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Madame Bovary (Penguin Classics) Paperback – December 31, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Revised edition (December 31, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140449124
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140449129
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 0.9 x 5.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #37,620 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Gustave Flaubert was born in Rouen in 1821, the son of a prominent physician. A solitary child, he was attracted to literature at an early age, and after his recovery from a nervous breakdown suffered while a law student, he turned his total energies to writing. Aside from journeys to the Near East, Greece, Italy, and North Africa, and a stormy liaison with the poetess Louise Colet, his life was dedicated to the practice of his art. The form of his work was marked by intense aesthetic scrupulousness and passionate pursuit of le mot juste; its content alternately reflected scorn for French bourgeois society and a romantic taste for exotic historical subject matter. The success of Madame Bovary (1857) was ensured by government prosecution for “immorality”; Salammbô (1862) and The Sentimental Education (1869) received a cool public reception; not until the publication of Three Tales (1877) was his genius popularly acknowledged. Among fellow writers, however, his reputation was supreme. His circle of friends included Turgenev and the Goncourt brothers, while the young Guy de Maupassant underwent an arduous literary apprenticeship under his direction. Increasing personal isolation and financial insecurity troubled his last years. His final bitterness and disillusion were vividly evidenced in the savagely satiric Bouvard and Pécuchet, left unfinished at his death in 1880.

Geoffrey Wall is author of the critically acclaimed Flaubert: A Life and translated Madame Bovary for Penguin Classics.


Michèle Roberts is the author of ten highly praised novels.


Geoffrey Wall is author of the critically acclaimed Flaubert: A Life and translated Madame Bovary for Penguin Classics.


Geoffrey Wall is author of the critically acclaimed Flaubert: A Life and translated Madame Bovary for Penguin Classics.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One

The uncouth schoolboy; The Bovary household; A mother's ambitions; Studies with the cure; Training for medicine; Student life in Rouen; Failure and success; A practice in Normandy; The bailiff's widow; The first Madame Bovary.

We were in the prep-room when the Head came in, followed by a new boy in mufti and a beadle carrying a big desk. The sleepers aroused themselves, and we all stood up, putting on a startled look, as if we had been buried in our work.

The Head motioned to us to sit down.

'Monsieur Roger,' said he in a quiet tone to the prep master, I've brought you a new boy. He's going into the second. If his conduct and progress are satisfactory, he will be put up with the boys of his own age. '

The new boy had kept in the background, in the corner behind the door, almost out of sight. He was a country lad of about fifteen, and taller than any of us. His hair was clipped straight across the forehead, like a village choirboy's. He seemed a decent enough fellow, but horribly nervous. Although he was not broad across the shoulders, his green cloth jacket, with its black buttons, looked as if it pinched him under the arms and revealed, protruding well beyond the cuffs, a pair of raw, bony wrists, obviously not unaccustomed to exposure. His legs, encased in blue stockings, issued from a pair of drab-coloured breeches, very tightly braced. He had on a pair of thick, clumsy shoes, not particularly well cleaned and plentifully fortified with nails.

The master began to hear the boys at their work. The newcomer listened with all his ears, drinking it in as attentively as if he had been in church, not daring to cross his legs or to lean his elbows on the desk, and when two o'clock came and the bell rang for dismissal, the master had to call him back to earth and tell him to line up with the rest of us.

It was our custom, when we came in to class, to throw our caps on the floor, in order to have our hands free. As soon as ever we got inside the door, we 'buzzed' them under the form, against the wall, so as to kick up plenty of dust. That was supposed to be 'the thing.' Whether he failed to notice this manoeuvre or whether he was too shy to join in it, it is impossible to say, but when prayers were over he was still nursing his cap. That cap belonged to the composite order of headgear, and in it the heterogeneous characteristics of the busby, the Polish shapska, the bowler, the otterskin toque and the cotton nightcap were simultaneously represented. It was, in short, one of those pathetic objects whose mute unloveliness conveys the infinitely wistful expression we may sometimes note on the face of an idiot. Ovoid in form and stiffened with whalebone, it began with a sort of triple line of sausage-shaped rolls running all round its circumference; next, separated by a red band, came alternate patches of velvet and rabbit-skin; then a kind of bag or sack which culminated in a stiffened polygon elaborately embroidered, whence, at the end of a long, thin cord, hung a ball made out of gold wire, by way of a tassel. The cap was brand-new, and the peak of it all shiny.

