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Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1857)

  1. 100
    The Awakening by Kate Chopin (StarryNightElf)
    StarryNightElf: This is the American version of Madame Bovary - set in turn of the century Louisiana.
  2. 101
    Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (DLSmithies)
    DLSmithies: Don Quixote was Flaubert's favourite book, and I've read somewhere that the idea of Madame Bovary is to re-tell the story of Don Quixote in a different context. Don Quixote is obsessed with chivalric literature, and immerses himself in it to the extent that he loses his grip on reality. Emma Bovary is bewitched by Romantic literature in the same way. There are lots of parallels between the two novels, and I think putting them side by side can lead to a better understanding of both.… (more)
  3. 101
    Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (roby72)
  4. 90
    The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton (Limelite)
    Limelite: Essentially the same greedy, social climbing woman who gets herself into money troubles and manipulates men to get out of them -- but with more success. Similar commentary on society, but instead of the bourgeoisie of village France it's the upper crust of NYC of nearly the same time but without the trenchant humor of Flaubert.… (more)
  5. 70
    Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (HollyMS)
    HollyMS: Both works are about women who would do anything to gain a life of luxury.
  6. 51
    The Awakening and Selected Short Stories {9 stories} by Kate Chopin (Dilara86)
  7. 40
    The Red and the Black by Stendhal (LittleMiho)
  8. 40
    Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy (Booksloth)
  9. 31
    Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane (roby72)
  10. 32
    The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa (browner56)
    browner56: The stories of two women, separated by 150 years, who search desperately for something they never find. Flaubert's legendary protaganist is the role model for Vargas Llosa's "bad girl".
  11. 11
    Mrs Craddock by W. Somerset Maugham (soylentgreen23)
    soylentgreen23: 'Mrs Craddock' evidently shares a lot in common with Flaubert's masterpiece, especially in terms of its representation of a woman married to a dull man, who wishes to have a renewed taste of passion, despite the likely terrible consequences.
  12. 11
    Sodom and Gomorrah by Marcel Proust (caflores)
  13. 22
    The Female Quixote by Charlotte Lennox (allenmichie)
  14. 12
    The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore (CGlanovsky)
  15. 01
    Een zuivere liefde by Sofja Tolstaja (Monika_L)
  16. 12
    Contre-enquête sur la mort d'Emma Bovary by Philippe Doumenc (Cecilturtle)
  17. 12
    Serious Men: A Novel by Manu Joseph (orangewords)
  18. 24
    Three Tales by Gustave Flaubert (wrmjr66)
  19. 02
    Victorian Murderesses: A True History of Thirteen Respectable French and English Women Accused of Unspeakable Crimes by Mary S. Hartman (susanbooks)
    susanbooks: Flaubert based Emma, in part, on one of the women profiled in this really great book.
  20. 712
    Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (orangewords)
    orangewords: The language in both of these books is just amazing. Alluring prose covers a multitude of unlikable characters.

(see all 20 recommendations)

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"Many of us ordinary folk find complicated ways in which to give expression to our disappointment in romance, like getting drunk, like going to the dogs, like murdering a beloved one, like marrying the wrong person. But Flaubert found a simple, forthright, logical way: he wrote a novel which satirized romantic love, which narrated the tragedy of a woman who began life with a belief in love and whose own tragic disappointment mirrored his own. The result was that Flaubert wrote, around so utterly humble a theme, the novel which is now considered the masterpiece among all French novels; and he even inspired the giving of a name to this romantic mood when Jules de Gauthier aptly called it 'bovarysm'."

So begins the Monthly Letter of The Limited Editions Club as it describes the book it was accompanying in April of 1938. George Macy, who was probably the writer of the letter, was drawing from the excellent but a bit dated Introduction by André Maurois. Monsieur Maurois begins his Introduction with the following praise:

"Spain, after countless romances of chivalry, produced a masterpiece, Don Quixote, which satirised the chivalrous spirit; and similarly France, after the great Romantic period of the early nineteenth century, brought forth the masterpiece among French novels, which was a satire on the spirit of Romanticism. The beauty of Madame Bovary derives partly from its perfection of form, but also from the strength of Flaubert's feelings: for that repentant Romantic was hunting down, in his hapless heroine, his own errors. 'Madame Bovary is myself,' he used to say, to those who asked if there was a model who had sat for the portrait."

The novel’s basic plot is based on some events that occurred to an associate of Flaubert’s father early in his life. Flaubert makes it his own using his own experiences and disillusion with romanticism. It’s hard to read this novel without feeling sorry for Madame Bovary, Charles, and their daughter while feeling somewhat repulsed by Rodolphe, Homais, and certainly Lheureux. But that repulsion is tempered by the fact that those characters have always existed and always will. And I suppose we all have a little Madame Bovary (or Flaubert) in us.

