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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly modern writing
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...
Published on 11 July 2007 by Wynne Kelly

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some people will just never learn...
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...
Published on 27 Nov 2009 by Miss E. Potten


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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly modern writing, 11 July 2007
By 
Wynne Kelly "Kellydoll" (Coventry, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Madame Bovary (Penguin Classics) (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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Consider when this was written, 29 Dec 1998
By A Customer
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
5.0 out of 5 stars The Hope Diamond of Novels, 30 Nov 2002
By 
Bruce Kendall "BEK" (Southern Pines, NC) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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. For readers looking for maternal instincts in their female characters or for a depiction of a devoted wife, they had better turn to Pearl S. Buck and The Good Earth, perhaps, rather than to Flaubert.
Much has been made of Flaubert's attempts to remove himself from the narrative, that he was searching for some sort of ultimate objectivity. His narrative technique is much more complex than that, however. It is his employment of a shifting narrative, sometimes objective, sometimes subjective, that again is an indicator of the novel's modernity. At times the narrator is merely reporting events or is involved in providing descriptive details. Yet often the authorial voice makes rather plain how the reader is to look at Emma and her plebeian persona. When she finally succumbs to Rodolphe and thinks she is truly in love, Flaubert becomes downright cynical: " 'I've a lover, a lover,' she said to herself again and again, revelling in the thought as if she had attained a second puberty. At last she would know the delights of love, the feverish joys of which she had despaired. She was entering a marvelous world where all was passion, ecstasy, delirium."
Emma is a neurasthenic, in the modern sense, but in the 19th century she would have been said to suffer from hysteria, a mental condition diagnosed primarily in women. When her lovers leave her, she has what amounts to nervous breakdowns. After Rodolphe leaves her she makes herself so sick that she comes near death. Her imagination is much too powerful and too impressionable for her own good. This is part of the reason for Flaubert's oft-repeated quote, "Bovary, c'est moi." Flaubert was a neurasthenic as well and could easily work himself into a swoon as a result of his imaginative flights. There is even conjecture that he may have been, like Dostoevsky, an epileptic, and it is further intimated that this disorder was brought on by nerves, though this may be dubious, medically speaking.
Madame Bovary is not flawless, but it comes awfully close. It is one of the great controlled experiments in the fiction of any era. It even anticipates cinematic technique in many instances, but particularly in the scene at the Agricultural Fair. Note how Flaubert juxtaposes the utterly mundane activities and speeches occurring in the town square with Rodolphe's equally inane seduction of Emma in the empty Council Chamber above the square:
"He took her hand and she did not withdraw it."
"'General Prize!' cried the Chairman.'"
"'Just now, for instance, when I came to call on you...'"
"Monsieur Bizet of Quincampoix."
"'...how could I know that I should escort you here?'"
"Seventy francs!"
"'And I've stayed with you, because I couldn't tear myself away, though I've tried a hundred times.'"
"Manure!"
This is representative Flaubert. With a few deft strokes, he lays the whole absurdity of both the seduction and the provincial's activities bare.
If you have read this book previously and have come away feeling demoralized and even angered, please try reading it again, this time concentrating on the richness of its metaphors, Flaubert's mastery of foreshadowing, symbolism and description. Maybe you will come away with your viewpoint changed. For those who have not yet read this classic of classics, I know that if your mind remains open, you will come away with an appreciation for this master-novelist and for this monumental work.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A definite must-read!, 2 Aug 2012
This review is from: Madame Bovary (Penguin Classics) (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. She is not a sympathetic heroine: she spends away the money she doesn't have, neglects her husband and daughter, and eventually wrecks their lives. She lives in a fantasy world and is unable to deal with the dull reality around her. Her actions are determined by her cultural background - she is a victim of Romanticism and of her illusions as much as of the dullness of bourgeois society.

