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4.1 out of 5 stars48
4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 11 October 2015
Was drawn to this great book by my discovery of Guy de Maupassant and his wonderful short stories. Flaubert was his mentor and a similar writer. I don't know if it's the translations (all good) but these stories feel modern and read so well. There is the odd typo here and there and there is the occasional asterisk followed by an explanation (right in the middle of the page so what's the point of the double asterisk). Other than that this is great, a bargain and in nicely "English" English!
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on 28 July 2011
Flaubert's extraordinary novel virtually destroyed by a sixth form translation. The author spent five years polishing each sentence and in the original it can practically be sung like an opera - which is of course what it is. Flaubert had just come home from the grand tour with a head full of colour and drama and a body full of syphilis. This is a book about what happens when passion hits reality, when the music stops and the lights go up and we have to go out into the street.

To really understand it is necessary to visit the region around Rouen; the flat fields and grey hamlets are still disturbingly remote and the petty officials of France, the big fish in small ponds, remain unchanged.

The real failure of the translation is that it misses (or supresses) the fact that this book is very funny. Flaubert gibes at almost everyone, not least the reader, giving us voyeur glimpses of Emma's (real and psychological) underwear and closing the door in our faces when we get too close, showing us we are no better than the characters we deplore but with a touch so light that we laugh aloud.

That there is a single step from the sublime to the rediculous is the theme of this book and it is ironic that Flaubert's tour de force is stifled by the banal translation as Emma Bovary is stifled by her relentlessly commonplace life.
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on 8 November 2015
A really enjoyable piece of literature that explores the issues of morality in burgeoning capitalism. 'One's duty is to feel what is great, cherish the beautiful, and to not accept the conventions of society with the ignominy that it imposes upon us.'

Beautifully written, immersive and genuinely engaging. A story of the multifaceted composition of love.

