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Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Madame Bovary (original 1857; edition 2010)

by Gustave Flaubert, Lydia Davis (Translator)

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17,43425499 (3.75)3 / 720
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. ( )
  annbury | Apr 18, 2012 |
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Showing 1-25 of 211 (next | show all)
Never too late to read a classic, I like the style...Well, perfect for the story, characters, and style, old but gold.
Humanity, crudely described, nothing to save!
( )
  Gerardlionel | Apr 2, 2016 |
What the heck is the big deal about this book? I just wanted to shake Emma Bovary. Suck it up sister. No body made you marry your husband. Nobody made you run up all that debt. And why do I care about the agriculture "fair" and some of the other things that Flaubert dwelt on? ( )
  mamashepp | Mar 29, 2016 |
What the heck is the big deal about this book? I just wanted to shake Emma Bovary. Suck it up sister. No body made you marry your husband. Nobody made you run up all that debt. And why do I care about the agriculture "fair" and some of the other things that Flaubert dwelt on? ( )
  mamashepp | Mar 29, 2016 |
Finally got to this one after being on my to-read list for some time. I enjoyed it much more than I expected and was struck by how modern Flaubert's narrative structure and prose was in the novel (helped no doubt by the skilled translation by Steegmuller). The narrative focus seamlessly shifts from character to character and the reader is left with no solid empathetic foundation under any of these unhappy characters. It's difficult to completely admire or condemn any of them- each exhibits qualities of greed, love, selfishness, determination, apathy, and hopeful yearning. In short, Falubert has provided a cast of truly human characters. ( )
  Matthew.Ducmanas | Mar 18, 2016 |
Long and rambling. Not my favorite classic. ( )
  Jen.ODriscoll.Lemon | Jan 23, 2016 |
Long and rambling. Not my favorite classic. ( )
  Jen.ODriscoll.Lemon | Jan 23, 2016 |
I’m envious of the women in my book group who are native French speakers and able to read Gustave Flaubert’s classic in its original language. I read the 2010 English translation by noted American short story writer and essayist Lydia Davis, one of the 19 produced since the book’s 1856 publication. Her intent, she has said, was “to do what I think hasn’t been done, which is to create a well-written translation that’s also very close, very faithful to the French.” Here is a Julian Barnes essay comparing notable translations, including Davis’s, across the generations {http://www.lrb.co.uk/v32/n22/julian-barnes/writers-writer-and-writers-writers-writer}. If you want to read Madame Bovary, I suggest at least skimming Barnes’s essay to find a translation suited to your reading preferences.

The novel is a period piece, set in a particular, rather dreary locale, and not all periods and settings wear as well in terms of interest over 160 years. When Madame Bovary was published, the government said the novel was a danger to morality and religion and put Flaubert and his publisher on trial, though they were acquitted. However, in general, “provincial French woman has affairs with doltish men” is no longer a riveting or scandalous storyline, and “spends more than she should” is the modern way of life. Likewise, the beliefs and foibles Flaubert pokes fun at (conventional and bourgeois views, including religion, chief among them) are of varying relevance today. In an Introduction Davis quotes Nabokov’s view that, in Madame Bovary, “the ironic and the pathetic are beautifully intertwined,” and it is those sly revelations about society and how people move in it, rather than plot, that give the modern reader the greatest satisfaction.

Reader tastes have changed not just with regard to content, but regarding style, too, and a book about that same period written today would be very different from Flaubert’s approach. One consequence of what now seems a rather disordered style is that Madame’s character never quite came into focus for me. She is motivated by the ill-considered whims of a moment, a pliant object for the men around her, and rarely self-actuated until of course the end. It turns out, as Barnes notes in his essay, that translator Davis doesn’t actually much like her, or the book. Interesting.

As an exemplar of realist fiction, Madame Bovary was a path breaking book. Unlike most novels that came before, it didn’t romanticize (in the literary sense) or try to draw moral lessons—the lessons were clear from the book’s events and their consequences. Flaubert’s intention was to make the novel not just not “romantic,” but anti-romantic, in that Madame’s susceptibility to and pursuit of romanticism and shallow gratification are what cause her downfall. Occasionally, thought, the authorial voice does make a judgment in the nature of a delicious truism, for example: (about the lovers) “She was as weary of him as he was tired of her. Emma was rediscovering in adultery all the platitudes of marriage.”