'Stand up,' said the master.

He stood up, and down went his cap. The whole class began to laugh.

He bent down to recover it. One of the boys next to him jogged him with his elbow and knocked it down again. Again he stooped to pick it up.

'You may discard your helmet,' said the master, who had a pretty wit.

A shout of laughter from the rest of the class quite put the poor fellow out of countenance, and so flustered was he that he didn't know whether to keep it in his hand, put it on the floor or stick it on his head. He sat down and deposited it on his knees.

'Stand up,' said the master again, 'and tell me your name.'

In mumbling tones the new boy stammered out something quite unintelligible.

'Again!'

Again came the inarticulate mumble, drowned by the shouts of the class.

'Louder!' rapped out the master sharply. 'Speak up!'

Whereupon the boy, in desperation, opened his jaws as wide as they would go and, with the full force of his lungs, as though he were hailing somebody at a distance, fired off the word 'Charbovari.'

In an instant the class was in an uproar. The din grew louder and louder, a ceaseless crescendo crested with piercing yells--they shrieked, they howled, they stamped their feet, bellowing at the top of their voices: 'Charbovari! Charbovari!' Then, after a while, the storm began to subside. There would be sporadic outbreaks from time to time, smothered by a terrific effort, or perhaps a titter would fizz along a whole row, or a stifled explosion sputter out here and there, like a half-extinguished fuse.

However, beneath a hail of 'impositions,' order was gradually restored. The master--who had had it dictated, spelled out and read over to him--had at length succeeded in getting hold of the name of Charles Bovary, and forthwith he ordered the hapless wretch to go and sit on the dunce's stool, immediately below the seat of authority. He started to obey, stopped short and stood hesitating.

'What are you looking for?' said the master.

'My ca--' began the new boy timidly, casting an anxious glance around him.

An angry shout of 'Five hundred lines for the whole class' checked, like the Quos ego, a fresh outburst. 'Stop your noise, then, will you?' continued the master indignantly, mopping his brow with a handkerchief which he had produced from the interior of his cap.

 


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 48 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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82 of 92 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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27 of 30 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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By JfromJersey on March 8, 2008
Format: Paperback
MADAME BOVARY is one of those books that I admire more than love. As fiction it is flawlessly written, and it's scathing viewpoint on French provincial society is delivered with style and aplomb. Flaubert's biting ironic take on the Romantic tradition has perhaps never been surpassed. You can rightly call MADAME BOVARY the great anti-romance of literature. The problem I have with it lies in it's failure to touch me on any emotional level. Neither Emma, nor any of the male characters in Yonville create empathy with me. Charles, who is the least repulsive male, is far more to be pitied than admired. I really couldn't understand or relate much to anyone in this novel.

Comparing Emma Bovary to that other eponymous lady, Anna Karenina, I found Tolstoy's cuckolding wife to be a much more sympathetic character. Part of that lies in the fact that Anna's husband is a less sympathetic character than Emma's, but the greater reason is that Anna thinks and feels in a wounded, yet logical fashion. She struggles to come to terms with her life's choices, whereas Emma seems more a willing victim of her own addictive personality. There isn't the depth to the characters in Flaubert's novel, and though I acknowledge it to be a masterpiece, it is more a cold, stylistic exercise in ironic realism, than a book that enlightens, exhilarates, or moves the reader.

That said, MADAME BOVARY is an essential book, and it certainly has influenced much literature that came after. Flaubert once famously remarked, "Emma Bovary, c'est moi". In her doomed search for beauty in an ugly world, she is an apt surrogate for the creative artist who lives to fashion the sublime from the dross.
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