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Exploring the hidden lessons in gustave flauberts madame bovary

Here is a young woman whose imagination feeds on Turks and Olympian gods. Charles, on the other hand, responds to more common motives. This brief scene with its suggestion of adultery and with the mismatched imaginative faculties of its two actors foreshadows the disastrous union the two will soon make. Money is inscribed in most of the marriages in the novel. Flaubert even hints at this relationship in his choice of name. Readers should remember that Madame Bovary was written in the mid-nineteenth century when marriage was more of an economic contract than a relationship based on love or emotional compatibility.

The tension between the claims of conventional marriage and amorous love has been exploited by poets and novelists since the Middle Ages but it was the Romantic movement in the early nineteenth century that first challenged conventional assumptions for a wide reading public. Emma, demonstrably part of that reading public, spends most of her life rebelling against societal expectations and searching for an enduring passionate relationship.

These designs, alas, end in disappointment when her lovers show as much petty concern with money and status as any of the ordinary townsfolk.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

The most poignant twining of love and money is the fact that Emma is quite literally killed by broken promissory notes: And no one better epitomizes that dull middle class and its obsessions with money and social status than the pharmacist Homais.

Rodolphe, who proves to be a cad, simply employs poetic language in the service of seduction. Later in the novel, after her affair with Rodolphe fades, a more jaded and withered Emma begins to see the false seductions of art and life.

Both art and life, she realizes, are inadequate in their own ways. Unfortunately, she encounters her old flame Leon and quickly forgets the hard-won lessons about the dangers of mixing art and life. Their affair ends similarly in disappointment. In fact, most human endeavors in the novel end in monotonous tedium.

Lassitude, a word borrowed from the French, is repeated numerous times in the novel; even Charles utters the word once. Tedium hardly makes for interesting reading. But this was the challenge Flaubert, encouraged by his friend Louis Bouilhet, explicitly presented to himself. Instead of drawing upon the exotic material of myth or ancient history, Flaubert chose the very prosaic story of adultery set in an ordinary provincial village. Flaubert enhances the theme of tedium in a number of ways, including in the coupling of scenes.

For example, the seduction of Emma by Leon against the backdrop of the church and its prattling cleric parallels the earlier seduction by Rodolphe against the inane speeches of the officials at the agricultural fair. As Lydia Davis notes in her introduction, Flaubert often employs the imparfait, or imperfect tense, which describes a repeated rather than a completed action. No more affecting or haunting image is that of the vessel subjected to the repetitively rocking forces beyond its control.

Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary transcribed for internet

The effect on the reader is not one of lassitude but of wonder and aesthetic pleasure. At age eighteen he was sent to study law in Paris but was afflicted with a mysterious nervous ailment and retired after only three years to live with his widowed mother.

Supported by a private income, he devoted himself to his writing. The success of Madame Bovary, his first novel, was ensured when it was deemed immoral by the French government. She won the prize again in 2011 for her translation of Madame Bovary. She lives near Albany, New York. Were you especially perplexed by any? I was usually too intent on discovering the history of certain passages, and often the answer to some puzzle-why was Charles stamping his foot against the wall of his room?

But his earlier drafts were almost always much longer, more descriptive, than his final versions-he would often cut whole pages-and although sometimes he left out some information that would have clarified the final passage, in general I would say his restraint, the fact that he kept the writing more economical and terse throughout the novel, gave it a greater emotional force. Has your opinion of her changed since your translation published?

Many readers of Madame Bovary do warm to Emma. My reaction to her, in the end, was mixed. It is hard not to feel some admiration and sympathy for a person so driven by desperation that she is brave enough to take her own life and who is thoughtful enough to examine her sensations as she is doing it. As I translate, I generally have two reactions operating in tandem: What was the single most difficult sentence, or word, in the novel to translate?

It would take me a page to explain how handy that word is in French for creating a graceful subordinate structure and how utterly graceless it is when translated literally into English. But as for sentences in Madame Bovary, one of the very hardest was one of the shortest: You confided that it took some persuading before you accepted the invitation to translate Madame Bovary.

Why did you hesitate? Do you have plans for another translation project in the future? I needed a long break. But when the suggestion came up again, I missed translating-the long, steady engagement with a superlative text, the opportunity both to solve a word puzzle and to write a good sentence in Exploring the hidden lessons in gustave flauberts madame bovary I agreed to do it.

I will probably not, however, take on another long translation project in the future, since I have a long project of my own under way.

Do you think you were successful? There are a couple of aspects of his style that I particularly admire, one being its economy and the other the beauty of the detail in his descriptions.