Translator Davis in an introduction says this novel’s “radical nature is paradoxically difficult for us to see: its approach is familiar to us for the very reason that Madame Bovary permanently changed the way novels were written thereafter.” ( )
  Vicki_Weisfeld | Jan 19, 2016 |
Emma Bovary is bored with her marriage and her life because neither looks anything like what she reads in novels. She embarks on a series of affairs in her search for the love she does not feel for her husband. She also racks up quite a lot of debt by living well beyond her means. Her husband indulges her in pretty much everything, partly because of her poor health, partly because he loves her, and partly because he's too lazy to pay attention to what's going on right under his nose. As you might be able to guess, this does not end well for anyone.

This was a reread for me. This was one of the first classics I read when I was in high school and just starting to get into adult literature. I remember liking it, but didn't remember anything else about the book. I wanted to reread it because I suspect that I was not quite mature enough as a reader to really get the book.

I don't quite know what happened between now and then, but I didn't enjoy the book this time. None of the characters were particularly likable, and the plot was boring more often than not. I understand why it's considered a great work of literature and how influential it's been on literature as a whole, but it just wasn't enjoyable to read this time. ( )
  AmandaL. | Jan 16, 2016 |
The story of Emma Bovary, the misguided wife of a country doctor.

Emma's life is based around the pursuit of love and a man who can give her the excitement and passion she has read about, sadly that man is not her husband.

Emma fell she is let down by the men in her life but she is really let down by her own inability to accept that love is not like in the movies and to have something lasting and worth while you need to work at it. ( )
  BookWormM | Jan 15, 2016 |
Madame Bovary

Looking for love in all the wrong places

2.5 stars

The story was a little less than average. Madame Bovary was a terrible wife (didn't respect but loathed her husband, Charles) and mother (daughter cared for by hired help), who was never content. She had affairs, hoping they would bring some form of happiness. They never did. She spent excessively behind her husbands back, causing their ruin. Her husband, who I pitied, loved her dearly, but didn't have a clue. Sadly, the story ends in tragedy. I'm glad I plowed my way through, even when the story dragged a bit. I recommend it but not highly. ( )
  Feleciak | Jan 5, 2016 |
I read about half of this but every page was a struggle so I am giving up. Maybe someday I will return to this but for now, I am considering this as "read"!

It is difficult for me to pinpoint why I struggled so much with this -- Flaubert is clearly a good writer, the descriptions are vivid, and I have some sympathy for (some) characters. But the book in print sends me to sleep; the audiobook causes my mind to wander and even the movie version bored me. Perhaps it is the pace... ( )
  leslie.98 | Jan 4, 2016 |
I like to start a book knowing almost nothing about it. With Madame Bovary the only thing I knew was that it’s a French classic and often cited one of the all-time great novels. I knew absolutely nothing about the plot going in, though I expected it to be centered on the eponymous Madame Bovary, whoever she is. I imagined she is probably a French equivalent of [b:Jane Eyre|10210|Jane Eyre|Charlotte Brontë|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327867269s/10210.jpg|2977639] or [b:Tess of the d'Urbervilles|32261|Tess of the D'Urbervilles|Thomas Hardy|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1434302708s/32261.jpg|3331021]. I could not have been more wrong.

The protagonist Emma Bovary turns out to be a kind of anti-heroine and the novel is so downbeat it makes [b:Tess of the d'Urbervilles|32261|Tess of the D'Urbervilles|Thomas Hardy|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1434302708s/32261.jpg|3331021] look like [b:Three Men in a Boat|4921|Three Men in a Boat|Jerome K. Jerome|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1392791656s/4921.jpg|4476508]. Basically Emma Bovary is a girl who married a dull country doctor just so she could leave home but soon becomes a very desperate housewife. The story is about her infidelity and the consequences to herself and those around her. She seems to imagine herself as the protagonist of a soap opera; this is apparently from reading too much romantic fiction, Fifty Shades of Grey would have been right up her alley.

Her husband Charles Bovary is a hopeless cuckold, a decent fellow but in his way just as delusional as his wife. As far as I can tell he is the only sympathetic character in the novel (not including his young daughter Berthe who has very few speaking parts). Things do not turn out well for anybody except Monsieur Homais the pompous and egotistical chemist.

