Madame Bovary - A Second Reading

Madame Bovary kept me company on our Swiss hiking trip. I'd met her long ago, somewhere during my childhood rampage through the classics. I recall enjoying the novel greatly, if being a bit perplexed by an unhappy ending that carried no moral message, a la George Eliot (I'm thinking Mill on the Floss).

This second reading of Bovary, as an adult, was a treat. I've discovered Flaubert as a meticulous wordsmith. Obsessed by the perennial gap between words and the concepts they represent, he struggled to find the perfect words for every line, sometimes working for weeks on perfecting just a few passages. The results of his tortuous efforts are delicious line after line, perfect for reading aloud. Flaubert once noted in a letter when writing Bovary, it wouldn't have "a single flabby sentence". And it doesn't.

I have devised two new Flaubert-related goals:
  • Read Flaubert's Sentimental Education, considered by some to be his best work, while simultaneously reading Paulson's critical analysis of the novel.
  • Read Bovary again, this time in French. Not sure if I can pull this one off, and if I can, it would certainly take a long while. But even though I read the recommended translation (Lowell Blair), Flaubert's meticulousness with language means that it is a novel best read in the original language.
Worth the effort, I think.


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