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Madame Bovary (Penguin Classics) Paperback – 30 Jan 2003

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Rev Ed edition (30 Jan. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140449124
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140449129
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 2.3 x 20.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 22,940 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

Flaubert's "Madame Bovary" scandalised French bourgeois society of the time with its shocking depiction of an adulteress, Emma Bovary, and her lascivious liaisons. The 19th-century press denounced both the book and its author as corrupting influences. History has exonerated Flaubert and exposed the hypocrisy of a society that would deny the existence of such women.

Emma Bovary, a young woman, newly married to a provincial doctor, is dazzled when she attends her first ball, attended by high aristocracy. With the culmination of her romantic ideals realised, her head is so filled with fanciful notions that she never re-enters reality, until the damning end:

Before her wedding day, she had thought she was in love; but since she lacked the happiness that should have come from that love, she must have been mistaken, she fancied. And Emma sought to find out exactly what was meant in real life by the words felicity, passion and rapture, which had seemed so fine on the pages of the books.
Frustrated and bored by her marriage, Emma embarks on a brief, rather touching affair with one young man but soon, vulnerable and exposed, she is fitting carrion for Monsieor Rodolphe, a serial womaniser. Soon, Emma has not only ruined her own reputation but destroyed that of her husband in her ruthless bid for wealth and recognition. The cast of characters, from passers-by to the shopkeepers who take her money, act like the chorus in a Greek tragedy. Seen through their eyes and their reactions to her, Emma's downfall is recounted but also society's intolerance.

On the surface, Flaubert provides a melodramatic morality tale. Slyly, underneath it all, he is laughing. Through his voyeuristic tale, with each salacious detail recounted, he is wilfully subversive as he points the finger not only at the guilty but at those who would dare to judge. --Nicola Perry --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Lydia Davis's "Madame Bovary" translation=perfect. She somehow pulls off a respectful translation with the readability of a contemporary novel." --@lenadunham "[Flaubert's] masterwork has been given the English translation it deserves." --Kathryn Harrison, "The New York Times Book Review" "Invigorating . . . [Davis] has a finer ear for the natural cadences of English, in narrative and dialogue, than any of her predecessors." --Jonathan Raban, "The New York Review of Books" "Dazzling . . . translated to perfect pitch . . . [Davis has] left us the richer with this translation. . . . I'd certainly say it is necessary to have hers." --Jacki Lyden,, Favorite Books of the Year "One of the most important books of the year . . . Flaubert's strict, elegant, rhythmic sentences come alive in Davis's English." --James Wood, "The New Yorker"'s Book Bench "I liked having a chance to find more nuances in "Madame Bovary" in the new Lydia Davis translation and read it blissfully as though floating, as Flaubert puts it in a different context, 'in a river of milk.'" --Paul Theroux, "The Guardian" (London), Books of the Year ""Madame Bovary" reads like it was written yesterday. . . . Emma, with her visions of a grander life and resplendent passions, is me . . . and you, too, no doubt. . . . If you haven't happened to read "Madame Bovary" until now, I suggest you curl up with this edition . . . and allow yourself to get lost in another time and place that yet bears a curious resemblance to our own." --Daphne Merkin, "Elle" "Davis is the best fiction writer ever to translate the novel. . . . [Her] work shares the Flaubertian virtues of compression, irony and an extreme sense of control." --Julian Barnes, "London Review of Books" "A brilliant new translation." --Lee Siegel, "The New York Observer" "I'm grateful to Davis for luring me back to "Madame Bovary" and for giving us a version which strikes me as elegant and alive." --Maureen Corrigan, NPR's "Fresh Air" "Flaubert's obsessive masterpiece finally gets the obsessive translation it deserves." --"New York" magazine --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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We were at prep, when the Head came in, followed by a new boy not in uniform and a school-servant carrying a big desk. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Wynne Kelly TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 11 July 2007
Format: Paperback
I can well understand how controversial this novel was when it was first published. Overall it is a vicious portrayal of small town France. Most of the characters are revealed to be self-seeking and vain. At the heart of the story is Emma Bovary - and Flaubert is, I feel, ambivalent in his attitude to her. He sometimes describes her very favourably and at others as selfish hard-hearted. And we as readers share this ambivalence - is she a cruel temptress who cares little for her own child or is she a victim of the social mores and unable to act independently? Certainly the book highlights how women of the time could only find happiness and fulfilment through a male partner.

The ending is prolonged and horrific. Was Flaubert hoping to attract our sympathy for the hapless Emma or was he ensuring that she was suitably punished for her infidelities?