Maurois divides the novel into two parts. In the first, Emma is a believer in and a seeker of romantic love as presented in the smuggled-in novels of the day she read while in the convent. This romanticism, dampened at first when she realized her husband Charles was the antithesis of her ideal, is captured in this passage shortly after she willingly allows Rodolphe to seduce her:

"But when she saw herself in the glass she wondered at her face. Never had her eyes been so large, so black, of so profound a depth. Something subtle about her being transfigured her. She repeated, 'I have a lover! a lover!' delighting at the idea as if a second puberty had come to her. So at last she was to know those joys of love, that fever of happiness of which she had despaired! She was entering upon marvels where all would be passion, ecstasy, delirium. An azure of infinity encompassed her, the heights of sentiment sparkled under her thought, and ordinary existence appeared only afar off, down below in the shade, through the interspaces of these heights."

But Rodolphe is just that archetypal player with the typical lines of seduction. Nevertheless, he finds Emma a bit different than his usual conquests:

"But she was so pretty. He had possessed so few women of such ingenuousness. This love without debauchery was a new experience for him, and, drawing him out of his lazy habits, caressed at once his pride and his sensuality. Emma's enthusiasm, which his bourgeois good sense disdained, seemed to him in his heart of hearts charming, since it was lavished on him. Then, sure of being loved, he no longer kept up appearances, and insensibly his ways changed."

The dénouement comes when she urges him to “take her away”; he breaks off the relationship and triggers the transition into the second part of the novel, where Maurois states that Flaubert “depicts the gradual changing of the romantic woman whose romance has collapsed, who still holds reality in horror and strives to numb her pain into forgetfulness by pleasure and sensual stimulation.”

At the height of her hopes that her dreams of romantic love were to be realized with Rodolphe, Emma is radiant with happiness. Even the cuckolded husband Charles notices that radiance in his oblivious but devoted way:

"One would have thought an artist apt in conception had arranged the curls of hair upon her neck; they fell in a thick mass, negligently, and with the changing chances of their adultery that unbound them every day. Her voice now took on more mellow inflections, her figure likewise; something subtle and penetrating emanated from the very folds of her gown, from the line of her foot. Charles, as when they were first married, thought her delicious and quite irresistible."

I was interested to see that Flaubert also snuck some passages that point to an awareness of the unfair balance of power for men and women of his day, although not necessarily in a way that leads one to understand what he thought about it. We learn that Emma is very much aware of the ties and rules that bind her. As they await the birth of their child and she is still yearning for a resolution to her romantic desires, we learn:

"She hoped for a son; he would be strong and dark; she would call him George; and this idea of having a male child was like an expected revenge for all her impotence in the past. A man, at least, is free; he may travel over passions and over countries, overcome obstacles, taste of the most faraway pleasures. But a woman is always hampered. At once inert and flexible, she has against her the weakness of the flesh and legal dependence. Her will, like the veil of her bonnet, held by a string, flutters in every wind; there is always some desire pulling at her, some conventionality holding her back."

The novel proceeds to its tragic end through her attempts to pull Charles up to her image of what a successful Doctor was, her doomed hope that the clerk Léon would be the fulfillment of her desires, and her ruin.

To me this book represents a kind of perfection in the simple and elegant tradition of book design; and as a result, was a pleasure to handle and read. The small size, 5 ½ by 8 ½, and flexible French silk covered boards with an elegantly rounded spine made it easy and comfortable to hold. Despite the flexible boards, my copy has held up well through its unknown 80 year life, perhaps in part due to what Macy called an “unusually heavy board” slipcase. The slipcase has suffered a bit from doing its job well but is also in better shape than most of the slipcases I’ve seen in affordable LECs of this era. The designers definitely got it right on the silk, as there is little of the fading I usually see in silk bindings even at a quarter of this books age. The Garamond type is easy on the eyes even at the relatively small 12-point size. The Swiss milled rag paper handled the bite of the type nicely and the printer obviously knew what he was doing, as the text has the nice three dimensional look typical of good letterpress printing.

