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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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16,920240105 (3.76)3 / 690
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 199 (next | show all)
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 |
I am so thankful for finally finishing this book. The characters were either selfish, stupid, or weak. ( )
  bjh3038 | Aug 22, 2014 |
Generally acclaimed as one of the great 19th century novels, Madame Bovary lives up to its reputation. Even in translation, Flaubert’s efforts to find le mot juste comes through.

Although many of the characters evidently are meant to be archetypes of common personalities, Flaubert limns each one with such specificity that they become lifelike even while performing their plot roles as the “rake,” the “religious skeptic,” the “aristocrat,” the “country cleric,” or the “great man from the City.” Flaubert’s vocabulary is elevated and vast, but his syntax is simple, direct, and lucid, making the novel an easy read.

The plot revolves around adultery and the emptiness of bourgeois life, the former perhaps a symptom of the latter. Unlike many modern novels, the sex scenes are so terse and indirect that you may miss them if you are scanning too fast. Nonetheless, Emma Bovary comes across as very sensual and sexually alluring, if shallow and a bit of a ditz. She finds her husband boring and suffocating, but she is so self-absorbed we aren’t made to feel much sympathy for her. She believed when she married Charles that her life would be transmogrified into the fairytale that so often characterized the romances she read. The quotidian reality depressed her, and eventually drove her to desperation. The dénouement is tragic (more so for Charles than for Emma, the putative protagonist) and ironic. In Flaubert’s France, no good deed goes unpunished and many a bad one is rewarded.

Evaluation: It is with good reason that Madame Bovary continues to be read 150 years after its publication.

(JAB) ( )
  nbmars | Aug 17, 2014 |
En fantastisk bok som håller än idag!
Det är hisnande att den skrevs redan på 1860-talet!
Trots att det är otroligt sorglig på slutet, så är den dråplig och underfundig mellan varven!
En rejäl psykologisk genomskärning av den lyckliga Emma Bovary. Det jag finner den mkt läsvärd är att det är en mångfacetterad bild av huvudpersonen som tecknas upp! Man känner mede hennes frustation, och tristess och längtan till ngt annat, till ngt som man inte riktigt vet var det är. Även hennes mer otrevliga sidor, hennes egocentritet, eleka bhandling av den snälle men ack så tradiga make! En klassiker i dess rätta bemärkelse! ( )
  Drusus | Aug 1, 2014 |
I finished this book yesterday and I'm still not sure how I felt about it. It's the story of Emma Bovary who has multiple affairs to escape her boring marriage. I really despised Emma. At first I thought I didn't like Flaubert's writing because she's a very one-dimensional character, but now I think that was maybe his point. She spends her whole life waiting for someone else to make it exciting, instead of finding something worthwhile to be passionate about.

Flaubert's writing style is a bit overdone for my taste - lots of flowery description - but there was also a realism to it that I appreciated.For instance, he describes the gory details of Emma's death - she didn't just fade away looking beautiful. There's also a really funny scene where Emma and her lover spend the afternoon in a hired carriage doing "you know what" ;-) That was pretty amusing for a novel written in the 1850s.

All in all, I think I really liked it. Might be one of those that I need to revisit in a few years. ( )
  japaul22 | Jul 25, 2014 |
An immoral wife sleeps around to escape the hum-drum of existence. Ho hum. Who cares? Still, well written. ( )
  JVioland | Jul 14, 2014 |
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. ( )
  nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
not sure what to expect but for sure a classic. she was very adventourous for her time and had lots of affairs but moneywise, she was not very smart and was also taken advantage of. it probably would been a better ending for her if she managed the money better. easier to read than expected. ( )
  kakadoo202 | Jun 16, 2014 |

I guess rather daring for its day. It's impossible surely not to feel sympathy for Emma, condemned to social conformity by a society which believes itself to be in a process of liberalisation (but isn't really); she is desperately grasping for possible ladders to a more fulfilling life, without looking too closely at the details of where they might lead to. As with Middlemarch (and to a lesser extent Buddenbrooks) the politics of the time get a certain reflection in people's personal lives.

