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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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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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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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4 of 4 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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A French Classic on Kindle, 16 Aug 2011
This review is from: Madame Bovary (Penguin Classics) (Kindle Edition)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Manic Madame, 9 April 2012
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Thought I'd read this after reading some Julian Barnes and was glad I did. A scandalous story for the times and interestingly told. Great character Madame Bovary and the poor men who enter her orbit. If you like the classics and missed this one, it's well worth a read.
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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 
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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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece, 11 Aug 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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5.0 out of 5 stars I enjoyed it immensely, 3 July 2014
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This is a very interesting novel by Flaubert, a famous French writer. I enjoyed it immensely.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Madame Bovary, 12 May 2014
This review is from: Madame Bovary (Penguin Classics) (Kindle Edition)
Tragic tale of a woman who is plagued by a kind of ennui reminiscent to that of Oliver Wilde’s character Dorian Gray and Kate Chopin’s character Edna Pontellier who are also infected by “the silent spider [that] weaves its web in the darkness in every corner of their hearts,” robbing them of their ability to enjoy the little things in life, leaving them feeling constricted by society and life’s endless monotony.

But it’s more than that. The disease from which Madame Bovary suffers—a slow petrification of the soul—is more than a boredom of life. It is the sense of entitlement and ingratitude that hardens her, making her a prisoner of her own insatiable passions, feeling she somehow deserves more, or deserves better, that even like the proverbial grass that appears greener on the other side, so does “the powdered sugar seem whiter and finer elsewhere.”

Poor Madame Bovary, who is a prisoner of her own making, too much time, too much idleness which she spends freely and destructively on searching for elusive things and a sense of deep fulfillment that can only come when we are thoroughly engrossed in giving of ourselves rather than taking; a life where the Ego is central to all, and thus dies, embittered and hardened. An affliction common to the bourgeoisie whom Gustave Flaubert was criticizing.

I wanted to dislike Emma. I wanted to judge her, place her inside a neat little box, and paste a big label on its exterior. But I could not. I felt a tremendous sadness for her, empathy even. Wanting her to somehow climb out of the abyss in which she had all too willingly plunged head first, after sliding down that slippery slope. My feelings for this woman are a testament to Gustave Flaubert’s skill, that while painting a portrait of this poor, wretched creature, he inspires compassion and empathy for her.

The book is a masterpiece. Gustave Flaubert chose each word with painstaking care, in hopes of eliciting precise responses from the reader. He is eloquent, descriptive, full of emotion and such heartbreaking beauty, a kind of faded splendor falling into decay like our Emma Bovary. For poor Emma, “every smile hid a yawn of boredom, every joy a curse, all pleasure satiety, and the sweetest kisses left upon lips only the unattainable desire for a greater delight.”

Nothing can soften the bitterness of her life. Passions wane, hope gives way to disappointment. For no matter what pleasure she pursues, what passion she embraces, nothing can save her from herself and the infection that slowly festers within her soul. She imagines men to be freer, yet her own husband is confined within his occupation, place in society, and drudgery of daily routines. Nothing satisfies the appetites of her caprices, nor drives away the growing contempt in her heart. She sees all of life and her future as a “dark corridor, with its door at the end shut fast.” She is like a shipwrecked sailor, turning “despairing eyes upon the solitude of her life, seeking afar off some white sail in the mists of the horizon”—a horizon that remains eternally elusive.

No, I could not hate Emma, as much as I wanted to, especially after reading scathing reviews that tore her apart, limb for limb, casting stones without a thought for the beams in their eyes. She is not something to be ridiculed, but pitied. She had a poverty of spirit, rather than a spirit of poverty, that left me weeping for her in the end.

We all have some of Madame Bovary within us. And perhaps that is what I found so disconcerting. It is our insatiable human condition that leaves us searching for the wrong things to satisfy appetites which cannot be satisfied by their very nature. It is a lesson in the harsh realities of this life and the consequences of our choices. And perhaps too, it is a lesson in humility and compassion.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Great intro, translation ho-hum, 2 Dec 2013
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This review is from: Madame Bovary (Penguin Classics) (Kindle Edition)
I bought the paperback years ago then lost it, so now I have it on Kindle. The intro is remarkably detailed and interesting, but... Do you want some expert telling you what to think before you've read the first page? It's a bit like those audio guides you can hire in an art gallery: we're all entitled to wander round making up our own minds, however daft the conclusions may be.

It would be OK if the translation measured up to the quality of the intro, but it doesn't. Yes, it's accurate, but yet again it shows you can't assume an academic is best qualified just because he writes well about it. Contrary to what you might think, the two tasks need different talents. You can't set off on your translating journey trusting Flaubert to carry you through like some reliable old nag, or you'll come a cropper. So Prof Wall is accurate, and the story gets told, but where's the lyricism, the style to match Flaubert when it's needed? Where's the Shakespearean attention to the sounds of the words, the assonance and alliteration, none of which is needed in an intro? This isn't a diesel generator brochure, it's probably the greatest novel ever written, and the reason for that is the way it is written. Wall may well feel this, but why can't he convey it to the vulnerable reader?

Perhaps the answer is to buy this for the intro, though whose translation you get I don't know. They all have their faults, most of all the wretched Marx-Aveling. She's everywhere.

Forgive me. I'm becoming a Flaubert anorak. But then, he's that good. He deserves the best. Maybe this is:

"She longed for a son; he would be strong and dark; she would call him Georges; and this idea of having a male child was a sort of hoped-for revenge for all her past impotence.

"A man at least is free, but a woman is forever precluded. Constrained yet malleable, she is opposed by both the softness of her flesh and the demands of the law. Her will, like the veil on her hat tied with a cord, flaps in the slightest breeze. There is always some desire to entice, some convention to restrain." (Translation by Keith Barnes)
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5.0 out of 5 stars Pleasure and pain in extremis, 26 Sep 2013
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This review is from: Madame Bovary (Penguin Classics) (Kindle Edition)
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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