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Paperback Madame Bovary (Bantam Classics) Book

ISBN: 0553213415

ISBN13: 9780553213416

Madame Bovary (Bantam Classics)

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This exquisite novel tells the story of one of the most compelling heroines in modern literature--Emma Bovary. "Madame Bovary has a perfection that not only stamps it, but that makes it stand almost alone; it holds itself with such a supreme unapproachable assurance as both excites and defies judgement." - Henry James Unhappily married to a devoted, clumsy provincial doctor, Emma revolts against the ordinariness of her life by pursuing voluptuous...

Customer Reviews

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novel of life

I came to Madame Bovary through a perhaps fairly commonplace contemporary window - Julian Barnes's masterful 1984 novel 'Flaubert's Parrot'. Barnes, for those who are unfamiliar with him, is a Francophile English novelist who grabbed me when I was younger and I now read omnivorously. Flaubert's Parrot is a fascinating playful novel meditating on life, art, and especially Flaubert and his life and work, and especially Madame Bovary. Of course, I was slightly wary of Madame Bovary's massive classic status. It easily holds its own in the pantheon of top five novels ever or something. But to read some of the reviews you might think Emma Bovary was a moderately attractive provincial slapper who got what she deserved. People who think this clearly have no understanding human psychology. For on a first reading (most novels one reading suffices, but for Madame Bovary it was clear that it demands many subsequent re-readings) it was clear that Flaubert's succes du scandale is perhaps the greatest realist novel ever. His style is supremely elegant, yet not dated in the way many of his 19th Century contemporaries have become. His subject is the world and its everymen - provincial people, limited in education, with vulgar and at hypocritical mores. His themes are timeless - the disjunction between people's idealised projection of themselves and the reality of their lives, the power dynamics of human relationships, the machinations of the heart, the difficulties of communication between people who live closely knit lives. His characters shine through not as mere holograms but as shining paragons of convincing personalities - the plodding mediocre husband, the frustrated wife, the feckless libertine and (my favourite) the tedious community worthy. These are not cliches but exemplars of so much human existence brought to life by the brilliance of Flaubert's style (he only wrote 25 words a day - slow progress, but well worth it).

"Like God in His Universe . . ."

Flaubert claimed to absent himself from his work, to be "everywhere present and yet nowhere visible," and in some points in "Bovary" this technical detachment seems to effect a sense of icy-cold objectivity. And yet every time I read the novel it becomes clearer that it was written in a state of intense emotion, of excruciating moral striving and almost blood-thirsty savagery. With every choice of every "right word" is embedded Flaubert's love or Flaubert's hate, and sometimes both love and hate at once. What does Flaubert hate? He certainly seems to hate cliche, and Emma's days are wasted in pursuit of one cliche after another. She does not love the three men in her life, or her daughter, or God, or anyone, but sees them as more or less suitable accessories to the cloying romance she would like to make of her life. To say that Flaubert hates the idea of the bourgeois is accurate but potentially misleading. For him, the bourgeois has almost nothing to do with social class and everything to do with a failure to look and think for oneself, everything to do with giving in to the temptation to accept easy generalities ("received ideas") and ignore the value in the minutia of everyday life. Emma does not notice, as careful readers will, the depravity of the aristocrats at the ball because she does not observe them; she is only interested in the *idea* of aristocrats and in how being among them reflects on her. This has nothing to do with being middle class or with being for or against the establishment. Emma adopts anti-establishment attitudes, and certainly transgresses against social custom, but this is Emma at her worst; her affectations are no more admirable than Leon's poeticized histrionics or the pose of Byronic nihilism with which Rodolphe lures Emma into bed. Homais is a self-styled "free thinker," and even a ludicrous sort of bohemian at times, but this doesn't involve any actual thinking or looking. Cliche is not just an artistic or intellectual sin for Flaubert, but an ethical lapse. (For Flaubert, almost as much as for Aquinas, the good cannot be divorced from the beautiful or the true.) Emma's failure of imagination leads her to brutalize her husband, her daughter, and herself. The novels she reads as a girl might perhaps contain some emotional truths, but Emma reads them literally, expecting that her life will resemble them almost perfectly, even down to the level of interior decoration. Life, of course, fails to oblige, and Emma suffers greatly and causes great suffering. Flaubert truly is attracted to something about Emma's striving, I think, and manages to evoke a great deal of sympathy for her when her flimsy worlds start to spin apart at the end of the novel, but this does not undo the damage she has done. What is less obvious about Flaubert, or at least less talked about, is what he loves--particulars, close observation, artistic and scientific precision, the poetry of the quotidian, truth, honesty, beauty, ordinary decency, an

A true classic!

