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.

16 comments:

irisonbooks said...

Ah, I did not know the introduction was part of this weeks reading. I wanted to safe it until the end, but you do make it sounds interesting, so I might read it for next week.

The shift in perspective is very subtle, I agree. I read the book 2 years ago and actually didn't remember that is started with Charles' story.

Audrey said...

I'm reading it for the first time too!
(And, oh, I remember the days when it would have been possible for me to read this in the original!)

Either in the intro or in something else I read, Lydia D. said something about Flaubert diligently avoiding metaphors. That surprised me, because I thought Part One was chock full of them!

Nice to be resfing with you!

Zibilee said...

I actually have two copies of this book here, but like a lot of my books, it has not been read yet. I am really thrilled that you are going to be doing this group read because I think seeing your posts will convince me to move this way up on the stack. I hope that you all enjoy it and I will be looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

This book is in my list of TBRs. Translated books always lose something... but for some of us who speak no other language than our local language and English we are bound to live with this miss. Thanks BB

jewwishes said...

This book is a good choice for the group.

I have read this book twice.

Hillary said...

It one of my 2011 reading resolutions to read more "classics". Seeing your review may help convince me to read this.

Tribute Books Mama said...

I read this awhile ago, might add to my list again, thanks!

Frances said...

Iris, no need to read the intro yet. As a matter of fact, for those who have not read the book before, I would recommend NOT reading it until you are done.

And Audrey, love that you bring up the point of metaphors because yes, there they are! I believe that it was Proust that accused Flaubert of being metaphor-less but there is an absence of metaphors by normal standards and an absence by Proustian standards. :)

And Marie, that intro made me want to read his correspondence from the time he was writing this book. Such control.

Thanks everyone for reading along!

Emily said...

Ha, Frances - "there is an absence of metaphors by normal standards and an absence by Proustian standards" - you crack me up!

Audrey, I love your emphasis on the slow transition to Emma's point of view. Flaubert really knows his shifting perspectives, it seems: he can shift so gradually as to be almost imperceptible, or so quickly you get whiplash. :-)

Bellezza said...

That's so fun that you were a French major in college; it's been a long time since I've heard anyone refer to the imperfect past, etc. I've had six years of French, but they've escaped me by now. I also took Russian literature classes in college, and I always wish I could take more: French, Russian, British, American...tons of literature courses! ;)

Isn't it interesting how the shift to Emma creeps up on us, until soon the whole novel is nothing but her self-centeredness. Until the bitter end, which I don't want to spoil in case you're not there yet. I can't wait until we can talk about the complete book! We'll have a lot to say about her personality, I think. Or, at least her choices.

Darlene said...

I'm glad you're reading this one Marie. I've wanted to read it for ages - I even have it on my shelf. I wish I had time to read it now but don't but maybe this will convince me to read it sooner rather than later. Hope you enjoy it!

Shelley (Book Clutter) said...

It seems like a background in French would make a read of this novel that much more interesting. I have been wondering why some phrases are in italics. Is there a reason?

JoAnn said...

It's so hard to evaluate a translation without speaking the language! I can compare them side by side, and determine which is most pleasing to my ear. However, I have no clue which is closer to Flaubert's actual writing style.

Buried In Print said...

Oh, the introduction *does* sound interesting: thank you. I'd have avoided it in my own copy (I'm reading another translation, Alan Russell's) for fear of spoilers, as this is my first time reading it. But what you've said here is fascinating (and spoiler-free) and I'll be watching for these elements as we read along.

Isabella said...

That shift in focus is so interesting. From the 1st-person narration to Charles to Emma, we're being sucked into her world.

Richard said...

Marie, the shift in emphasis from a Charles-centric POV to an Emma-centric POV that you mention is one of the more intriguing aspects of the storytelling for me so far. However, I'm still trying to figure out what Flaubert hoped to accomplish with that within the grand scheme of things. On to part two, I guess! P.S. Greetings from another Boston-area bibliophile!