The translation is strikingly off in places. Flaubert's wonderful metaphor for emotional blockage caused by domestic torpor, "Elle ne savait pas que, sur la terrasse des maisons, la pluie fait des lacs quand les gouttières sont bouchées" does have some problems anyway in English translation, as very few English or Irish houses have "terrasses" (in America the word "porch" would just about cover it, but this side of the Atlantic "porch" generally means a smaller enclosed area). However, this becomes in English "She did not know that on the terrace of houses it makes lakes when the pipes are choked" - it actually sounds more cod-French than the original, by bafflingly dropping explicit reference to rain, thus leaving us uncertain about what "it" is ( )
  nwhyte | Jun 9, 2014 |
Madame Bovary has been on my list of books to read for decades, but for various reasons I always made other choices. Then my wife decided to learn French and as part of that process read the novel in its original language. I decided to finally pick up this book because it would be fun to discuss when we were both done. I read an English translation by Eleanor Marx Aveling who was one of the daughters of Karl Marx and, following in her father's footsteps, a socialist. I didn't know Marx's background at the time I read the book, but find it interesting, since the results of Emma's decision to pursue a life of self indulgence seem to exemplify the horrors that can happen to people who seek self gratification. In other words, if you believe “greed is good” you probably won't like this book.

I read somewhere that Madame Bovary along with Tolstoy's Anna Karenina are the two greatest “adultery” novels ever written. I'm not sure how anyone can make a statement like that, since so many novels have been written about adultery. But there is definitely a connection between these two works. Anna, however, is somewhat sympathetic, being drawn to a single lover she can't resist. On the other hand, Emma's true love seems to be herself. Here's a section from the book when Emma is sitting at an agricultural fair with Rodolphe, the man she's currently attracted to, and reflecting on all the men in her life – except, of course, her husband.

Then a faintness came over her; she recalled the Viscount who had waltzed with her at Vaubyessard, and his beard exhaled like this air an odour of vanilla and citron, and mechanically she half-closed her eyes the better to breathe it in. But in making this movement, as she leant back in her chair, she saw in the distance, right on the line of the horizon, the old diligence, the "Hirondelle," that was slowly descending the hill of Leux, dragging after it a long trail of dust. It was in this yellow carriage that Leon had so often come back to her, and by this route down there that he had gone for ever. She fancied she saw him opposite at his windows; then all grew confused; clouds gathered; it seemed to her that she was again turning in the waltz under the light of the lustres on the arm of the Viscount, and that Leon was not far away, that he was coming; and yet all the time she was conscious of the scent of Rodolphe's head by her side. This sweetness of sensation pierced through her old desires, and these, like grains of sand under a gust of wind, eddied to and fro in the subtle breath of the perfume which suffused her soul. She opened wide her nostrils several times to drink in the freshness of the ivy round the capitals. She took off her gloves, she wiped her hands, then fanned her face with her handkerchief, while athwart the throbbing of her temples she heard the murmur of the crowd and the voice of the councillor intoning his phrases. He said—"Continue, persevere; listen neither to the suggestions of routine, nor to the over-hasty councils of a rash empiricism.

I loved the process of following Emma Bovary as she made selfish decisions, rationalized her behavior, and paid the consequences. There are many reasons to read Madame Bovary, including its influence on later novelists, but it is the careful, detailed exploration of Emma's character that make this novel a masterpiece.

