The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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October 28, 2010

Madame Bovary, part three

Oh, forgive me,' she said. 'This is wrong of me! I'm boring you with my eternal complaints!'

'No, never! Never!' {Yes, always! Always!}

'If only you knew,' she went on, raising her lovely, tear-filled eyes to the ceiling, 'all that I had dreamed of.'
One of the things I've learned about myself (not from reading Madame Bovary, but reinforced by it) is that I don't read critically anymore, the way I did when I was studying literature in college. I think it's because I read now for a different reason:  for entertainment, for a look into another world, for comfort, for the wash of words and images and for the chance, once in a while, to gasp at an author's ability to say things in a way I never could. That's what I hope for, anyway, whenever I open a book, no matter what kind of book it is.

Thank you again, Frances, for encouraging us to read Madame Bovary with you.  I definitely experienced that wash of words and images, and some of those gasps.  I also enjoyed the story, and the way it was advanced through descriptions of settings, and journeys, and houses, and clothing.

The four outside seats, however, would fill up, the carriage would roll on, lines of apple trees would pass one another; and the road, between its two long ditches of yellow water, would keep narrowing toward the horizon.
Emma knew it from one end to the other; she knew that after a pasture came a signpost, then an elm tree, a barn, or a road mender's hut; sometimes, even, in order to create surprises for herself, she would close her eyes. But she never lost her clear sense of how much distance there was still to be covered.
There were wonderful scenes in Part III, again:  in Chapter I, when the lovers try to escape from the verger at Notre-Dame, and then ride through Rouen in their carriage; and later, in Chapter 10, when Pere Roualt rides to Yonville, not believing that his daughter could be dead.

I always expect that people from another era will be different from us, but a gifted writer always proves that they are not. Situations and social customs are, but not hearts and minds. I found myself unable to sympathize with Emma, not at all, but I think that's because I know women like her, exactly like her, and I'm impatient with the way they seem to cultivate their unhappiness, and I struggle to want to spend time with them. And didn't Emma's confusion, when Lheureux is explaining his schemes to her, seem modern as well?

And this:

He blew her kisses; he dragged himself toward the grave so that he might be swallowed up in it along with her.
 They led him away; and he soom calmed down, perhaps feeling, like everyone else, the vague satisfaction of being done with it.
I was thinking the other day that it's hard to know for sure (not being fluent enough to tell) whether I was really reading Flaubert's words, or Lydia Davis', but  if this is a careful and exact translation, without anything added in, then it's a beautifully crafted one. {Isn't the book, itself, lovely, too?} With a dictionary, and a lot of time, I could have waded through the novel in the original French, but my experience would have been different. I'm glad I read Madame Bovary this way instead, and very happy that I read it at all.

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Shelley said...

I know someone who is very much like Emma, and, like you, it kept me from sympathizing too much. It is easier for me to find excuses for a literary character than a person in real life. It's something I've been thinking about, and wondering if I should be more understanding of the person I know, or less understanding of Emma.
I don't know much about different translations, but I do know this one worked for me.

Joan Hunter Dunn said...

"I always expect that people from another era will be different from us, but a gifted writer always proves that they are not."
Oh so true. It always surprises me and then I remember that I've had that thought that before!

Frances said...

Appreciate that losing sight of whether you are reading Flaubert or Lydia Davis. Slippery slope for a translator especially a very prominent one with fiction credits of her own. But I do think the voice is distinctly Flaubert in the end, and wonder from all I have read how much Davis cares for the merciless one.

Thank you so much for reading along and sharing your insights!

Thank you for visiting!

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