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
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"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, NPR.org, 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
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