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Editorial Reviews

Review

"[Flaubert's] masterwork has been given the English translation it deserves."
-Kathryn Harrison, The New York Times Book Review

"[A] brilliant new translation."
-Lee Siegel, The New York Observer

"[Davis] has a finer ear for the natural cadences of English, in narrative and dialogue, than any of her predecessors, and there are many moments in her Madame Bovary when one pauses to admire how clean and spare a sentence seems by comparison with its earlier translated versions. . . . Only a very good writer indeed could have written it. . . . The bones of the original French show clearly through her English, and the rawness of her translation is, on the whole, invigorating."
-Jonathan Raban, The New York Review of Books

"How tickled Madame Bovary herself would be by the latest homage paid to her. . . . 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

"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. . . . Davis's Madame Bovary is a linguistically careful version, in the modern style, rendered into an unobtrusively American English."
-Julian Barnes, London Review of Books

"Davis captures with precision the sensitivity of the novel's language. . . . [Her] version . . . ultimately demonstrates her own empathy with Emma."
-The New Republic

"At last, the real Madame Bovary . . . The publication of the Davis version is an event. . . . Davis has come closer than any previous translator to capturing Flaubert's style and content accurately for English-language readers. . . . Her version benefits from her finesse as a writer and seems fresh and different compared to other translations."
-The American Spectator

"Davis has produced a very fine [translation that] displays a cool detachment not at all dissimilar to Flaubert's own."
-The New Criterion

"Davis [is] operating in top form in her new translation of Madame Bovary. . . . I was struck delirious by the force of Flaubert's writing, and the precision (the perfection) of Davis's translation."
-Macy Halford, The New Yorker's Book Bench

"Davis's edition should bring a new generation to Flaubert's classic of bourgeois ennui and adultery."
-Newsday

"A new translation that spans the ages [and] hews as close to the original as may be possible. . . . Davis's translation strives for-and largely achieves-the flavor of Flaubert's realism. . . . It provides such an unfussy, straightforward narrative that it underscores how truly modern a writer Flaubert was."
-BookPage

"Davis has forged a masterpiece out of a masterpiece. . . . This Madame Bovary is a veritable page-turner. . . . In French, the story leapt out at me like a hallucinatory Technicolor poem; in the lapidary English of Lydia Davis, I receive the same frisson of recognition-that the novel still lives. . . . Thanks to Lydia Davis, the book remains: a great, companionlike, eternal gilded mirror of Flaubert's world."
-Neil Baldwin, The Faster Times

"Davis . . . does a brilliant job of capturing Flaubert's diamond-hard style. . . . Davis's English prose has precisely the qualities she notes that Flaubert was striving for in French; it is 'clear and direct, economical and precise.' This translation reminds you what an aggressively modern writer Flaubert is."
-Kirkus Reviews

"[Davis] is one of the most innovative prose stylists of our time, and thus an excellent match for Flaubert's masterpiece. Flaubert's sentences are certainly sonorous in French, and the sentences in this translation reveal a similar attention to sound. . . . We are in debt to Flaubert for his influence on much of the writing we have today; the extent of our debt has never been so clear."
-The Believer

Acclaim for Lydia Davis and her translation of Swann's Way

"[Her] capacity to make language unleash entire states of existence reveals the extent to which Davis's fiction is influenced by her work as a translator."
-The New York Times

"Few writers now working make the words on the page matter more."
-Jonathan Franzen

"Davis is the best prose stylist in America."
-Rick Moody

"Swann's Way is transformed into something even more enchanting in Lydia Davis's new translation."
-Vanity Fair

"Davis is closer, much closer, to Proust's French. . . . [Her] Swann's Way is one of those translations . . . that put the question of languages out of your mind, and leave you only with questions of language."
-The Village Voice

"Accessible and faithful to Proust. Davis replicates the hesitations and digressions, the backward looks and forward glances that swell Proust's sentences and send them cascading to their conclusion-without sacrificing the natural air of his style."
-Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Davis is an extraordinary technician of language, capable of revealing elusive human tendencies through the most unusual means."
-Bookforum

"[Davis] commands language and imagery, playing the reader like a master."
-Los Angeles Times

"The subtleties of the French language, in spite of their difficulty, hold no secrets from you. . . . No literary genre deters you. You helped to make known to the English-speaking public some of the finest French literature of the century. . . . You have found a way not only to put your many talents at the service of the French language and culture, but also to place your stamp on the literary legacy of our times."
-French Insignia of the Order of Arts and Letters citation

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; First Edition edition (September 23, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670022071
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670022076
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (127 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #75,156 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

55 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Archie P on May 18, 2009
Format: Paperback
I first read Madame Bovary in Geoffrey Wall's translation for Penguin and throughout the book I felt as if something was off, this can't be the same novel acclaimed by many as the pinnacle of the written word as art. Then I picked up Francis Steegmuller's version and right from start the difference was palpable. Consider the following excerpt from when Emma's father tells Charles about the death of his own wife:

WALL:
"I dropped down under a tree, I wept, I called to the good Lord, I ranted at him... I just wanted to be like those moles... jiggered, you know... I thought as how other folks, just that second, had their nice warm little wives in their arms...I was out of my mind very near, stopped eating, I did."