Steve Lindahl – Author of White Horse Regressions and Motherless Soul ( )
  SteveLindahl | May 1, 2014 |
It really isn’t often that I read a book in translation. Many years ago I went through a phase of reading quite a lot of French and Russian classics – but since then have really read very few books translated from other languages. I think that the fear I have now in reading a work in translation, maybe especially a work of classic literature that has been loved and revered for generations, is that in reading it in a language other than that of the original author I am losing something of the original. My concern that the text I read has been sieved or filtered and that what remains although retaining something of the original intent loses some intangible essence through that filtering process, like those tiny pieces left behind in the bottom of the sieve. I tried therefore not to worry too much about which translation of Madam Bovary I was reading – I felt I had no way of knowing which would be the best, and I already had an old black spine Penguin Classic from reading Madam Bovary twenty years ago. There is something about those old black spine Penguin Classics that I trust, I decided surely this translation would be one of the best. This translation by Alan Russell –who also wrote the introduction to this edition, was first published in 1950.
Madam Bovary was Flaubert’s debut novel, a so called “realistic novel” that had started to become popular in the previous twenty or thirty years in France. In Emma Bovary we see something of Gustave Flaubert himself, as he is famously supposed to have said “Madame Bovary, c’est moi!” Like his famous literary creation, Flaubert was disgusted by what he saw as the gross vulgarity of French bourgeois life. It is this world, that he so hated, that Flaubert decided to write about, and in doing so, brilliantly re-creates the life of a small Normandy market town and its residents. It is this wonderfully evocative sense of place that I particularly loved.
“At the bottom of her heart, however, she was waiting for something to happen. Like shipwrecked sailors, she turned despairing eyes upon the solitude of her life, seeking afar off some white sail in the mists of the horizon. She did not know what this chance would be, what wind would bring it her, towards what shore it would drive her, if it would be a shallop or a three-decker, laden with anguish or full of bliss to the portholes. But each morning, as she awoke, she hoped it would come that day; she listened to every sound, sprang up with a start, wondered that it did not come; then at sunset, always more saddened, she longed for the morrow.”
The plot of this novel is essentially fairly simple, the wife of a provincial doctor seeking release from her dull provincial life in two ultimately unsatisfactory adulterous relationships, is later manipulated into terrible debt by a local tradesman.
We first meet Charles Bovary, as a misfit schoolboy, who later goes to study medicine, he applies himself diligently, but alas Bovary is not a gifted medical practitioner and right away we know Charles to be a nice, dull man and a bit of a bumbling plodder. Married off to an older widow by his mother, Charles Bovary meets Emma when he goes to tend to her father’s broken leg. Emma is a beautiful young woman, bored by her life on her father’s farm, she longs for town life. When Charles’ wife dies suddenly he wastes little time in becoming a regular fixture at Rouault’s farm. Emma agrees to marry Charles, hoping that her new life in Tostes will provide with the sort of life she thinks she wants. Following a glittering ball that gives Emma a glimpse of a world she longs to have more of – she begins to slide into a state of greater and greater dissatisfaction, yearning for a world that remains forever out of reach. Desperate to do anything to help his beloved Emma, Charles moves them to the larger market town of Yonville-l'Abbaye. It is the way in which Flaubert re-creates the life of this small French town that gives it its realistic quality, the small everyday concerns of doctor, chemist, tradesmen and their wives, the agricultural show and the daily arrival of the stage coach.
“Love, she thought, must come suddenly, with great outbursts and lightnings,--a hurricane of the skies, which falls upon life, revolutionises it, roots up the will like a leaf, and sweeps the whole heart into the abyss.”
It is here in Yonville-l'Abbaye that Emma’s life slowly spirals out of control, a life fuelled by lies, self-deception, and mad impulse constantly aspiring to a better sphere of life. Emma is a fascinating character, despite everything she is not unlikeable, but then I rather like flawed, tragic characters. I rather liked Charles Bovary too – though he is really rather pitiful, I suspect Flaubert didn’t much like him, but he thoroughly knew and understood his type. Just as he did the self-serving chemist Monsieur Homais, and the slightly malevolent tradesman Lheureux – who is Emma’s final undoing. These characters are so brilliantly portrayed that I couldn’t help but feel they had been taken from life.
I absolutely loved re-reading this novel, which I am certain I got far more out of this time around. I am so glad that I joined in with ebookclassics reading of this novel. ( )
  Heaven-Ali | Apr 16, 2014 |
This was a good read, but I didn't like Madame Bovary, so it was kind of annoying. She seemed to have no good reason for being as messed up as she was. Flaubert failed to make me understand why she was so vapid, venal, and obsessed with romance and money. She seemed to have a sociopathic lack of compassion for others.

However, I'm always happy to read a slow, story about people living before all the technology we have today spoiled everything. It was refreshing to have people calling on their neighbors because that was the only way to get in touch with them. I could have done with a little less brutal mistreatment of horses. People were constantly riding them to death in a hurry to get somewhere, a spurring them bloody and whipping them.

I really hoped to come to understand MB and have her find happiness or growth in some way. She failed to be able to grow or change and ended by killing herself. Give her a Darwin Award for unsurvival of the unfit-est. ( )
  kylekatz | Apr 13, 2014 |
Emma Roualt è una donna completamente insoddisfatta: dalla vita si aspettava grandi feste, vita sfarzosa, amori romantici. Dopo il matrimonio con il gentile, ma banale Charles Bovary, l'insofferenza di lei si manifesta in ogni momento della sua quotidianità.
La prossima lettura andrà fatta in lingua originale, credo che questo romanzo lo meriti :) ( )
  Manua | Apr 10, 2014 |
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