocking. Poor Charles has to come to terms with his wife's indiscretions.  On the one hand, this novel was frustrating because Emma is such an unlikeable character. She is weak of character and selfish. She cares nothing of her husband and child and cares only of her pleasures. On the other hand, the novel is so beautifully written and entertaining. Every sentence is like poetry. Flaubert's book is a classic for a reason. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was very interesting.  I enjoyed reading it because it had such an amazing take on the characters point of view.  I believe that the author was very successful in the sense that he was able to depict a character who truly wants to be happy and truly wants to live in her dreams but is unable to.  Charles Bovary isn’t the smartest but he is able to try to be the best that he cans.  He falls deeply for emma and loves her dearly and at first emma thinks her love for him could be a possibility but while Charles embraces her and all that she is, Emma continues to try and push him further away.  Thinking to herself why can’t he be this or that.  Why must he be who he is.  Why can’t he be better educated.  However her husband continues his love for her and continues to put up with her even when she does nothing but wrong to him.  The author truly has a way with words in this novel from his characterization to the the different themes and meanings.  I believe that in order to gain a better understanding of this book it is also necessary to read with an open mind.  This is because all of the characters run their lives by what they feel they deserve. I rated this book as a 3 out of 5 because even though this book was of the greater quality it wasn’t something that was able to capture my eye as much as i hoped that it would.  I enjoyed reading it.   I enjoyed the characters. {or at least most of the characters}.  But there was something about the book that made me think this is not as good as i thought it was going to be.  While Flaubert’s writing is of the most exquisiteness I feel as if there was more base in the story and just a little more it would’ve added to the spots where I was just unintrigued. Likewise the characters really grow on you.  You fall in love with half the characters and then the other half you just wish they weren’t there anymore because they start to get on your nerves.
Cdarr More than 1 year ago
Madam Bovary, herself, was a spoil ed woman in love with love. It's a shame that she never wanted it from a husband who adored her.
marmendy35 More than 1 year ago
I did like this book, but like many classics, it is hard to deal with the detailed descriptions and scenes that sometimes drag (I suspect that comes from being a modern, movie-media reader). Given that, I persevered and got quite a lot from this book. In terms of the social structure of the time, this is a great history book as well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago