Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert (translated by Lydia Davis), 1857
Another re-read for James Wood’s course and a totally new experience, whether due to the lectures or the new translation is not totally clear. Davis’s prose reads quite modern, and close reading of Flaubert reveals an ironic, comic, and extraordinarily detailed view of the provincial French life of the mid-19th C. Introducing Realism to the art of the novel, Flaubert provides the reader with a glut of detail, challenging the iconic realism of the photograph with the selection and choices of the author. The story is familiar—Emma Bovary, bored with life in a small village and a dull though faithfully loving husband and young daughter, indulges in two love affairs (one with a neighbor Rodolphe and one with the young law clerk Leon) and ends up disgraced, in debt, and abandoned by her lovers leaving suicide with arsenic as the final romantic act. Bovary dies of grief, the daughter is left to child labor, and the pharmacist gets the Legion of Honor. Is there no fairness in the universe????