Madame Bovary (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

Madame Bovary (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781593080525
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 03/28/2005
Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 29,253
Product dimensions: 5.18(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.92(d)

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From Chris Kraus’s Introduction to Madame Bovary

Flaubert has often been credited as being the Father of Realism. Madame Bovary, his first and most classically plot-driven novel, has been labeled as “realist” because of—as many critics would have it—the author’s choice to depict “mediocre” and “vulgar” protagonists circling around a subject as “trite” as adultery. Like much criticism, these readings tell us a great deal more about the critics than the novel. Implicit in such statements are the assumptions (a) that there is anything “trite” about the conflict between human desire and the social demand for monogamy—which, as we will see, was applied selectively in Flaubert’s time to the lower reaches of the French middle class; and (b) that the author himself was immune to the trashy and fickle illusions embraced by his characters.

Writing in 1964, critic and novelist Mary McCarthy describes Emma Bovary as “a very ordinary middle-class woman with banal expectations of life and an urge to dominate her surroundings. Her character is remarkable only for an unusual deficiency of human feeling” (“Foreword”; see “For Further Reading”). Sensing, perhaps, a need to distance herself from the proto-feminist implications of Emma’s dilemma, the brilliant, prolific McCarthy could only describe her as “trite.” Instead, she chooses to valorize Charles for his unfailing love of his wife—a love that is no less misguided and false than Emma’s romantic illusions.

Except for the brief deathbed appearance of Dr. Lariviere, a man who “disdainful of honours, of titles, and of academies . . . generous, fatherly to the poor, and practising virtue without believing in it, . . . would almost have passed for a saint if the keenness of his intellect had not caused him to be feared as a demon” (p. 265), all of Flaubert’s characters are equally flawed and deluded. There is the rapacious, progressive pharmacist Homais and the dull-witted Charles, who loves his young wife for all the wrong reasons. Pleased with himself for possessing such a fine wife, Charles is so completely seduced by Emma’s well-rehearsed feminine wiles—her new way of making paper sconces for candles, the flounces she puts on her gowns, her little wine-red slippers with large knots of ribbon—that he cannot see her unhappiness. There is Emma herself, whose suffering never opens her eyes to the misfortunes of others. Her affairs, and her two lovers themselves, Rodolphe (the seducer) and Leon (the poet of adultery), prove to be equally untrustworthy and disappointing. There is Lheureux, the usurious loan-shark and salesman, and a large cast of pompous officials and idiot villagers. In a novel that is so technically modern and ground-breaking, it is interesting to note that Flaubert draws on the medieval slapstick tradition of naming his characters after their foibles: the Mayor Tuvache (“you cow,” in translation); the booster-ish technocrat Homais (“what man could be”: “homme,” the noun “man,” cast, like a verb, in the future conditional tense); and Lheureux, the purveyor of expensive false dreams, his name taken from the French word for “happiness.”

Finally, it is the very idea that romantic love could be conducive to happiness that is most deeply discredited. When Rodolphe makes Emma fall in love with him at Yonville’s agricultural fair, it’s not exactly Rodolphe she falls in love with. When she is caught in his gaze, the little threads of gold in his eyes and the smell of pomade in his hair sets off a rapture of memories of all of the men she’s been in love with. Because she is in love with love, Rodolphe merely serves as a trigger, and at the time this is marvelous. But as the novel moves on, Emma behaves more and more like an addict. By part three, chapter six, when the novelty of her affair with Leon begins fading, Emma summons an imaginary Leon in a letter-writing delirium. “But while she wrote it was another man she saw, a phantom fashioned out of her most ardent memories, her finest reading, her strongest lusts, and at last he became so real, so tangible, that she palpitated wondering, without, however, the power to imagine him clearly, so lost was he, like a god, beneath the abundance of his attributes” (p. 241). After this free-basing binge, Emma “fell back exhausted.” These “transports of love” gave way to a “constant ache all over her.” (In Crack Wars: Literature, Addiction, Mania, philosopher Avital Ronell extrapolates from this metaphor with wild perfection.)

“There is no goodness in this book,” wrote Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, the most eminent critic of Flaubert’s time, in an otherwise favorable review of the novel. And yet the book breathes with compassion. Preparing to write the scene of Emma and Leon’s first meeting, Flaubert describes a strategy that informs the whole book in a letter he wrote in the early 1850s to his sometime-lover and literary confidante, Louise Colet: “My two characters . . . will talk about literature, about the sea, the mountains, music—all well-worn poetical subjects. It will be the first time in any book, I think, that the young hero and the younger heroine are made mock of, and yet the irony will in no way diminish the pathos, but rather intensify it” (The Selected Letters of Gustave Flaubert).

