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A Deeper Look at Love and Forebodings

Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert – Part 2


A new translation by Lydia Davis


First the translation: Lydia Davis spent a lot of time on the project; she gives us copious notes on the significance of what Flaubert has written in the way of French culture during the post-Napoleonic era, of technology, particularly medical science, and, in passing, Flaubert’s view, and possibly that of a large portion of educated France of the time, on the Catholic faith.

So. To Flaubert’s writing. Today we would say he knew how to pace a character-driven novel. He marries Charles to Emma quickly, but only after we’re allowed to view them as individuals, unaffected yet by the mirrors of marriage. Flaubert takes us into his characters, particularly Emma, permitting us peeks at their innermost thoughts, which are often sharply contrasted by their outer acts. This allows the un-loving couple to resonate more strongly than his depiction of other, background characters.

From the start, Flaubert’s narration compels. He takes us into his scenes as might a modern writer, schooled to mimic the moviemaker’s cameraman. He appeals to every sense with vividness and sensuality, leaving this reader with images that will probably remain forever.

His dialogue is probably his least well done aspect – at least by modern day standards of technique. While he gives us witty, tightly drawn dialogue in places, Flaubert hasn’t removed himself well enough from the Romantics to make this characters’ speech reflective of the story’s often hard-bitten tone.

Flaubert may have been an emotional man; as he moves closer to Emma’s death, and particularly afterward, narrative, characterization and dialogue seem a tad maudlin. But then this is France, and it is the nineteenth century. However, this lengthy book in no way drags.

Flaubert's main characters come to life in Madame Bovary in ways we see today in both cinema and the best literature, and as such, his characterizations remain as yet another standard for writers to try to best.


My rating: 4-1/2 of 5 stars