My online book club read Madame Bovary for July. This was my third time through the novel and each time I have a different experience. I found a book of essays on by novelist called . Vargas Llosa has a real thing for this novel and credits repeated readings with saving his life. (I’ll review The Perpetual Orgy next week.)
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Madame Bovary is a French novel in English written by Gustave Flaubert. In this novel, Emma Bovary is the protagonist whose tragic downfall is caused by the romantic sentimentalism in her life. The sentimentalism is so powerful that she cannot come out of it. Her character is being nicely described below.
So the British reader had to wait another three decades – until 1886, six years after the author’s death – for the first published translation of Madame Bovary. It too was made by a woman, Eleanor Marx Aveling (Marx’s daughter – a quiet irony, given Flaubert’s caustic views on the Commune), as is the very latest, by the American short-story writer – and Proust translator – Lydia Davis. In between, most of the 15 or more versions have been made by men. The best-known of them are Francis Steegmuller and Gerard Hopkins; and though Steegmuller did write some fiction – including mysteries under the name of David Keith – it’s a fair bet that Davis is the best fiction writer ever to translate the novel. Which suggests a further question to the opening list: would you rather have your great novel translated by a good writer or a less good one?