STEEGMULLER:
"I lay down under a tree and cried. I talked to God, told him all kinds of crazy things... I wished I were dead, like the maggoty moles... I thought of how other men were holding their wives in their arms at that very moment... I was almost out of my mind. I couldn't eat."

Wall published his version in 1992, so he should have known that many readers are bound to pick up that Yodaesque tone at the end which also pops up in many other places, it does. From what little I can glean from the French text, his translation actually appears structurally more faithful than Steegmuller's, at least judging by the number and spacing of punctuations. And yet somehow it comes out as the more stilted of the two.

Wall should have heeded Flaubert's eerily prescient advice to his future translators, given right around the third page: (in Steegmuller's version) "For while he had a fair knowledge of grammatical rules, his translations lacked elegance.
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85 of 96 people found the following review helpful By Jessica on March 25, 2006
Format: Paperback
Typically Penguin Classics does a great job with translating foriegn classics, but in the case of Madame Bovary, they do not. I read two chapters in this book and had to keep going back and re-reading sentences and had the most difficult time trying to figure out what was trying to be conveyed. Finally, I drove over to my local library and checked out the Bantam Classics version and I am extremely pleased that I did. It reads so much better and is actually entertaining. Get the book, but get Lowell Bair's translation.
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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Gypsi Phillips Bates VINE VOICE on March 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I read Madame Bovary twenty years ago and was thoroughly unimpressed. I passed it off as one of those "classics" that everyone reads, for some reason, but no one really enjoys. Then, in October I heard a review of Davis' newly published translation, and how she endeavored to keep to Flaubert's deliberate and precise style. I was fascinated. I had never considered that the reason I didn't like the novel, was due to the translation.

I read Davis' translation with a copy of a previous translation at hand, making comparisons. I was amazed at what a difference just a word could make, how it could change the whole feeling of the sentence. Thanks to Davis, I was able to immerse myself in Flaubert's painstaking, detailed writing and come away in awe of his ability to turn a phrase.

The plot of Madame Bovary is familiar to many: Emma is a spoiled, vain young woman who spends too much time with her head in novels and, as a result, expects--no demands!--that life, romance especially, be like it is in her books. After her marriage, she becomes depressed that there is no "grand passion", and this leads to restlessness and eventually to affairs. Her husband, Charles, is blind to Emma's dissatisfaction, flaws and infidelity; he worships her very belongings. Emma takes advantage of Charles' love-blindness in a variety of ways, including running up a debt so severe that it bankrupts him.

In the midst of all this drama, Flaubert has the reader stand back, just slightly emotionally detached. One can't feel fully compassionate for Charles, because Flaubert shows him as a buffoon and sometimes as an idiot. One can't sympathize with Emma, because Flaubert delights in holding her vices up to the light.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By C. M Mills on February 26, 2008
Format: Paperback
Madame Bovary is the greatest novel written by Gustave Flaubert. The 1855
masterpiece portrays in searing detail the tragic tale of a young girl whose dreams turned into nightmares; whose sandcastles are swept away by unfulfilled passion; whose young life is ended in a tragic death. Years before Tolstoy limned the adultress woman in his Anna Karenina we see the consequences which ensue when a middle class wife and mother breaks the seventh commandment.
The novel takes place near Rouen in the north of France. There are actually three Madame Bovarys in the story. Madame Bovary Sr. who is the mother of Charles Bovary dominates her weak son. Madame Bovary I is an ugly but wealthy woman who dies allowing Charles to wed the lovely Emma
Bovary who is the the famed woman of the book's title. Emma has grown up on a farm coddled by her widower father. She has immersed herself in romantic tales and spent time in a French convent. Emma dreams of castles in the air and a charming prince to take her to paradise. Today she would be a reader of Harlequin Romances. She is a virgin plum ripe for picking!
Charles Bovary ("bovine" meaning cow-like; also think "ovary for his scandolous wife Emma) is a dull, stupid and lethargic public health inspector. He is a good man but is a total dullard! Charles weds Emma after treating her father. At first all goes well as the couple set up house in a French provincial town where little exciting ever occurs. They have a daughter Berthe with whom Emma has little to do. She never grows up to becoming a mature woman.
Emma carries on two affairs in the novel with the law student Leon and the wealthy but callous womanizing aristocrat Rodolphe. She is sucked into a cesspool of overwhelming debt being addicted to clothing, jewelry and furniture.
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