This is not an easy book to read (or listen to in my case) as there is not a single character to empathize with, even the nice Charles Bovary is too idiotic and delusional to generate much sympathy. Of course the author Gustave Flaubert was well aware of this, the reader is not supposed to like any of them. Their behavior and situation only serve to convey his disapproval of the French society of the time, particularly the bourgeoisie and romanticism.

The great attraction of reading fiction is to follow the characters’ thought processes which are often very alien to my own, to be somebody else for a while. I found Emma Bovary’s way of thinking very selfish and immoral but nonetheless quite fascinating. Unfortunately the other characters are not so interesting and when Emma is “off stage” the narrative becomes rather plodding.

The translation by Eleanor Marx-Aveling is quite readable but I have no idea how good it is as I don’t read French. There are some nice lines like “a demand for money being, of all the winds that blow upon love, the coldest and most destructive” and I imagine the original French version would have been more of a pleasure to read, though I would not start taking French lessons just to read this book. [b:The Count of Monte Cristo|7126|The Count of Monte Cristo|Alexandre Dumas|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1309203605s/7126.jpg|391568] may be, but not this one.

If you like morality tales this book is for you, if you are looking for some kind of page turner this is not it. I listened to Madame Bovary on a free audiobook from Librivox, unfortunately this is not one of their better offerings. It is a multiple readers one, and some of the readers are just awful and incomprehensible. I had to supplement a few chapters in print (e-book) format to follow the narrative of a few chapters. If you get Amazon’s free Kindle e-book edition you can get the Audible audiobook with it for $2.99. I wish I had done that! ( )
  apatt | Dec 26, 2015 |
Some beautiful writing, but I had a hard time with the book because I just did not like ANY of the characters. ( )
  TheresaCIncinnati | Aug 17, 2015 |
I didn't think this was that spectacular. ( )
  engpunk77 | Aug 10, 2015 |
I started this book a year ago. I read it with some friends. One finished it, the other didnt. I wanted to like this book, I really did. I love literature, and it seemed like a great story. I had lots of qualms with this book. First of all, it's ok if the protagonist is villian-like, or we despise her because of her personality-- but she has to be lovable too. In some way, there needs to be redeeming elements that either make us forgive or understand her. This isn't the case for me with Emma. Her snobbery is forgivable, heck-- most of her defects are forgivable...but her role as a mother and her lack of care or mention of her daughter hurt me the most. Her husband works so hard, for her! He Loves her so much, and her response is lukewarm at best. I'm not sure if I read a "spoiler" of the end or what...but when I did I just felt so dejected I couldn't bear finishing it. Of the hundreds of books I've read, I've only left unfinished and given up on...a few. This is one of those. I was halfway through and kept it close to try to convince myself to finish and couldn't. ( )
  Diamond.Dee. | Jul 3, 2015 |
She's the original bored housewife looking for thrills to give "meaning" to her life. ( )
  amyshaff | May 27, 2015 |
Este ainda é um grande romance e uma história extraordinariamente bem contada. Muitos acham-no um tanto frio e desapaixonado. A ironia: Flaubert foi criticado e indiciado judicialmente por "denegrir a mulher francesa". O corolário: os homens daquela época não eram considerados imorais nem corrompidos. Eles podiam, elas não. Este pode ter sido um dos pontos argumentativos reais de Flaubert: o mesmo comportamento teria sido tolerado e até admirado, quando perpetrado pelo sexo masculino. A frase de Flaubert - "Madame Bovary sou eu!" é, portanto, reveladora. ( )
  jgcorrea | Apr 24, 2015 |
Flaubert, by placing a sentimental heroine into a realist novel, creates a narrative taut with conflict. Though probably not as steamy and provocative in a direct sense as it was at the time of its original publication, its not short on suspense and even has a bit of blood and gore. Flaubert is closer to Poe in some of these pages then what might expect. Emma is flowery and sentimental, Flaubert however, is not. The realist world of the novel breaks her. That is what makes this novel so compelling and almost terrifying in its own way. ( )
  poetontheone | Mar 10, 2015 |
This is Flaubert's seminal novel of adultery in provincial France in the early 19th century, the publication of which in 1856 caused outrage and led to the author's prosecution for obscenity (he was acquitted). The title character, married to a decent but (to her) dull provincial doctor Charles Bovary, commits adultery with two men, Rodolphe Boulanger and Leon Dupuis, for reasons of simple ennui with her life. Indeed, she almost seems to have an addiction for the ecstasy and lack of self control of love, and is at one point described by her lover Rodolphe as "gaping after love like a carp after water on a kitchen table". I found her an unsympathetic character, until her indebtedness leads to the novel's dramatic and tragic lifestyle. While the author's observations of French provincial life are no doubt acute, I didn't particularly enjoy reading the novel, and the other characters didn't interest me. ( )
  john257hopper | Feb 20, 2015 |
Flaubert’s care with language is legendary. Few people — even native English speakers — who pay serious attention to World Literature haven’t heard the stories of how Flaubert would work painstakingly at every sentence to make sure even the sound of it was as close to perfection as he could possibly get. While this characteristic is a given among most poets (a “given,” but not necessarily a “gotten” among many contemporary poets), it’s relatively rare among novelists. But then, even someone of François Mauriac’s authority once said that “every great novelist is first of all a great poet.”

