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Monday, January 07, 2008

Flaubert's Bovary and the Clash of Technique

It isn't my place to bash a master like Gustave Flaubert, but "Madame Bovary" has been a bit of a disappointment so far (I am 2/3 through it). What I mean to say by this is that almost immediately I had a sense of confusion as to who was narrating the story. Flaubert begins with "We were in class when the headmaster came in, followed by the 'new boy,' not wearing the school uniform, and a school servant carrying a large desk." I could be wrong, but my sense was that a schoolmate was going to be telling the story of young Monsieur Bovary, and that that would be the voice the rest of the way. Also, this is a translation by Eleanor Marx-Aveling, and unless I read it in French, I shouldn't be stating the aforementioned deficiencies. Perhaps I missed something, but the "we" turns into an omnipresent narrator later in the book. Again, I might have missed something but it was quite confusing when the shift took place. I do like his description very much, and I have spent a great deal of time studying how he "paints" a scene. In this sense I have much to learn from this book. Chapter 8 of part 2 of the book has a very funny (not intended) and nicely written dialogue where three things are happening at the same time. There's a fair taking place and some prizes are being bestowed, all the while Madame Bovary and Rodolphe were exchanging lines:

"Just now, for example, when I went to your house."
"To Monsieur Bizet of Quincampoix."
"Did I know I should accompany you?"
"Seventy francs."
"A hundred times I wished to go; and I followed you--I remained."
"And I shall remain tonight, tomorrow, all other days of my life!"

Etc.,etc. This was highly entertaining and very nicely written. The passage moves on smoothly to the next scene and leaves one with a delighted sense of "I didn't have to go back and re-read that... I knew what was going on." These are the simple joys of reading, I believe. As for the entire story itself I cannot yet say. This is one of those classics I always meant to read but never did and now I am doing. Of course the story if familiar enough to me to know where it is going. What I am concentrating on is trying and learn how to describe so wonderfully. Perhaps the next entry on this will deal with the outcome and existential questions.

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At 7:18 PM, Blogger Suzan Abrams said...

Enjoyed this post very much, JCR. :-)

At 6:20 PM, Blogger Imani said...

Happy New Year, JCR! Madame Bovary is also one of those books I mean to read. I shall be following your progress with much interest, picking up tips here and there. Geoffrey Wall is the translator of my edition.

At 8:20 AM, Blogger Heather said...

Thank you so much for your nice comment over at The Library Ladder. I read Madame Bovary years ago and while I remember enjoying it, I don't remember having the same concern over who was narrating - perhaps it is time for a reread! Your comments on the books you are reading are always so thought out - it is entirely certain that I missed something while reading MB the first time!

At 10:40 PM, Blogger Mme. H. said...

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At 10:42 PM, Blogger Mme. H. said...

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At 10:44 PM, Blogger Mme. H. said...

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