Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

May Books 22) Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert

Many many years since I had read this, and it's one of those rather grim cheap standard translations (I have proven by bitter experiment that my French is up to reading graphic novels but not classics), which still carries off the essential drama - replicated in a thousand soap operas since, but I guess rather daring for its day. It's impossible surely not to feel sympathy for Emma, condemned to social conformity by a society which believes itself to be in a process of liberalisation (but isn't really); she is desperately grasping for possible ladders to a more fulfilling life, without looking too closely at the details of where they might lead to. As with Middlemarch (and to a lesser extent Buddenbrooks) the politics of the time get a certain reflection in people's personal lives.

The translation is strikingly off in places. Flaubert's wonderful metaphor for emotional blockage caused by domestic torpor, "Elle ne savait pas que, sur la terrasse des maisons, la pluie fait des lacs quand les gouttières sont bouchées" does have some problems anyway in English translation, as very few English or Irish houses have "terrasses" (in America the word "porch" would just about cover it, but this side of the Atlantic "porch" generally means a smaller enclosed area). However, this becomes in English "She did not know that on the terrace of houses it makes lakes when the pipes are choked" - it actually sounds more cod-French than the original, by bafflingly dropping explicit reference to rain, thus leaving us uncertain about what "it" is. I am sorry to say that the translator was Karl Marx's daughter Eleanor.
Tags: bookblog 2014, writer: gustave flaubert

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