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Emma Bovary is a bored housewife who indulges her romantic fantasies with a series of adulterous affairs. Charged with obscenity when first published, the novel became a literary scandal and a bestseller.

THIS ENRICHED CLASSIC EDITION INCLUDES:

A concise introduction that gives the reader important background information
A chronology of the author's life and work
A timeline of significant events that provides the book's historical context
An outline of key themes and plot points to guide the reader's own interpretations
Detailed explanatory notes
Critical analysis, including contemporary and modern perspectives on the work
Discussion questions to promote lively classroom and book group interaction
A list of recommended related books and films to broaden the reader's experience
Published: Simon & Schuster on Jan 2, 2007
ISBN: 9781416548164
List price: $5.95
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'Madame Bovary', as with Kate Chopin's 'The Awakening', is a classic that shows how properly written characters and beautiful prose will find an audience across the span of time. Considered scandalous in its day, this story of a woman living in a world of romantic delusions is like watching a slow motion train wreck- it can only come to a horrible end, and yet it rumbles down the track while everyone watches from the sideline, apparently baffled by what is to come. Emma's character can be a little distasteful at times, with fits of selfishness and childish behavior displayed at its worst in her treatment of her daughter, but these are symptomatic of her greater character flaws, and without them, her character would not be the cohesive element that has propelled her tale to the respect it has earned among literary classics. Flaubert labored over every word in the writing of this book, often proofing sentences with incredible attention to detail. And though this is obviously not in the native French, the beauty and musical sound of his language is preserved in this translation. If nothing else, if the intention is to read a book of prose of incredible beauty, read 'Madame Bovary'. If one is interested in a greater exposure to portrayals of woman 'led astray' in nineteenth century literature, Kate Chopin's 'The Awakening' makes a wonderful companion to Flaubert's tale.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I'm in love with these kind of books, women who dare to change the social rules of a time when forms and conventions are compulsory. Loved the drama.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I first read Madame Bovary during my junior year abroad in France. I liked it just fine. Flaubert’s advanced narrative technique duly impressed me, and I enjoyed his mockery of rural ignorance and affectation in the form of this stupid woman and her equally dim peers. Mostly, however, I enjoyed living in France and reading in French. The book could have been horrible and I would still have been mightily pleased with myself just reading it, in France, at a café, drinking a petit crème, watching the young women pass by, and so on. I read the book again fifteen years later, this time in English, and I could not believe how good it was. For one thing, my French was never as fluent as I liked to believe, and understanding every sentence on the first try allowed me to fall more easily under the story’s spell. Yet the real change of heart stems from growling older. At twenty, I thought Emma Bovary was an idiot and deserved what she got. I smirked at every foolish decision she made. At thirty-five, I found Emma to be a deeply moving and tragic soul. I felt for her every time her indefensible dreams lead her astray. In my experience, if we are to prosper, grow, or even survive, we must shed one cherished illusion after another. Well, Emma refuses to do just that. And while this makes her the antithesis of wise, it also makes her strangely heroic. Yes, Emma is a fool. Her dreams are all hothouse flowers gleaned from saccharine novels and images. But, unlike the rest of us, she refuses to abandon these dreams when experience commands her to do so. She works feverishly to live according to her values, however wildly illusive they be. Who among us has not felt Emma’s passionate refusal to accept the ordinary place the world has provided us? Yet who, besides her, can say that they followed this noble impulse to the bitter end? Flaubert’s genius refuses to let us off easy. He never hides Emma’s foolishness or her selfishness, but neither does he guild the grubby world that she refuses. Indeed, Emma appears a veritable queen compared to the people around her, whose pettiness, cruelty, and downright ignorance knows no bounds. Flaubert also describes, in some of the best prose of Western literature, those rare moments when Emma’s dreams so infuse her perception of the world that they almost seem real. These moments are, for me, the most haunting parts of the book, and at times I nearly wept for the beauty that we see and that we know is unreal, untenable, and, in the end, utterly destructive.read more
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'Madame Bovary', as with Kate Chopin's 'The Awakening', is a classic that shows how properly written characters and beautiful prose will find an audience across the span of time. Considered scandalous in its day, this story of a woman living in a world of romantic delusions is like watching a slow motion train wreck- it can only come to a horrible end, and yet it rumbles down the track while everyone watches from the sideline, apparently baffled by what is to come. Emma's character can be a little distasteful at times, with fits of selfishness and childish behavior displayed at its worst in her treatment of her daughter, but these are symptomatic of her greater character flaws, and without them, her character would not be the cohesive element that has propelled her tale to the respect it has earned among literary classics. Flaubert labored over every word in the writing of this book, often proofing sentences with incredible attention to detail. And though this is obviously not in the native French, the beauty and musical sound of his language is preserved in this translation. If nothing else, if the intention is to read a book of prose of incredible beauty, read 'Madame Bovary'. If one is interested in a greater exposure to portrayals of woman 'led astray' in nineteenth century literature, Kate Chopin's 'The Awakening' makes a wonderful companion to Flaubert's tale.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I'm in love with these kind of books, women who dare to change the social rules of a time when forms and conventions are compulsory. Loved the drama.