Thursday, October 14, 2010

Madame Bovary Read-A-Long: Part One.

When I saw that there was going to be a read-a-long for Gustave Flaubert's Madama Bovary on Nonsuch Book, I knew I had to participate.

And where most of the participants are reading from the new translation by Lydia Davis (seen at left), I could not justify purchasing a new edition when I already own. I am reading from my Penguin Classic edition and my vintage hardcover will sit lovingly on the shelf with my vintage Austens.

Madame Bovary was one of the first classics I really tried to read to "culture" myself. I can remember purchasing it while knowing hardly anything about it. This was about 3 or 4 years ago when I began to realize that if I wanted my students to read such heavy literature, I needed to read it to. I brought it with me to school during one of my placements to read it during silent reading time.

I loved it in that first reading. I'm not sure why, but perhaps the feelings Emma had about being trapped and wanting more was something that resonated within me at the time.

But I am getting ahead of myself. The first part is short and apparently, forgettable. The beginnings of Emma and Charles relationship seemed overshadowed in my mind. I also forgot the older Madame Bovary, and the manipulation of her own husband. This first part seems to line up the falsities that plague the characters throughout the rest of the novel.

First there is the knowledge that Charles was doing poorly in school. His mother, the elder Madame Bovary, covered this him to his father until he passed his exams. There is also the lie of his first marriage, which was made for fortune. When it turned out that his wife had no fortune, Charles despaired, but of course, things worked out and she passed away.

The set up of Charles meeting Emma also seems false. He only meets her by treating her father, who soon believes he is a far better doctor than he actually is. The lies and deceit seem to pile up after their meeting. I certainly found no romance in their courtship, or in the beginnings of their marriage.

I had forgotten all of these things from my earlier reading, but now I can see how important they are.

Emma, throughout the novel, seems desperate for love, romance, and devotion. The question is whether the reader will sympathize with her, or condemn her for her choices. I'm not sure where I am on that scale, but I am curious to see how I feel on this second read.


  1. I really think I must have gotten a bad translation. Like seriously bad. It was so dry and boring and dull and I had no connection with the characters at all. I felt the same about Emma Bovary as I did about Anna Karenina! All these readalong posts are making me think I should get a new translation a second chance.

  2. I know that on my first read I found it hard to feel sympathy towards Emma, I am really curious to find out if I will feel different this time around.

  3. I think that you are the first to really enjoy the first reading of the novel. Many comments about how it was not a memorable read but appears new this go-round.

    Like when you use the words "seems false." Because ultimately I think that this is about an artificially constructed world - the middle class.

    Thanks for reading along!

  4. It's so funny - I also chose this as one of my first books to read when I was trying to become cultured and knowledgeable about books! 17 year old me didn't get much out of it - you were obviously a lot more mature than I was :)

  5. I've read a lot of posts about this novel today, for the readalong. Wow, I want to read it now. I'd be an idiot to add it to my list, but I'm certainly tempted. My goodness, there are so many I want to absorb. :-)

  6. This is only my first read-through of this novel, but with so much talk about different experiences reading it through for the second (even, third) time, I'm actually looking forward to a second-reading before I'm even close to finishing the first reading of it!

  7. I think it's a great example to set for your students! This didn't make much of an impression on me first time around (in college) and I was pretty neutral the second time, too. Not so now - is it translation, or just taking my time and enjoying the details? I'm not sure...

  8. It is my first reading--but I think with all this support and discussion, and the fact that it was my mother's favorite, I feel right at home. Who did your translation? Do you like it? I'm constantly amazed by the imagery and poetry in the Davis edition, but I think it is mostly reflecting Flaubert himself.

  9. At this point I sympathize with Emma, but I get the feeling that will change.