The crowning jewel of this book’s design is the marrying of the illustrations to Flaubert’s masterpiece. Gunter Böhmer obviously had read the book and had a sympathetic artist’s eye for Emma. While all of the approximately 50 illustrations are wonderful, Böhmer does an amazing job of capturing the emotion of various scenes in Emma’s face, with the Swiss design team at Fretz Freres doing a masterful job of placing them in appropriate places to support the text. The landscapes and scenes from the book are equally captivating and beautifully colored throughout. In the Monthy Letter, it is stated that they unsuccessfully tried various methods of reproduction for Böhmer’s art before they settled on chromolithography in up to nine colours. It seems they chose wisely as the illustrations so perfectly fit the scene and mood of the various passages of the book whether in bright gaily happy instances or the dark somber happenings. Indeed the color palette seems to darken appropriately as the reader approaches the tragic end.

Ironically, it seems that another set of amazing illustrations persuaded Macy to reissue the novel twelve years later. This time the illustrations were by Pierre Brissaud. I have not seen that edition but it seems a very different vision of design: much larger, more pages, etc. I was able to see some of the illustrations on-line and they look very nice as well. After the LEC was distributed, an unlimited edition was published by the Nonesuch Press as a part of their Ten Great French Romances series. I have several of the Nonesuch editions that have parallel LEC or Heritage Press editions and they are quite nice. It is interesting when getting to compare the look and feel of the illustrations between the two. Maybe I’ll run across the LEC edition and will be able to compare the two in the future.

So there you have it. A masterpiece of French Literature, one of the great French Romances, that is a joy to read in a simply elegant fine press edition that is surprisingly affordable.

AVAILABILITY: Like most editions of The Limited Editions Club, copies can be on the secondary market. I saw prices up to about $300 on a quick Abebooks search but found mine sitting on the Iliad Bookshop shelf in North Hollywood for all of $20 a couple of months back. I consider that quite a find, as I can’t imagine finding one in much better condition.

For this and more book reviews, including the physical book and overall reading experience, visit my blog The Whole Book Experience at http://www.thewholebookexperience.com/
  jveezer | Jan 2, 2017 |
Incredibly well-written, realistic, and ultimately, depressing. I'm glad I read it but I don't know that I ever will again. ( )
  aurelas | Dec 23, 2016 |
I didn't read this edition. The novel in full is included in a literature book that I am gradually working my way through. At first, I wondered if the salaciousness of the book wasn't a bit overhyped, but it got pretty racy towards the end. No bad language - for those who are offended by it. Simply the events and immorality of thought by the main characters. ( )
  CarolJMO | Dec 12, 2016 |
68/2014 ( )
  moonlight_reads | Dec 11, 2016 |
I'd love to read this new translation. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 224 (next | show all)
Davis’s division of previous translators into flair-bringers and clunkheads doesn’t really hold; nor does her claim to offer the best of both worlds. ... Davis’s Madame Bovary is a linguistically careful version, in the modern style, rendered into an unobtrusively American English. At its best, it conveys the precision – which some think dryness – of Flaubert’s prose in this novel, while its syntactical mirroring of the French sometimes brings us closer to Flaubert. At its worst, it takes us too far away from English, and makes us less aware of Flaubert’s prose than of Davis being aware of Flaubert’s prose. And such defects come from something very old-fashioned: a lack of love for the work being translated. ... Lydia Davis’s Madame Bovary shows that it’s possible to produce a more than acceptable version of a book with which you are profoundly out of sympathy. In that sense, it confirms that translation requires an act of the imagination as well as a technician’s proficiency. If you want a freer translation, Steegmuller is best; for a tighter one, go to Wall.
It is a shame Flaubert will never read Davis’s translation of “Madame Bovary.” Even he would have to agree his masterwork has been given the English translation it deserves.

