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24 of 25 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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too literal a translation
It is a good story, but spoilt for me by a bad translation. For instance "en fin" is translated as " en fine" , very annoying!
Published 14 months ago by A.C. Rigelsford


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24 of 25 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
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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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A definite must-read!, 2 Aug 2012
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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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Which translation?, 28 April 2008
This review is from: Madame Bovary (Wordsworth Classics) (Paperback)
It's pretty much all been said and I gladly add my voice to the chorus of praise but I write to suggest reading the original translation by Eleanor Marx Aveling (daughter of Karl Marx); the more florid victorian prose is apposite for the era and truly spellbinding.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Poor Charles, 10 May 2011
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This review is from: Madame Bovary (Wordsworth Classics) (Paperback)
I found it hard to get into this book at first but after reading through half of it I really started to feel for the characters. first for Emma herself as a young wife, then for Charles with his own problems. I can understand how it would have been a controversial book of it's time. Her antics can still be seen as morally wrong and against most social cultures. We do get a feeling of why she is doing what she does but it never seems right.

I think we need to rewind our minds and think of how this book would be percived by someone living in the 19th century. Seen by many as controversial, the many who actually read it would not have seen this as a common issue as it is today. As with most stories it really takes off in the second half and that's the most ineteresting part.
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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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Reading, 5 Dec 2013
This review is from: Madame Bovary (Wordsworth Classics) (Paperback)
I loved this book and the selfishness of the main character Emma, but I disliked the ending and leaving her child motherless and to a life of poverty. I feel the use of arsenic was redemption for this as she was left with the pain of life. It discusses society well and the lengths people will go to, to get what they feel they need in order to escape the banalities of everyday life. Emma's husband dotes on her but she still looks elsewhere for both love and entertainment and this is one of the things which rocks her delicate mental health. A brilliant insight into French rural life in the 1800's, some beautiful use of prose and language. If all the book in 1001 books to read before you die is as good as this then I'm in for some very enjoyable reads.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Madame Bovary, 1 Jun 2013
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This CD was the perfect travelling companion on a recent visit to Normandy, staying in Rouen. Best to have read the book first, as it is abridged, but otherwise it was just right.
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34 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dated Period Piece or Classic Tragedy?, 19 May 2004
By 
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
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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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too literal a translation, 6 July 2013
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This review is from: Madame Bovary (Wordsworth Classics) (Paperback)
It is a good story, but spoilt for me by a bad translation. For instance "en fin" is translated as " en fine" , very annoying!
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Madame Bovary (Wordsworth Classics)
Madame Bovary (Wordsworth Classics) by Gustave Flaubert (Paperback - 7 Nov 1993)
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