Consequently, to translate Flaubert is a daunting task for any native English-speaker. While I had neither the benefit of the original nor other translations to compare with Alan Russell’s, his translation, in my estimation, does the job both ‘adequately and sufficiently.’ (‘Adequate and sufficient,’ by the way, is no small praise coming from a former philosophy student.)

Madame Bovary is a classic not only of French literature, but also of World Literature — and rightfully so. The story itself is not particularly extraordinary. It is rather Flaubert’s telling of it that makes it a classic.

Just as Anna is the eminently memorable focal point of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Emma is what remains behind in stark detail in the reader’s mind after feasting on Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.

Your library will never be complete with a copy of Madame Bovary. And your reading pleasure will never be consummated without reading the book, start to finish.

Brooklyn, NY, USA
( )
  RussellBittner | Dec 12, 2014 |
The story of a young woman who is filled with romantic dreams and discontent over the how her life has transpired.

I didn't care for the story or the characters. It may have been about the period that it was written in. ( )
  cyderry | Nov 11, 2014 |
Had to force myself to finish it, but glad I did. The story may be about nothing but the prose and themes are brilliant and subtle. A book that has stayed with me far more than I thought it would. ( )
  bhutton | Oct 8, 2014 |
Ah, lovely greed and lust take Madame down the primrose path . . . I enjoyed reading Madame Bovary in the context of a course on modern and postmodern philosophy and literature. ( )
  KateRobinson | Oct 4, 2014 |
How many books can you say affected the way you think about the trifles that possess the flawed spirit of humanity?

I have read here something that digs deeply to the the nuanced depths of our common psychosis. The characters, obsequious to their ideal of being owed a certain amount of happiness, are prone to overlook the details that make them miserable and instead, with a series of self-agrandsing actions, attempt to make their lives something like tolerable.

The baseness of these characters lies in all of us. The desire to make our romantic ideals come true, and remain ignorant of the cost that might come along with their artificial manufacture, is eloquently laid out in a narrative that tells of people, real people (not that fake ones that pop up so often in the classic literature) struggling to get something out of life. Anything.

When I first picked up this book, I rolled my eyes and sighed, "Here we go." I was prepared to read about a poor, oppressed woman who through sexual exploits finds that life can be fine and romantic and less painful if only she would allow her feminine spirit reign to do whatever makes her happy. I thought it would be a sort of "Eat, Pray, Fuck" of the 19th century.

That ain't what it was.

Before I explain, I should make clear that I have many problems with Flaubert's story, but the trueness of the characters and the humanity that he makes them portray is not one of them.

Madame Bovary is a perfect expression of the oppositeness that IS human nature.

The woman whose life is summed up in this tragedy is selfish, rude, entitled, a terrible mother, and a willful manic depressive. I hated her. HATE. No matter what anybody says, Flaubert meant for her to be hated. This is not an oppressed woman. She is a brat who thinks herself worthy (simply because she exists) of a life of adventure and ecstasy that she read about in romance novels. She thinks life shouldn't be like life at all, but like the movies (as it were).