All the same, there is an ambiguity in the way Flaubert treats Emma: he seems to both despise and admire her at the same time. At the time, women enjoyed very little freedom, so Emma's adultery and consumerism are, in a way, brave attempts to escape from her stifling social position. The book masterfully transmits why Emma so wants to escape: the detailed scenes of provincial life are described with unbearable realism, rendering the shallow and dull nature of each and every character (including, alas, Emma Bovary) painfully evident. Flaubert's perfect style - filled with irony, able to reflect the characters' mental state, with each word carefully chosen and placed for maximum effect on the reader - greatly contributes for this effect, and is deserving of every accolade. Though the sentence construction is so well-achieved that it is a source of aesthetic beauty, it must be noted that the nausea pervading the book is achieved through a focus on human ugliness, including quite a few detailed, unflinching descriptions of physical defects and illness. These intensify our sense of the moral and cultural decay of the bourgeoisie, in particular, of the leading character, and force us to confront our own dissatisfaction, illusions and choices.

After all, Emma is killed by the weight of her fantasies, excessive for her own weak character and for the smallness of society around her:

"N'importe! elle n'était pas heureuse, ne l'avait jamais été. D'où venait donc cette insuffisance de la vie, cette pourriture instantenée des choses où elle s'appuyait?... Mas, s'il y avait quelque part un être fort et beau, une nature valeureuse, pleine à la fois d'exaltation et de raffinements, un coeur de poète sous une forme d'ange, lyre aux cordes d'airain, sonnant vers le ciel des épithalames élégiaques, pourquoi, par hasard, ne le trouverait-elle pas? Oh! Quelle impossibilité! Rien, d'ailleurs, ne valait la peine d'une recherche; tout mentait! Chaque sourire cachait un bâillement d'ennui, chaque joie une malédiction, tout plaisir son dégoût, ot les meilleurs baisers ne vous laissaient sur la lèvre qu'une irréalisable envie d'une volupté plus haute."

The fault is is herself, as member of a society she rejects but is unable to fully evade. "Love" fails to save her: there are no magical solutions for existential boredom, which comes from deep inside. Only through facing our own illusions and surroundings and developing our own character can we ever find a form of peace and happiness, though that will probably be very different from the one which resides in our fantasies.

Madame Bovary is a brilliant book, very rich in both ideas and style and extremely influential (looking back, there are echoes of Emma's tragedy in every tale of suburban dullness).