» Add other authors (166 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Flaubert, Gustaveprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Achille, GiuseppeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ajac, BernardIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bair, LowellTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bakker, MargotTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bersani, LeoIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bodegård, AndersTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brissaud, PierreIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Carifi, RobertoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Davis, LydiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Édouard MaynialIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gendel, EvelynTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Konstantinov, KonstantinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lacretelle, JacquesIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lacretelle, Jacques deIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marmur, MildredTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mauldon, MargaretTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
May, J. LewisTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McCarthy, MaryForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Palola, EinoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pinxteren, Hans vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schmied, TheoIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Speziale Bagliacca, RobertoIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stahl, BenIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Suffel, JacquesPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thorpe, AdamTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Viitanen, Anna-MaijaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wall, GeoffreyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Information from the Italian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
A Marie Antoine Jules Senard- Membro del Foro di Parigi ex presidente dell'Assemblea Nazionale già Ministro degli Interni. -
"Caro e illustre amico, consentitemi di iscrivere il vostro nome in apertura di questo libro, e prima ancora della dedica: è soprattutto a voi che devo la sua pubblicazione. Passando attraverso la vostra magnifica arringa, la mia opera ha acquisito anche per me una sorta di autorevolezza imprevista. Accettate perciò qui l'omaggio della mia gratitudine, che, per quanto grande possa essere, non sarà mai all'altezza della vostra eloquenza e della vostra dedizione."  Gustave Flaubert....Parigi 12 aprile 1857
Marie-Antoine-Jules Sénard
Member of the Paris Bar
Ex-President of the National Assemly
Former Minister of the Interior
To Louis Bouilhet
First words
Nous étions à l'Etude, quand le Proviseur entra suivi d'un "nouveau" habillé en bourgeois et d'un garçon de classe qui portait un grand pupitre.
We were in study hall when the headmaster walked in, followed by a new boy not wearing a school uniform, and by a janitor carrying a large desk.
We were at prep, when the Head came in, followed by a new boy not in uniform and a school-servant carrying a big desk.
We were at prep when the Headmaster came in, followed by a 'new boy' not wearing school uniform, and by a school servant carrying a large desk.
We were in class when the head master came in, followed by a "new fellow," not wearing the school uniform, and a school servant carrying a large desk.
What would _they_ be doing now? ... the sort of life that opens the heart and the senses like flowers in bloom. Whereas for her, life was cold as an attic facing north, and the silent spider boredom wove its web in all the shadowed corners of her heart.
Surprised by the strange sweetness of it, they never though to describe or to explain what they felt. Coming delights, like tropical beaches, send out their native enchantment over the vast spaces that precede them -- a perfumed breeze that lulls and drugs you out of all anxiety as to what may yet await you below the horizon.
'Have you got your pistols?'
'What for?'
'Why, to defend yourself,' Emma replied.
'From your husband? Ha! Poor little man!'
Gone were those tender words that had moved her to tears, those tempestuous embraces that had sent her frantic. The grand passion into which she had plunged seemed to be dwindling around her like a river sinking into its bed; she saw the slime at the bottom.
She repented her past virtue as though it were a crime; what still remained of it collapsed beneath the savage onslaught of her pride.
Last words
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Wikipedia in English (4)

Book description
"Madame Bovary", apparso a puntate sulla "Revue de Paris" nel 1856 e integralmente un anno dopo, incontrò subito un grande successo di pubblico - dovuto anche al clamore del processo a cui il suo autore, incriminato per oltraggio alla morale e alla religione, fu sottoposto -, imponendosi all'attenzione della critica come il capolavoro assoluto del romanzo moderno. Incentrato sulla superba figura di Emma Bovary - donna inquieta, insoddisfatta, simbolo di un'insanabile frustrazione sentimentale e sociale - e giocato su un antiromanticismo ideologico e formale di fondo, "Madame Bovary" come ha scritto Vladimir Nabokov, "dal punto di vista stilistico è prosa che fa ciò che si suppone faccia la poesia. Senza Flaubert non ci sarebbe stato un Marcel Proust in Francia, né un James Joyce in Irlanda. In Russia, Cechov non sarebbe stato Cechov".
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140449124, Paperback)

For this novel of French bourgeois life in all its inglorious banality, Flaubert invented a paradoxically original and wholly modern style. His heroine, Emma Bovary, a bored provincial housewife, abandons her husband to pursue the libertine Rodolphe in a
desperate love affair. A succès de scandale in its day, Madame Bovary remains a powerful and arousing novel.

@TheRealDesperateHousewife My sadness is bothersome. He says I need to change scenery. That will help like a trip to Italy cures TB. What I need is a good poking.

From Twitterature: The World's Greatest Books in Twenty Tweets or Less

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:01 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

"Emma Bovary is beautiful and bored, trapped in her marriage to a mediocre doctor and stifled by the banality of provincial life. An ardent devourer of sentimental novels, she longs for passion and seeks escape in fantasies of high romance, in voracious spending and, eventually, in adultery. But even her affairs bring her disappointment, and when real life continues to fail to live up to her romantic expectations the consequences are devastating. Flaubert's erotically charged and psychologically acute portrayal of Emma Bovary caused a moral outcry on its publication in 1857. It was deemed so lifelike that many women claimed they were the model for his heroine; but Flaubert insisted: 'Madame Bovary, c'est moi'." -- BOOK JACKET.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 34 descriptions

Legacy Library: Gustave Flaubert

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Penguin Australia

6 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140449124, 0141045159, 1846141044, 0451418506, 0143123807, 0734306873

Coffeetown Press

An edition of this book was published by Coffeetown Press.

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Tantor Media

2 editions of this book were published by Tantor Media.

Editions: 140010274X, 1400109043

Urban Romantics

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An edition of this book was published by HighBridge.

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