By staying very close to the original text, especially to the order in which his sentences unfolded and to the material of the text itself-adding nothing and subtracting nothing-I think I did succeed in conveying both of these aspects to a large degree, though you always do lose something in a translation.

Could you briefly characterize the differences in translating Flaubert and Proust? In both cases, my attempt was to stay very close to the original text while writing English that was both natural and forceful. One of the challenges in the Proust was to retain the elaborate constructions of the long sentences with their many subordinate clauses.

But the extravagance and lyricism of his prose was a pleasure, and in his own way he is just as concise as Flaubert-there are many words, but no unnecessary ones. Does this novel mean something different to French readers today than Anglo-American ones? Is there something cultural that is inevitably lost in translation?

Exploring the hidden lessons in gustave flauberts madame bovary

There will always be cultural associations that resonate for readers of the original text and are absent for readers of the translation, and a constant question for a translator is whether, and how, to attempt to reproduce or explain these associations. I have never liked the intrusion of scholarly apparatus in an edition of a novel that is not meant to be for the scholar so much as for the general reader.

Some readers like this approach, while others would rather be alerted when there is a note at the back of the book. Did you keep such pronouncements in mind as you worked? Do you think Flaubert himself was always faithful to such pronouncements? Does he ever prove to be a mere mortal? I did not feel under greater pressure translating Flaubert than I did translating Proust or, years before, the novels and essays of Maurice Blanchot. Any really fine writer demands the same level of care from a translator.

And if you look at the many previous translations of Madame Bovary, you will see how many different possibilities there are for every single sentence of the book-in the view of each translator, presumably, the best alternative. There is general consensus, on the other hand, that entire novels of his were less compelling than Madame Bovary and certain stylistic approaches of his a mistake-but surely a conscientious choice on his part.

Among the many previous translations of the novel, was there one in particular you had hoped to surpass in accuracy and readability? My aim was simply to stay as close as possible to the original and at the same time to write an English version exploring the hidden lessons in gustave flauberts madame bovary would be fully alive. I admired many of the previous translations at many moments, and did not actively want to surpass any one in particular. In the case of the Proust, the situation was different, since there was really only one available previous translation, the C.

Scott Moncrieff, and its style was quite different from, and unrepresentative of, the original-thus terribly misleading to the Anglo-American reader who wanted to experience Proust. I felt it was very important that it be replaced by a version closer to Proust.

We are circling back to the second question, here. That description of Emma is not inaccurate, but it is incomplete, and, as I said, one can have sympathy even for a character who is not generally admirable.

It is natural for readers to become emotionally involved in the story Flaubert is telling, and that is part of the pleasure; yet it is important to retain enough disbelief, at the same time, to enjoy what he is doing technically-in his sparklingly specific descriptions, his artful transitions, his balancing of thematic elements and motifs, his sly humor.

Discuss these dangers as exemplified in Madame Bovary.

Madame Bovary

Women occupy a large presence in the novel. How is their limited social status examined by Flaubert? Do they possess any power to forge their own destinies?

Discuss these features and others-imagery, diction, metaphor, etc. How do they provide aesthetic enjoyment? One of the most famous set pieces in the novel is the seduction scene during the agriculture fair part II, chapter 8.

See a Problem?

The inadequacies of language is another theme that runs throughout the novel. How does this contribute to the work as a whole? Charles Bovary is certainly guilty of being a bore and a dupe but does he elicit your sympathy?

  1. Instead of drawing upon the exotic material of myth or ancient history, Flaubert chose the very prosaic story of adultery set in an ordinary provincial village. Emma is a true believer.
  2. Who else does Flaubert target? How difficult is it to trust that people are simply what they say they are?
  3. Women occupy a large presence in the novel. Each of them are good for different things, and only for a little while, and she can't accept it.

Is he less worthy of satire than other characters in the novel? Emma is certainly guilty of capriciousness, avarice, and licentiousness. Is she, in these faults, any different from the other characters in the novel? Does she rise to the level of tragic heroine? Part of the Western literary tradition has portrayed capriciousness, avarice, and licentiousness as stereotypically feminine faults.

Does Flaubert challenge these stereotypes in any way in his portrayal of Emma?

Madame Bovary Reader’s Guide

Among other things, the novel is a brilliant satire of French middle-class mores. Who else does Flaubert target? Emma is twice tempted by the calls for a life of religious devotion. Religion, specifically Catholicism, figures largely in the novel but how is it shown to be an inadequate guide for living?