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some people will just never learn..., 27 Nov 2009
By 
This review is from: Madame Bovary (Penguin Classics) (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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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A French Classic on Kindle, 16 Aug 2011
Attention - this review only applies to the kindle version (its merits and faults).
I do not want to go into the details of the book itself: 'Madame Bovary' is a classic and rightly so, whatever you think about the characters and their motivations. I also thought the translation was good (I don't know the original, but it flowed well and did not appear slipshod).
The way Penguin have transferred it onto kindle is basically excellent and it's good to have a critical text with an introduction and notes available on kindle for the more serious and interested reader. What I particularly like about the Penguin kindle versions is that all notes are hyperlinked, so when a note comes up, you just have to move the cursor to it, click and you get to the note. A press of the back button takes you back to where you were reading. Very simple and VERY user-friendly.
My only quibble (which cost the kindle version a star) is that the text itself is full of mistakes, so that the flow of reading can be quite seriously disrupted. This is a great shame, as otherwise this is a brilliant version and definitely the electronic one I'd go for.
If you're interested in a more academic version of 'Madame Bovary' for your kindle with easily accessible notes and an interesting introduction, then go for this one.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I love Madame Bovary, 13 Dec 1998
By A Customer
I am shocked in reading the reviews upon seeing Madame Bovary described as stupid and/or selfish. Why do people write these things? I must also make reference to the critique of an acquaintance of mine, who stated that he didn't feel sorry for Madame Bovary (Emma, wasn't it?), ie, he seemed to be saying she got what she deserved. I interpret this latter comment as a product of America, in the sense that it interprets (or rather, sins against) this great work of art by viewing it in moralistic terms. I don't think Emma is stupid or selfish, nor that she deserved in any sense her horrible fate. On the contrary, I love her. Those who fail to love her are I believe lacking in sensibility. They fail to see the universality of this tale, which is properly characterized as an eternal marvel of literature and everlasting work of beauty.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Madame Bovary exemplifies the essence of XIX century realism, 24 May 1996
By A Customer
Flaubert's Bovary is perpetual, pervasive. Through her
eyes, we see the world as it is: filled with universal
virtues and vices that lead to either happiness or self-
destruction. Madame Bovary captures the crystallized
essence of the human spirit: unpredictable and changing, yet
tangible and real. Her passions are those that move the
soul, but not the mind; she never considers,she simply
acts.
Beautiful and uncanny, Emma Bovary's view of the
world eventually becomes the harbinger of her own destiny,
one that she always fails to accept. But, her own actions
never deviate from reality; her character is the very re-
presentation of human life. Immersed into a world that
affects her own personality, Emma conquers a realism that
is always perceptible, that reflects the nature of her own
fortune. In effect, she becomes the product of Tolstoi's
Anna Karenina and Shakespeare's Juliet, for her own destiny
is controlled by passions that are never satisfied, never
fulfilled.
With Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert presents the strange
reality of life. He moves through her his own vision, his
own perception. In the process, he joins Dickens,Tolstoi,
and Dostoyevski, thus becoming not a writer, but a window
that enables us to see face to face what lies behind the
apparencies of life,a gateway that connects us with all
that moves us to and from our ambitions, our own desires.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece, 11 Aug 2008
This review is from: Madame Bovary (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
This book is probably a masterpiece. One woman's desperate quest for freedom, and the fatal futility of it as she ventures in a wrong direction. It's a tragedy of the human race: too great to live by rules, too small to be free. Overgrown for crude conventions, dwarfed by the challenges when you break them.

Madame Bovary can't bear her mediocre existence. She loathes her role of the wife of a village doctor; she has no regard for her womanly duties; she cares little about public opinion. She breaks free from it all, and how? In the most conventional way: she starts taking lovers. Her affairs bring her no love and only fleeting moments of satisfaction. She eventually incurs debts and poisons herself on the day bailiffs raid her house, unable to take the shame.

Could she be blamed for this amateur attempt to make some sense of her life? What other avenues could she have explored? There were hardly any opportunities open to women those days to establish themselves professionally. She certainly lacked guidance to become a scholar (she did try to read philosophers, but it didn't take off). She also lacked imagination to make something special of her life, and she didn't find any worthy cause.

She was a product of her class, her upbringing and her society, who dared to question its norms. She thought she was breaking free from those norms, but in reality she was reinforcing them. Norms are not imposed externally. They are within you. They are the building material of your psyche, they guide your actions, and this is the tragedy. But it was still a courageous quest.

The author deserves admiration for being so non-judgemental in this sensitive situation. A woman who cheats on her devoted husband, meanwhile squandering his wealth. She, who selfishly drives her child to the life of an orphan and a pauper. But you close the book feeling only sympathy and sadness at the ways of the world. There's not a trace of moralising here, just a human story.

This book is not an entertainment, not a recreational read. At times the prose becomes too heavy, too crowded. Do read it if you're prone to think. Don't read it if you want to kill your time.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An 1800's view of a woman's life, 19 Nov 1998
By A Customer
The first literary french novel that proclaims a woman's right in the world. Madame Bovary is a classical novel with the classic point of view of how a woman's life was in the late 19th century: boring. What could a woman do but flounce around her stove and sit around and socially climbing with her friends. Madame Bovary is one of the most exceptionally haunting woman characters ever to become literarily challenging and scary, what drive one psychologically to do what one does, knowing the dangerous consequences. A frightening truthful glance into a woman's life in the late 1800s.
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Madame Bovary (Penguin Classics)
Madame Bovary (Penguin Classics) by Gustave Flaubert (Paperback - 30 Jan 2003)
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