I recently asked my English professor from University for a list of the 10 classics she considered a "must read". This novel, "Madame Bovary", was one of them. I greatly enjoyed Flaubert's beautiful, beautiful prose. Not one word is out of place. Amazing. What a treasure! That this book was written 150 years ago is hard to imagine. If you change horses for cars, you wouldn't know."Madame Bovary" is a timeless novel. The characters are few, and they are all very well developed. In fact, it is not possible to not genuinely care for each individual in the story. Well everyone, except for the loan shark. The protagonist, Emma, married very young to Charles Bovary, a doctor who once treated her father when he was ill. She never really loved her husband, but was bored and wanted to get away from home. Emma is pretty much a sweet, spoiled and bored housewife. On the other side, Charles is a lovely husband who does not know what good to do for her - he completely adores her. To compensate for being bored - Emma undertake almost daily shopping sprees. Buying all sorts of luxurious fabric for clothes, fancy china, furniture - you name it. Although her husband is a doctor, and is making decent money, she is spending well over their means. Behind Charles' back Emma signs promise-note after promise-note (the credit card of the 17th century). After a while, the shopping is not enough to keep her happy, and she is seeking excitement outside her marriage. She is having several affairs. In the beginning all well covered up, but after a while Emma is taking more and more chances, and is getting reckless. Of course, this cannot go on forever, Emma's "card house" is doomed to fall apart. Which it does, with a truly tragic ending..I read the book in 50 page gulps at the time, and I found it so hard to put away. I truly enjoyed every page! A great read and a true classic!

The Apogee of the French Novel . . . At Least Until Proust

Let's begin with Nabokov's "Lectures on Literature," where he introduces "Madame Bovary" as follows: "The book is concerned with adultery and contains situations and allusions that shocked the prudish philistine government of Napoleon III. Indeed, the novel was actually tried in a court of justice for obscenity. Just imagine that. As if the work of an artist could ever be obscene." Written over a five-year period, "Madame Bovary" was published serially in a magazine in 1856 where, despite editorial attempts to purge it of offensive material, it was cited for "offenses against morality and religion." Fortunately, Flaubert won his case and "Madame Bovary" remains to this day one of the masterpieces of French and world literature. Indeed, in Nabokov's view, the novel's influence is notable: "Without Flaubert, there would have been no Marcel Proust in France, no James Joyce in Ireland. Chekhov in Russia would not have been quite Chekhov."The story of Emma Bovary is well known and uncomplicated. Set in the provincial towns of Tostes and Yonville (it is subtitled "Patterns of Provincial Life"), with adulterous interludes in Rouen, "Madame Bovary" narrates the life of Charles Bovary and Emma Rouault. Charles, an "officier de sante"--a licensed medical practitioner without a medical degree--meets Emma while tending to her injured father. Charles is married at that time to the first Madame Bovary, also called Madame Dubuc, a widow and thin, ugly woman who dominates the mild-mannered Charles from the very beginning. "It was his wife [Madame Dubuc] who ruled: in front of company he had to say certain things and not others, he had to eat fish on Friday, dress the way she wanted, obey her when she ordered him to dun nonpaying patients. She opened his mail, watched his every move, and listened through the thinness of the wall when there were women in his office." When Madame Dubuc dies a few short years after their marriage, it appears that Charles is fortunate, for he is not only freed from the shrewish oppression of his wife, but enabled to court and marry the beautiful Emma. It is the eight-year marriage of Charles and Emma that embodies the tale of "Madame Bovary," a tale marked by Emma's ennui, her dissatisfaction with the unsatisfied yearnings of bourgeois marriage in a small provincial town, her steadily growing sensual insatiability, her adulteries with a series of men. It is this marriage, too, that gives us one of literature's great cuckolds, Charles Bovary. "Madame Bovary" has often been described as a realistic novel and, insofar as it tells a seemingly ordinary tale of sensual longing and adultery while, at the same, time depicting characters and sensibilities typical of bourgeois, philistine rural France during the reign of Louis Phillipe, it is grimly realistic. It is also, however, a deeply psychological novel, one in which Flaubert brilliantly probes the feelings, the sensations, the romantic longings and dreamscapes of Emma

For my money, the preferred translation of Flaubert's novel

When I was teaching World Literature we began class each year reading Gustave Flaubert's "Madame Bovary." Unfortunately, this is the one novel that most needs to be read in its original language since Flaubert constructed each sentence of his book with the precision of a poet. As an example of the inherent problems of translation I would prepare a handout with four different versions of the opening paragraphs of "Madame Bovary." Each year my students would come to the same conclusion that I had already reached in selecting which version of the book they were to read: Lowell Bair's translation is the best of the lot. It is eminently readable, flowing much better than most of its competitors. Consequently, if you are reading "Madame Bovary" for pleasure or class, this is the translation you want to track down.Flaubert's controversial novel is the first of the great "fallen women" novels that were written during the Realism period ("Anna Karenina" and "The Awakening" being two other classic examples). It is hard to appreciate that this was one of the first novels to offer an unadorned, unromantic portrayal of everyday life and people. For some people it is difficult to enjoy a novel in which they find the "heroine" to be such an unsympathetic figure; certainly the events in Emma Bovary's life have been done to death in soap operas. Still, along with Scarlett O'Hara, you have to consider Emma Bovary one of the archetypal female characters created in the last 200 years of literature. "Madame Bovary" is one of the greatest and most important novels, right up there with "Don Quixote" and "Ulysses." I just wish I was able to read in it French.
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