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I first read Madame Bovary during my junior year abroad in France. I liked it just fine. Flaubert’s advanced narrative technique duly impressed me, and I enjoyed his mockery of rural ignorance and affectation in the form of this stupid woman and her equally dim peers. Mostly, however, I enjoyed living in France and reading in French. The book could have been horrible and I would still have been mightily pleased with myself just reading it, in France, at a café, drinking a petit crème, watching the young women pass by, and so on. I read the book again fifteen years later, this time in English, and I could not believe how good it was. For one thing, my French was never as fluent as I liked to believe, and understanding every sentence on the first try allowed me to fall more easily under the story’s spell. Yet the real change of heart stems from growling older. At twenty, I thought Emma Bovary was an idiot and deserved what she got. I smirked at every foolish decision she made. At thirty-five, I found Emma to be a deeply moving and tragic soul. I felt for her every time her indefensible dreams lead her astray. In my experience, if we are to prosper, grow, or even survive, we must shed one cherished illusion after another. Well, Emma refuses to do just that. And while this makes her the antithesis of wise, it also makes her strangely heroic. Yes, Emma is a fool. Her dreams are all hothouse flowers gleaned from saccharine novels and images. But, unlike the rest of us, she refuses to abandon these dreams when experience commands her to do so. She works feverishly to live according to her values, however wildly illusive they be. Who among us has not felt Emma’s passionate refusal to accept the ordinary place the world has provided us? Yet who, besides her, can say that they followed this noble impulse to the bitter end? Flaubert’s genius refuses to let us off easy. He never hides Emma’s foolishness or her selfishness, but neither does he guild the grubby world that she refuses. Indeed, Emma appears a veritable queen compared to the people around her, whose pettiness, cruelty, and downright ignorance knows no bounds. Flaubert also describes, in some of the best prose of Western literature, those rare moments when Emma’s dreams so infuse her perception of the world that they almost seem real. These moments are, for me, the most haunting parts of the book, and at times I nearly wept for the beauty that we see and that we know is unreal, untenable, and, in the end, utterly destructive.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Let me begin with saying sometimes it’s hard to read classics because there are so many references to their plots mentioned in other books and movies, that when you finally read them you find out that you already know too much.I started Madame Bovary already knowing the ending and much of the plot, which is unfortunate. I can only imagine how powerful this novel was for people who had no idea what was going to happen, especially when it first came out. That being said, I knew very little about the first half of the book and was surprised by quite a bit of the plot.At the beginning we meet a sweet farm girl, Emma. Charles Bovary is married to a horrible woman and he falls for the lovely girl. After his wife passes away, Charles marries Emma, making her the title Madame Bovary (not to be confused with his first wife or his mother, both of which are frequently referred to as Madame Bovary).Emma is infatuated with the idea of love, but neither she, nor her husband, actually understand what real love is. Emma expects something like the passionate affairs she’s read about in books. Charles’ version of a marriage is a simple relationship with little interaction beyond basic marital relations and discord. He expects very little from his wife and in return he gives her very little.Soon Emma is completely disenchanted with married life. As a newlywed she wonders what will happen to her bridal bouquet when she dies. Later, feeling completely numb and emotionally dead, she burns the bouquet herself, demonstrating just how detached she’s become.SPOILERS: The following comments discuss aspects in the Part II and III of the novel.Emma is searching for something to save her from her boredom and she falls for a young man, Leon, with whom she has wonderful discussions. Soon he leaves, because she’s married, and she sets her sights on Roldolphe, a local bachelor, instead. He has decided he’ll take her as a mistress and sees their relationship as a casual one. She, on the other hand, sees him as her salvation. She’s miserable and hangs all of her hopes on him. When they decide to run away together she thinks of her daughter as a mere afterthought, she’s so wrapped up in her affair. She becomes more desperate and reckless as she feels her lover slipping away from her.The scene at the opera was incredibly poignant to me. Emma watches the love affair unfold on the stage just as her own did, while her husband sits next to her, never comprehending what his wife is thinking.The book begins and ends with Charles, which is fitting. He is completely oblivious to most of what happens in his wife’s life and she passes in and out of his life before he even knows what happened. He only lets himself see what he wants to see. He pictures Emma as an innocent doll, incapable of intentionally doing anyone harm. He’s both a victim and enabler in this tragic story. He does love his wife, or at least the idea of her, but he never really gets to know her, which just increases her isolation.The real victims in the story are all of the people left behind when Emma is gone. Her daughter’s story was particularly sad. She’s no more than a footnote in most of the book and then at the end, she’s orphaned and alone in the world. Her selfish mother was never willing to put her daughter’s happiness before her own.Even though, in the end, Emma proves herself to be self-absorbed and immature, I still loved the book. It was a wonderful portrait of a woman who begins with a romantic vision of love in her mind and is heartbroken by its realities. Instead of choosing to find meaning in her relationships and give them depth, she flits to other lovers hoping to find that illusive “romance.” She looks to wealth, spending money like she can buy happiness. She thrives on lies and the thrill of getting caught. She seeks only momentary pleasure and in doing so she ruins not only herself, but her whole family. Flaubert’s talent is obvious, because despite all of those things, we still care what happens to her.One note on the translation:I can't compare all of Lydia Davis' new translation to previous ones as this is my first time reading Madame Bovary. I did read a few of the same passages I’d highlighted in Davis’ translation in another copy of the book and found them to be very similar. But Davis certainly has an elegant way with words, which enhanced my experience with the book.
