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VINE VOICEon August 17, 2000
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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on May 21, 2011
Having originally read MADAME BOVARY in French, I am bound to find English versions disappointing, though, over the years, I have twice read acceptable translations. From Amazon, I bought the General Books paperback, and I cannot comprehend how Marx Aveling could allow it to appear for sale, especially after her adoring Flaubert prologue. The publisher scanned her copy without proofing it, and there are so many typos it's virtually unreadable.
The language is as forced and artificial as Flaubert's is natural and true. He created such marvelous characters that they manage to struggle through this mess and touch the reader. But I implore people not to read this genius author in this disgrace of a book. - Ann Seymour
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on December 19, 2010
Skip this. Footnotes in the middle of pages with no source reference in the page. Use of obscure terms (form for bench), choppy uneven language. I compared this to another paper edition I own. The translation is poor at best. Sometimes you do get exactly what you pay for.
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on March 22, 2011
Madame Bovary is perhaps the finest French novel of the 19th century, and that is really saying something; consider that this was the century that produced Balzac, Zola, Maupassant, Hugo, Dumas, and Stendhal. Madame Bovary is one of the greatest anti-heroes in all of Western literature, as she leads the reader through a tragedy that explores the extremes of ambivalence. Masterful and compelling. An absolute must-read.

HOWEVER, this particular edition (published by General Books LLC) is absolutely atrocious. I have never seen a book so rife with typographical errors -- it's like reading a Kindle transcription gone horribly wrong. Several times, Charles is referred to as "Charlea", and many of the chapters are divided improperly and begin nonsensically. Spend a little more $$$ and get the Penguin edition, or one that is translated by Lydia Davis.
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on February 22, 2011
The aforementioned footnotes didn't bother me too much, but there are quite a few odd word choices and blatant transpositions in the text. Not enough to ruin the reading experience, but enough to make you go "huh?" at least once a chapter (i.e. a pony "gambling" in the pasture instead of "gamboling") especially if you are unused to older translations with archaic usages.

That being said, this was my first experience with the book and I felt like I got all of the author's intention from it - the word choices aren't lazy, just old-fashioned. And when all's said and done, isn't that the important thing?
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on September 28, 2010
The kindle edition of L'Education Sentimentale (in french) by Flaubert is just awful. No dots, no commas, lack of paragraphs and part of sentences that make the reading nearly impossible. I'm not complaining about Flaubert's writing, but about the kindle edition I've got.

L'edition Kindle de L'Education Sentimentale de Flaubert en Français est affreuse. Il y a de graves problemes de ponctuation et d'edition. Cela rend la lecture practiquement impossible.
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VINE VOICEon March 30, 2012
As a college English major I often had to read several books at a time with very little time to truly enjoy any of them. I promised myself that some day I would go back and re-read them just for fun.

For that reason I am really enjoying my Kindle and free Kindle editions of classic books. I love reading these classics on the Kindle because it allows me to quickly look up archaic words.

And re-reading these great works makes it clear why they are classics and why people are still reading them.

Emma Bovary is STILL a relevant character. Change the horses and carriages to cars and the unscrupulous milliner to a credit card company and this book might have been written about a 21st Century woman. She craves love and longs for passion in her life while completely overlooking the husband who adores her and loves her with almost frightening intensity.

Ignore the original publication date. It's still fresh and still great literature.
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on August 8, 2010
The entire story is colorful an keeps the reader interested until the end. Vivid and an enchanting journey into the mind of a women stranded into a world buried in average housewife chores, and married to a man who she maybe does not truly love. The ending leaves the reader to think long after the author's words stopped.
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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 November 13, 2011
Throughout the entire book I kept thinking I didn't like it, but looking back on it I liked it. It is a slow read. I would recommend this to people who like Classic Literature.

Basically this book follows the gradual decline of a woman, dragging down everyone else with her.
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