Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Madame Bovary

Madame BovaryMadame Bovary 
by Gustave Flaubert, translated by Lydia Davis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This novel is often cited as being one of the greatest novels of all time. It was an early example of realism (think James Joyce and Virginia Woolf). I don't see what makes it so amazing. Emma Bovary was not a like-able character, I didn't even find her to be sympathetic. She is a spoiled, self-centered, fool who makes a mess of the lives of those around her for no reason other than to satisfy her own whims. 
Perhaps at the time of publication (1856) it was so different from what had gone before that it dazzled. The writing was extremely skillful and the action moved quickly. I would go so far as to say this book is a page-turner which is impressive given how much of it is internal thoughts. The translator's introduction supports the notion of innovation as what makes this novel great.
"Yet Proust, in the course of his vehement response, in 1920, to a negative article about Flaubert, commented (admiringly) on what he called Flaubert's 'grammatical singularities,' which, he said, expressed 'a new vision'; our way of seeing external reality was radically changed by Flaubert's 'entirely new and personal use' of the past definite, the past indefinite, the present participle, certain pronouns, and certain prepositions. He went on to talk about other singularities: Flaubert's unprecedented manner of using indirect discourse, his uncoventional handling of the word 'and'--omitting it where one would expect it and inserting it where one would normally not look for it--his emphatically 'flat' use of verbs, and his deliberately heavy placement of adverbs. But it was Flaubert's innovative use of the imperfect tense that most impressed Proust: 'This [use of the] imperfect, so new in literature,' he said, 'completely changes the aspect of things and people.' (p. xix)
This book is on my Classics Club list (it was the selection for the most recent spin) and also counts toward the Back to the Classics Challenge (a classic in translation) and the TBR Pile Challenge. It is one of my 20 Books of Summer.

1 comment:

  1. I struggled with this one too for all the same reasons. Emma was just too awful and I resented spending any time with her.


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