Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert

Madame Bovary and Lolita have been on my 'must read' list for many years. The amount of times I have picked up both novels, only to read a handful of pages, are countless. When I learned Lydia Davis, one of my favorite short story authors, was releasing a new translation of Flaubert's famed novel, I was over joyed. I would be able to enjoy the classic as translated by someone I admire. What are the chances?

Most people interested in reading Madame Bovary are already familiar with the plot. (But, in case you aren't... I won't give it away). I was afraid knowing the end result would keep me from enjoying the novel. I was very wrong. The pace and ease of every sentence and each chapter makes this novel something one wants to devour as soon as possible.

Most reviews write of their disgust for the title character, Emma Bovary. I understand their perspective. And, during the third section of the novel, I finally found myself uncomfortable and irritated at her behavior. But, for the first two-thirds of the novel I admired Emma's want. This is the novel about the dreamer. Emma is a woman living in novels. She dreams of a grand love. A love she has yet to witness.

Her past is shattered. Emma is not a woman of shallow history. Emma grew up in religion. Interested and loving towards her beliefs. As a young girl, Emma loses her mother. Not only is the loss of her mother traumatic, but she soon begins to question religion. Until she falls out of her faith. These are two large losses for someone so young. So why should we punish her for wanting success? For demanding a love to consume her every being? Even if the love is a bit selfish?

Reading Madame Bovary, I was reminded of my experience with Frank Norris' great realist novel, McTeague. One could argue McTeague is a masculine and American version of Madame Bovary. Of course, Madame Bovary came first. Also, the plotting of Madame Bovary is very much in line with many other novels of the realist movement- George Sands, Honore Balzac, and Guy de Maupassant.

Madame Bovary is a beautiful, tragic character. The characters we encounter throughout the novel are equally tragic. Falubert is not painting a world of purity or happiness. Falubert is presenting the flaws, the greed, and the vanity of so many of us.

I am beyond pleased to have finally experienced this novel. Worth waiting for Lydia Davis to "re-tell" the story.


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