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One of my favourite literary heroines is Emma Woodhouse from Jane Austen's novel Emma. She is beautiful, rich and clever, but also lonely and bored. Without a close female companion of her own age, Emma relies on her own overactive imagination to entertain herself, and sets about matchmaking her friends and acquaintances, forcing improbable pairings and embarrassing everyone in the process. Only when she realises that the man of her own dreams has been right under her nose the whole time, does Emma stop inventing romances and settle down to her own happy ending. Emma Bovary, the eponymous heroine of Flaubert's novel, gets all of the above bass-ackwards. Her head filled with romantic stories, she dreams of meeting a passionate hero who will take her away from the oppressive countryside where she lives with her father, but instead she marries the first man who comes along and offers for her - Charles Bovary, a boring bourgeois country doctor. In love with the idea of being in love, Emma's romantic dreams are slowly suffocated when she realises how ordinary her life with Charles will be, so instead she seeks solace in shopping and having affairs with equally shallow men. Both distractions combine to destroy her. 'She merged into her own imaginings, playing a real part, realizing the long dream of her youth, seeing herself as one of those great lovers she had so long envied.'I didn't like Emma Bovary - although both Emmas have their faults, Austen's heroine also has some strength of character and independence of spirit. Flaubert's Emma is dependent on men to make her happy, but she is too superficial herself to notice that her lovers are only using her. In fact, I'm not sure she even cares! They are there to play a part in her romantic fantasies, and when they drop her, she starts looking for someone - or something - else to fill the void. Mme. Bovary isn't easy to care about - the original bored housewife, she is selfish, vain, materialistic and never content. Like Anna Karenina, I think we are meant to applaud that she breaks out of the confines of being a wife and mother, but unlike Tolstoy, Flaubert doesn't pity his heroine or demand the reader's sympathy, so I could put up with Emma's moping and mithering. In fact, all the characters are very believable in their faults and failings, especially poor unsuspecting Charles. Homais the chemist I could have done without, however. The only relevant part he plays in the whole novel is to supply the means to Emma's end.For a nineteenth century novel, Madame Bovary is still easy and enjoyable to read, with a dramatic - if rather Freudian - ending, and a cynical take on love and marriage.
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Lydia Davis is magnificent: she is as precise as Flaubert was obsessive. I read this just for her, to see if I could understand more about Flaubert's claim that writing, and not plot, was all that mattered in "Madame Bovary."Flaubert's sense of what counts as ambitious writing -- his meticulous prose, where every sentence displays the work it took to make it, where each adjective is the only possible choice, and never hides its perfection as simple inspiration -- has hypertrophied into hyper-realism or atrophied into rote realism. He had a constant and deliberate sense of responsibility to mimesis, which gives the book an unremitting, pressurized attachment to what he considers as real life. His laborious search for the right word or image sometimes makes him perfunctory and mechanical, like the pharmacist Homais -- a parallel he seems not to have noticed at all (he enjoyed the character, so presumably he saw parts of himself in Homais, but there is no evidence he saw his own daily struggles for the perfect word as anything like Homais's grandiloquent misuses of language). The constant continuous attention to the perfect word, the dogged myopic search for the perfect image, the oppressive sense of the pages he discarded, creates a dull humming in my ears. It can't ever be realism again.And then of course there's the story. It's often said that Emma is a prototypical modern bourgeois woman, or even a prototype of contemporary experience, because she lives out of joint with her time (and because she never knows her desires). She has been said to be the prototype of many alienated, disaffected, emotionally unconnected characters, right up to Tom McCarthy's "Remainder." Contemporary readers admire Flaubert's capacity to despise so much of bourgeois life, and to write with such sarcasm ("irony" is the word Davis prefers in her introduction). But he doesn't despise everyone equally. The book is deeply sexist, for example. Emma notoriously ignores her daughter; but so does Flaubert. Emma famously fails to appreciate her husband, but Flaubert doesn't have anything very bad to say about him: he's almost as innocent and unformed as a child.But at least now I have a clearer sense of Flaubert's writing, and I can see enough of it to know it is not a model for the contemporary novel. It does not correspond clearly to any viable contemporary sense of realism, the reality effect, mimesis, or descriptive skill. The novel is sunk in history.
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