A while ago I was given a most beautifully bound copy of Madam Bovary. It’s taken me a really long time to actually read it… I think because it starts in the way so many 18C novels do, with a family history.
I’ll probably do a post about family histories and autobiographies in old novels, but in this post I want to share my deep puzzlement over this book.
Madam Bovary is a classic. You hear/see its title everywhere, even without necessarily having any idea of what it’s about. Flaubert and this novel are always present in discussions of great literature.
I read the book. I skimmed a lot of text. I hated the protagonist. I found it a largely sardonic and cruel type of story which criticises everyone and seems to find no pleasure in the world. It read like it had been written by a deeply misanthropic writer. Its great fame left me completely puzzled.
Figuring I was missing something and not having a literature professor on hand, I turned to the modern equivalent: the internettythingy. It was most informative.
Before I say anything else, I should say that for all my skimming there was some really great description, and excellent characterisation. I could see the talent of the author… or so I thought. Then the internettythingy informed me that you don’t know anything about Flaubert’s genius until you can read it in French. In French it’s pure poetry.
In English… well… it doesn’t have the beautiful language to soften the ugliness of the story. Or so says me.
I’m sure my French will never be good enough to read the original and that makes me kind of sad, but I’m still a little puzzled about why people rave about this book without mentioning the ‘must read in French’ caveat.
Maybe I’m still missing something, but it has very little to make it a good read for an non-French speaker. A great book to study as a part of literary history – absolutely – but that’s not what I read it for.
If you love this book, and read it a) in english & b) not as a part of a course of study then I’d love to know why you love it!