Thursday, October 14, 2010

Madame Bovary Group Read: Week One

For the first week of the Madame Bovary Group Read, we read Part One of the book, a mere 58 pages, plus the introduction by translator Lydia Davis. In the introduction, Davis lays out some of the themes, motifs and peculiarities of Flaubert's writing that we'll be seeing throughout the novel. Some points that interested me particularly include his use of metaphorical language, his innovative use of the imperfect tense in French (most French literary writing is dominated by a literary-only tense called the passé simple, or simple past, which has a slightly different meaning than the imparfait) and information about his laborious, intense writing process. In the section on her translation methods, she covers some of the broad decisions she made, such as the decision to retain his characteristic comma splice technique, and she gives a brief overview of the many English translations of Bovary.

On to the book itself. Part One opens with young Charles Bovary, an awkward boy who wants to fit in. He grows up and marries an older woman his parents choose; he meets the charming Emma and his first wife dies. Slowly the focus of the book shifts to Emma, so slowly I almost didn't notice until I was completely immersed in her point of view and Charles had become a bit player in Emma's vivid and all-consuming romantic delusions. These delusions start when she attends a luxurious ball and falls in love with the lavish lifestyle she sees on display, and thus begins her downfall.

This is the first time I've read Madame Bovary although I'm quite familiar with the story. I majored in French in college but I never got around to taking a course on nineteenth century French literature- I signed up for it but then dropped it in favor of a class on Russian literature in translation, a decision I've never regretted, but I am a little sorry to have missed reading some of the seminal masterpieces of this most crucial period in French literature in the original French. I do hope to read it in French as well, but not this time around.

Thank you to Frances of NonSuchBook for organizing the Group Read and click over to see other participants' entries.

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.