I very much enjoyed this book.
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Depending on your perspective, this book is hopelessly dated and has little relevance to today, is an important step forward in the French novel, or is a classic depiction of tragedy in the Greek tradition. You should decide which perspective is most meaningful to you in determining whether you should read the book or not.
The story of the younger Madame Bovary (her mother-in-law is the other) is presented in the context of people whose illusions exceed their reality. Eventually, reality catches up with them. In the case of Emma Bovary, these illusions are mostly tied up in the notion that romantic relationships will make life wonderful and that love conquers all. She meets a young doctor of limited potential and marries with little thought. Soon, she finds him unbearable. The only time she is happy is when the two attend a ball at a chateaux put on by some of the nobility (the beautiful people of that time). She has a crisis of spirit and becomes depressed. To help, he moves to another town where life may be better for her. She has a daughter, but takes no interest in her. Other men attract her, and she falls for each one who pays attention to her in a romantic style. Clearly, she is in love with romance. Adultery is not rewarded, and she has a breakdown when one lover leaves her. Recovering, she takes on a younger lover she can dominate. This, too, works badly and she becomes reckless in her pursuit of pleasure. In the process, she takes to being reckless in other ways and brings financial ruin to herself and her family. The book ends in tragedy.
Here is the case for this being dated and irrelevant for today. A modern woman would usually not be trapped in such a way. She would separate from or divorce the husband she grew to detest, and make a new life. She would be able to earn a decent living, and would not be discouraged from raising a child alone. So the story would probably not happen now. In addition, the psychological aspects of her dilemma would be portrayed in terms of an inner struggle reflecting our knowledge today of psychology, rather than as a visual struggle followed mostly by a camera lens in this novel. The third difference is that the shallow stultifying people exalted by the society would be of little interest today. You find few novels about boring people in small towns in rural areas.
The case for the book as important in French literature is varied. The writing is very fine, and will continue to attract those who love the French language forever. This is a rare novel for its day in that it focused on a heroine who was neither noble by class nor noble in spirit. The book clearly makes more of an exploration into psychology than all but a few earlier French novels. The story itself was a shocking one in its day, for its focus on immoral behavior and the author's failure to overtly condemn that behavior. Emma pays the price, as Hollywood would require, but there is no sermonizing against her. So this book is a breakthrough in the modern novel in its shift in focus and tone to a personal pedestrian level.
From a third perspective, this book is a modern update of the classic Green tragedy in which all-too human characters struggle against a remorseless fate and are destroyed in the process. But we see their humanity and are moved by it. Emma's character is a hopeless romantic is established early. To be a hopeless romantic in a world where no one else she meets is condemns her to disappointment. She also seems to have some form of mental illness that makes it hard for her to deal with setbacks. But her optimism that somehow things will work out makes her appealing to us, and makes us wish for her success. When she does not succeed, we grieve with her family. Flaubert makes many references to fate in the novel, so it seems likely that this reading was intended.
My own view is that the modern reader who is not a scholar of French literature can only enjoy this book from the third perspective. If you do, there are many subtle ironies relative to the times and places in the novel that you will appreciate, as well. The ultimate ascendence of the careful, unimaginative pharmacist provides many of these. The ultimate fate of Madame Bovary's daughter, Berthe, is another. Be sure to look for these ironies among the details of these prosaic lives. The book positively teems with them.
If you are interested in perspectives two or three, I suggest you read and savor this fine classic. If you want something that keeps pace with modern times, manners, mores and knowledge, avoid this book!
If you do decide to read Madame Bovary, after you are done be sure to consider in what elements of your life you are filled with illusions that do not correspond to reality. We all have vague hopes that "when" we have "it" (whatever "it" is), life will be perfect. These illusions are often doomed to be shattered. Let your joy come from the seeking of worthy goals, instead! What worthy goals speak deeply into your heart and mind? In this way, you can overcome the misconceptions that stall your personal progress.
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on 10 December 2010
As much as I loved Flaubert's style of writing I found myself disliking Emma more and more as the novel progressed. Initially I was sympathetic towards Emma's situation; believing that marriage would solve all of her problems but discovering that life is not like a romance novel. And I could understand when she started trying to fill up the void in her life with material objects and affairs. But then she become demanding with her lovers, forcing them to fulfill the romantic fantasies she had from novels, and she couldn't cope when everything didn't work out entirely as she'd planned it. She just couldn't let go of her dreams and realise that life isn't perfect and that you have to make things work, rather than expecting men to rush into your life and fix everything. This is an excellent book to analyse and study because of this concept (and many others that feature in this novel), but I got rather frustrated with Emma towards the end of the novel. It was also horrifically depressing in places, so don't read this if you're having a sad day. I definitely recommend this book because of the incredible amount of issues it covers, as well as the wonderfully descriptive yet very readable narrative style. But I'm afraid that sometimes I just wanted to take Emma by the shoulders and shake her!
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on 30 June 2014
My delivery for Madame Bovary arrived with serrated pages. Not happy at that, I could have gone to a charity shop but you would say why didn.t I do it in the first place. Now I will go to the charity shops because the book was so tacky and would not produce it at my book reading colleagues.
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on 13 March 2008
How does a man write as though he were a woman?

This was well written, knuckle bighting beautiful stuff.
I read a little of how this book has been recieved before I opened the book. I laughed at all the people who claimed that they were Madame Bovary. But to my dismay I too am her! This book has taught me so much about myself.

I find it very hard to get emotionally involved in a book written by a man I just don't feel that they ever understand the mind of a woman but Mr Flaubert sure does.

This book is highly reccomended by my good self. The advice I give you is to put a weekend aside and read this in one huge chunk, it's much nicer that way. I have a memory now of an amazing weekend of self discovery and some of the finest fiction I have ever encountered.
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on 10 November 2015
This is almost the book I loved to have. I believe Flaubert agonised over every word to ensure the correct word in every context. I personally wished he hadn't as it made for a sludge of a read.
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on 11 August 2008
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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on 26 September 2013
It is not a literary classic for nothing. A painful but compelling book that is almost as exquisite in terms of writing as it is painful in existential human terms
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