The writing is splendid - surprisingly modern and beautifully descriptive. I am sorry I let this book sit unread on my bookshelf for so long?
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 29 Dec. 1998
Format: Paperback
I just want to remind everyone that this was written in a time when the definition of womanhood was how well you married. Of course Emma was undeveloped, when did she have a chance to be? Women were encouraged to define themselves inside a marriage or a family if at all. The novel is more Emma's quest to find herself, and much like Kate Chopin's The Awakening, it only ends in tragedy. Think, people, think!
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30 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Kendall on 30 Nov. 2002
Format: Paperback
Making a statement like Madame Bovary is the "greatest" novel ever written would be superfluous. It could be argued that it is the most perfectly written novel in the history of letters and that in creating it, Flaubert mastered the genre. What can't be argued is that it is one of the most influential novels ever written. It changed the face of literature as no other novel has, and has been appreciated and acknowledged by virtually every important novelist who was either Flaubert's contemporary or who came after him.
It's interesting to see the range in opinion that still surrounds this novel. Some of the Readers here at Amazon are morally affronted by the novel's central character, viewing her as something sinister and "unlikeable," and panning the novel for this reason. Such a reaction recalls the negative reviews Bovary engendered soon after its initial publication. It was attacked by many of the authorities of French literature at the time for being ugly and perverse, and for the impression that the novel presented no properly moral frame. These readers didn't "like" Emma much either, and they took their dislike out on her creator.
But this is one of the factors making Madame Bovary "modern". One of the hallmarks of modern novels is that they often portray unsympathetic characters, and Emma certainly falls into this category. How can we as readers "like" a woman who elbows her toddler daughter away from her so forcefully that the child "fell against the chest of drawers, and cut her cheek on the brass curtain-holder." After this pernicious behavior, Emma has a few brief moments of self-castigation and maybe even remorse, but very soon is struck by "what an ugly child" Berthe is. Emma's self-centeredness borders on solipsism.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By isabel silva on 2 Aug. 2012
Format: Paperback
Certain books can determine my emotions to a surprising, slightly scary extent: it's as if the outside world was covered by the book's phantom world. Of course I don't actually start behaving as if I was inside the book - that would give rise to many interesting situations, though -, but I create analogies between my surroundings and the book's mood. Madame Bovary, with its flawless writing, is one such book. I have to say I am glad I have finished it, because it made my reality dull, claustrophobic and nauseating while I was reading it - just like the world of this book.

Don't get me wrong: this is a compliment to the book's power to reach deep inside the reader, make him or her connect to the characters and explore the social setting and, from there, question his or her life choices. It is a classic for many good reasons and I recommend reading it, but it is definitely not a story to leave a smile on you face. Much to the contrary.

As you probably already know, it tells the tragic story of Emma Bovary, a doctor's wife in provincial late-eighteenth century France, trapped by social convention and eaten away by boredom (ennui, in the original French - just because it is closer to the texture of the original). Emma, raised in Romanticism, marries Charles, a doctor who is lacking in intelligence or charm (but who would do anything for her; despite his stupidity, he has a good heart), and, disappointed and bored with her life, takes two lovers (though not at the same time): Rudolphe, a charming member of the nobility who never sees her as a human being capable of feeling, and Leon, a young clerk who she is able to manipulate while the affair lasts.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Miss E. Potten on 27 Nov. 2009
Format: Paperback
Well, first let me say that I am 95% sure that I will never read this novel again. That is not to say that I'm not glad I read it, or that I disliked it particularly, more that I don't think I could put myself through it again.

It is a novel riddled with complex moral and social issues - and Emma Bovary is a complex anti-heroine. At times I felt sorry for her. She is a woman seeking something bigger for herself, something that her role as wife and mother can't offer her. But she is also a very silly character, reminding me somewhat of Catherine in Northanger Abbey in her futile pursuit of idle dreams. Every emotion coursing through her body is absolutely genuine and heartfelt - until disillusionment comes and it vapourises again. She is reaching for a love and a life that exists only in stories, a terminal case of greed, of always seeing that vibrant, greener grass on the other side of the fence, of vanity and utter selfishness. Yet have we not all occasionally felt unhappy with our lot in life? Can we not look around nowadays and see hundreds of selfish and deluded young people indulging their vanity and trying to win fame, fortune, more money, a richer partner?

All in all, a novel that is valuable for its portrayal of society in the 19th century, including its ideas about women, marriage and adultery, religion, and about medical theories and advances. The characters are strongly drawn and as real in their complex and flawed personalities as any I've ever read. It raises questions, it provokes thought about blame and morality, it parallels certain worrying trends that continue into today's society... and despite everything, I was moved by Emma's tragic demise. But I think the repetitive nature of the novel - mistake, regret, repentence, repeat - and the unlikeable, unredeemable nature of the title Madame will stop it being a keeper for me.
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