But above that theme (and who of use hasn't known a person like that) it is a novel of opposition, as I have said. A representation of the queasy vacillation with which all of us live our lives. Examples:

The lovers love Bovary, and when they do, she hates them.

The lovers hate her and when they do, she loves them.

A playboy confesses the purist human emotion, love, to her during the handing out of prizes for a pig and cattle competition. He eloquently tells her what kind of love he has while farmers praise their hogs in the background. It tells us something about the playboy's idea of love. But she eats it up!

Two men, a priest and an atheist argue over the existence of God and meaning of life while watching over a decaying corpse.

A woman, in order pay off her debts, begs a rich man to lend her money. He advances on her and she is repulsed. That same woman, minutes after, uses her wiles on another rich man offering herself up as a prostitute for some cash.

Some would say, that sounds ridiculous! And it is, but that is US!

How many of us have fantasized about a person, but then when we get in their presence we are somehow grossed out at the idea when we only minutes before pined after them in an impractical fantasy?

"We must not touch our idols, the gilt sticks to our fingers" - Flaubert.

The exhibition of truth and the duality that is in all of us is in this book. It is very much worth a critical read.

My problems:

Flaubert is not a very good storyteller. His narrative puts us on the outside and rarely involves them in the motion of the story in favor of melodramatic dialogue and an almost historic description of events. It's as if the whole thing is a back story and we are just waiting for him to pull us in.

Another problem is the author's ubiquity. He is everywhere present in this book. He flaunts himself at times, head-hopping and generally making us feel like he is a master manipulator of his characters that are moving about in his created world. There is a noticeable split in his ability at verisimilitude. He seems to be very good at dissecting the human spirit, but not very good at placing them in a real environment. I'm actually having a difficult time describing it here. Suffice to note that the entire story feels very second-hand.

When he does decide to use coloration, he is a master, but he uses it sparingly and rightly so. His descriptions are so perfect that to have them too often would tax the reader into a coma of quandary.

He also suffers from something we come to expect from all authors of that era, that is, convenience. Characters are always "chanced upon" at the right moment.

The ending was only slightly weak. We are made to think that Homais is somehow at fault for Bovary's suicide, and (as life would have it) that dirty, big-headed, big-mouthed bourgeois is to blame and because he's so well-off and lucky, he'll get away with it.

Because Homais had discovered that it was his store of arsenic that killed her and didn't say anything, the author suggests there is some culpability on Homais' part. It's a sort of "See! It's the guy who's most evil that always comes out alright in the end!" But clearly Homais is not to blame. Bovary attained the poison through her own devices and chomped on it like a big baby who couldn't handle all the trouble she caused. She was a coward and I was glad she was dead. Homais may have been made to look like a jerk, but he was not responsible for a suicide, by definition.

I presume that it was fashionable to hate the self-made man in France at the time and this was a childish political dig that made the common Frenchman (aren't they all so common anyway) feel a tinge of self righteousness, leaving him with an agreeable sentiment after such a morbid ending. It was also (in my opinion) an homage to Voltaire and his mindless brand of nihilism.

The tragedy (if you're wondering why I called it one) is that M. Bovary failed to see that it was her husband (he was the ONLY one) who really loved her, she was just too selfish and stupid to see it, taking him for a git, which he was. But the only thing she wanted was her own grand ideal of love and he, ultimately, was the one willing to give it to her unconditionally. It turns out she was the mediocrity at the very thing she desired most. Madame B was so consumed with herself it rendered her incapable of enjoying life's greatest gifts.

All told, it was a great read. Madame Bovary is an anthropological study through the art of writing, and also a prime example of fluid prose.

(P.S. I realize that this is a disjointed review, but this book has me reeling and I think that there is so much it has shown me, that a cohesive review would take thousands of words and a month or so to set them down.)

( )
  DanielAlgara | Sep 26, 2014 |
Just because a book is a classic, does not necessarily mean a good read. I'm guessing that most of this book's success can be attributed to the fact that it would have been very scandalous in it's day. No matter when something is written, it helps if at least ONE of the characters is sympathetic...and I honestly could not root for any of them, not even remotely. ( )
  HarmonyC | Sep 16, 2014 |
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