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Madame Bovary 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 259 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.
GriffsPal More than 1 year ago
I have read "Madame Bovary" in the original more than once, and have read two other translations of the text. Lydia Davis's is by far the best. She makes available to the reader of English what Flaubert's intent--not just his words. Wonderful and eye-opening! "Madame Bovary" is a true world classic and deserves every reader's attention.
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.
SaltyRS More than 1 year ago
I was reading a free (or nearly free) public domain version of this classic novel on my Nook but got tired of the stilted and awkward translation. I eventually switched to the Lydia Davis translation and am very glad I did. This translation really makes the novel come alive for readers in English. Flaubert was a groundbreaking novelist whose work still resonates today - this translation makes that clear.
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.
alanna1122 on LibraryThing 8 hours ago
I am glad that I finally got around to reading this novel - especially in the past year I feel like I have been surrounded by references to it - and now I don't have to wonder what I am missing. Well - sort of.I can't help wondering how much I missed in translation. Because - while it was good - I didn't think it was great - I can only guess that it is the actually its original language that lifted it to greatness - and didn't gain all its fame due to plot alone.It felt like a less enjoyable Vanity Fair to me - it it very unusual for me to be able to find an unlikable title character anything but annoying... The long descriptive segments of this book were difficult to plow through as well - maybe if I had read it in a class setting I could have appreciated those sections more than seeing them as a hindrance to the action.
SeriousGrace on LibraryThing 23 hours ago
This book should have been the mister rather than the missus Bovary. In my opinion Charles Bovary is what you would call a nineteenth century sad sack. When we first meet Charles (for he starts and ends the book as you'll soon see) he is a shy student who grows up to become a second rate doctor (more on that later). He has an overbearing mother who convinces him to marry a much older, supposedly rich, but nevertheless nagging woman who makes him miserable. oh yeah, and add insult to injury, she's nowhere near wealthy. After the lying lady's death Charles meets Emma Rouault (our ahem - heroine), the daughter of Charles's patient. He falls in love and wins her heart only to have her mope about because her life soon after the wedding isn't exciting or wealthy enough. Poor Charles! But, the sad tale of Charles Bovary doesn't stop here. There's more! As mentioned before he is a second rate doctor so his attempts to heal a clubfooted patient fail miserably. That failure only irritates our dear Emma even more. She soon convinces herself she deserves better in the way of the company of other more exciting and accomplished men and by spending Charles's money. Emma convinces herself adultery isn't a sin because it's cloaked in beauty and romance and how can those things be bad? And isn't she, as Charles's wife, entitled to Charles's money? So, Charles is in debt and his father dies. What's left? Emma attempts suicide and our Doctor Bovary (irony of ironies) can't save her. After her death he finds her illicit love letters and learns of her infidelity...then he dies. The end.Nope. Not a stitch of happiness in this classic.
annbury on LibraryThing 1 days ago
What a wonderful novel -- and what a surprise! I read it in French fifty years and remembered virtually nothing except boredom (my own, and Emma's) and decided, now that I am retired and reading fiction, that I should try again. Emma's boredom is still there, as is Charles' stupidity, but oh, the pity of it all! Despite the fact that the novel evokes a time and place very powerfully, the story seemed timeless to me -- far more so than that of Anna Karenina, for example, who was to a large extent the victim of a specific social situation. Emma, in contrast, is a victim of her own illusions, which denies her the joy of being truly (if stupidly) loved.
jasonlf on LibraryThing 1 days ago
The first time I read Madame Bovary I neither enjoyed it nor particularly liked it. The issue was probably my expectations, the lack of any particularly sympathetic characters, a moral resolution, or the large canvas one gets with something like Anna Karenina.This time, however, I I found it stunning: beautifully written, fascinating shifting of perspective, some of the most vivid and memorable scenes in just about any book, and a relentless logic that drives the entire book forward. This translation by Lydia Davis is excellent, although I don't have the Francis Steegmuller translation I read last time to compare the two.
Mromano on LibraryThing 1 days ago
I read this novel when I was younger and the impressions I have of the work now is that it was a beautifully written book. Flaubert spent much labor over constructing perfect lines and it shows. It is a novel that I plan on re-reading.
JimElkins on LibraryThing 1 days ago
