Madame Bovary (Review)

November 7, 2010

Book cover for "Madame Bovary" by Gustave Flaubert.Title: Madame Bovary

Author: Gustave Flaubert

Publication Year: 1994 (originally published: 1857)

Pages: 304

Genre: Fiction

Source: Copy from my shelf that I’ve had since I was a teenager

From the cover:

Madame Bovary is Flaubert’s flawless tale of human bondage. The author’s realistic and explicit descriptions of the fall of Emma Bovary into adultery, debt and eventual death at her own hand, shocked the establishment of the time and the author and his publisher were prosecuted for irreligion and immorality. Their acquittal, after a sensational trial, ensured that the book enjoyed an immediate succes de scandale.

However, it is the author’s treatment of style and aesthetics, as well as a new realism, which established the book not only as a milestone in the development of the modern novel but also as a classic of world literature.

Honestly, I’m glad that I read this as part of a read-a-long. I say that because I never would have finished the book if I wasn’t trying to keep up with other people.

I’ve had a copy of Madame Bovary in my possession since sometime in high school, and at some point in the last few years, I actually acquired a second copy. I chose the first of these to read this time, since it was in better condition and was published more recently. As it turns out, it may also have been this edition that was part of my problems with reading this book.

The prose was usually overly descriptive, convoluted, and often confusing. It was hard to tell in many places who was speaking, because (either due to Flaubert or the translator) it wasn’t always clear who was speaking, since the speaker would often be identified only once in the span of a few pages, or there would be multiple characters in the scene and only “he” or “she” used to identify when someone was speaking or doing something. Needless to say, my confusion was definitely a factor in my lack of enjoyment of this book.

I was also irritated by the characters: not a single one of them got my sympathy or allowed me to relate to them. I felt the most like I was supposed to empathize with Emma, but I found that extremely hard to do with her over-the-top emotions and the way that she treated everyone around her.

Maybe it was just my experience with this translation, so I might try reading Madame Bovary again at a later date with a different translation. As it stands, though, I was seriously unimpressed with what I had understood to be a great work of classic literature.




  • Amy November 7, 2010 at 10:54 am

    Uh oh. This is on my tbr stack. But you say to avoid. OK, I’ll keep putting it off 😉 heh

  • Teacher/Learner November 7, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    Oh dear, that’s too bad. I agree that translations are often a tricky business. I will still try this sometime down the road…just because 🙂

  • Ash November 7, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    I remember having difficulty with who was speaking when with this book as well, although I enjoyed it more than you so maybe I had a better translation? Hard for me to remember because I read it in high school.

  • erisian23 November 10, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    i have never had a desire to read this..

    i appreciate that you went through the pain for me.

    took one for the team, you did.

    • Carina November 13, 2010 at 9:07 pm

      Indeed. It was seriously atrocious from my point of view.

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