Lydia Davis is magnificent: she is as precise as Flaubert was obsessive. I read this just for her, to see if I could understand more about Flaubert's claim that writing, and not plot, was all that mattered in "Madame Bovary."Flaubert's sense of what counts as ambitious writing -- his meticulous prose, where every sentence displays the work it took to make it, where each adjective is the only possible choice, and never hides its perfection as simple inspiration -- has hypertrophied into hyper-realism or atrophied into rote realism. He had a constant and deliberate sense of responsibility to mimesis, which gives the book an unremitting, pressurized attachment to what he considers as real life. His laborious search for the right word or image sometimes makes him perfunctory and mechanical, like the pharmacist Homais -- a parallel he seems not to have noticed at all (he enjoyed the character, so presumably he saw parts of himself in Homais, but there is no evidence he saw his own daily struggles for the perfect word as anything like Homais's grandiloquent misuses of language). The constant continuous attention to the perfect word, the dogged myopic search for the perfect image, the oppressive sense of the pages he discarded, creates a dull humming in my ears. It can't ever be realism again.And then of course there's the story. It's often said that Emma is a prototypical modern bourgeois woman, or even a prototype of contemporary experience, because she lives out of joint with her time (and because she never knows her desires). She has been said to be the prototype of many alienated, disaffected, emotionally unconnected characters, right up to Tom McCarthy's "Remainder." Contemporary readers admire Flaubert's capacity to despise so much of bourgeois life, and to write with such sarcasm ("irony" is the word Davis prefers in her introduction). But he doesn't despise everyone equally. The book is deeply sexist, for example. Emma notoriously ignores her daughter; but so does Flaubert. Emma famously fails to appreciate her husband, but Flaubert doesn't have anything very bad to say about him: he's almost as innocent and unformed as a child.But at least now I have a clearer sense of Flaubert's writing, and I can see enough of it to know it is not a model for the contemporary novel. It does not correspond clearly to any viable contemporary sense of realism, the reality effect, mimesis, or descriptive skill. The novel is sunk in history.
bookworm12 on LibraryThing 1 days ago
Let me begin with saying sometimes it¿s hard to read classics because there are so many references to their plots mentioned in other books and movies, that when you finally read them you find out that you already know too much.I started Madame Bovary already knowing the ending and much of the plot, which is unfortunate. I can only imagine how powerful this novel was for people who had no idea what was going to happen, especially when it first came out. That being said, I knew very little about the first half of the book and was surprised by quite a bit of the plot.At the beginning we meet a sweet farm girl, Emma. Charles Bovary is married to a horrible woman and he falls for the lovely girl. After his wife passes away, Charles marries Emma, making her the title Madame Bovary (not to be confused with his first wife or his mother, both of which are frequently referred to as Madame Bovary).Emma is infatuated with the idea of love, but neither she, nor her husband, actually understand what real love is. Emma expects something like the passionate affairs she¿s read about in books. Charles¿ version of a marriage is a simple relationship with little interaction beyond basic marital relations and discord. He expects very little from his wife and in return he gives her very little.Soon Emma is completely disenchanted with married life. As a newlywed she wonders what will happen to her bridal bouquet when she dies. Later, feeling completely numb and emotionally dead, she burns the bouquet herself, demonstrating just how detached she¿s become.SPOILERS: The following comments discuss aspects in the Part II and III of the novel.Emma is searching for something to save her from her boredom and she falls for a young man, Leon, with whom she has wonderful discussions. Soon he leaves, because she¿s married, and she sets her sights on Roldolphe, a local bachelor, instead. He has decided he¿ll take her as a mistress and sees their relationship as a casual one. She, on the other hand, sees him as her salvation. She¿s miserable and hangs all of her hopes on him. When they decide to run away together she thinks of her daughter as a mere afterthought, she¿s so wrapped up in her affair. She becomes more desperate and reckless as she feels her lover slipping away from her.The scene at the opera was incredibly poignant to me. Emma watches the love affair unfold on the stage just as her own did, while her husband sits next to her, never comprehending what his wife is thinking.The book begins and ends with Charles, which is fitting. He is completely oblivious to most of what happens in his wife¿s life and she passes in and out of his life before he even knows what happened. He only lets himself see what he wants to see. He pictures Emma as an innocent doll, incapable of intentionally doing anyone harm. He¿s both a victim and enabler in this tragic story. He does love his wife, or at least the idea of her, but he never really gets to know her, which just increases her isolation.The real victims in the story are all of the people left behind when Emma is gone. Her daughter¿s story was particularly sad. She¿s no more than a footnote in most of the book and then at the end, she¿s orphaned and alone in the world. Her selfish mother was never willing to put her daughter¿s happiness before her own.Even though, in the end, Emma proves herself to be self-absorbed and immature, I still loved the book. It was a wonderful portrait of a woman who begins with a romantic vision of love in her mind and is heartbroken by its realities. Instead of choosing to find meaning in her relationships and give them depth, she flits to other lovers hoping to find that illusive ¿romance.¿ She looks to wealth, spending money like she can buy happiness. She thrives on lies and the thrill of getting caught. She seeks only momentary pleasure and in doing so she ruins not only herself, but her whole family. Flaubert¿s talent is obvious, because despite all of those things, we still care w