Monday, January 16, 2012

Not Just Another Desperate Housewife

I'll confess that there are so many classic works of literature that I can't say for sure whether I have read or not, since I know so much about them. Surely I read Madame Bovary at some point in one of my world lit classes (probably the one I recall best from college, with an instructor who obviously kept applying lipstick all day, until her lips looked larger, more clownish than any collagen-injected starlet. The woman often wore sunglasses on top of her reading glasses, and in a throaty voice--the result of her chain-smoking, she would tell us, "Now we're not just going to read the bawwwdddyyy parts," and then she went on and did just that.)

Since I had recently learned of the new translation by Lydia Davis of Gustave Flaubert's classic, I didn't have to think twice when I came across the audiobook at the library. Listening on my way to and from school, I groaned at the woman's self-deluding escapades, at the sometimes vicious actions of her neighbors, and at her poor gullible husband.

After finishing the novel, I still recall some of the zingers--those powerful lines that made me groan or laugh out loud. How much credit goes to Flaubert and how much to Davis, his most recent translator, I don't know. I suspect I will want at least to peruse the book in print. Not a student of French, I find that sometimes the place names, the Alex Trebek-style pronunciation intimidate me. I realize that I might not even recognize some of the cities and towns on a map, something I feel compelled to remedy.

The story maintains a modern feel, despite the period-style clothes and manners. After all, Emma's ultimate downfall and death came from reliance on too-easy credit, living above her means, wanting more that she could afford on her husband's income, and her deception to postpone paying the piper.

With this classic under my belt, maybe soon I will be ready to tackle the newly translated War and Peace. Time will tell.


Unknown said...

It's been a while but this book invites a re-read.
War & Peace--I read two-thirds of the epic when I was on a path of reading Russian authors. For this one, I went back to the movie!

Susan Woodring said...

Nancy, I found your blog!! I love your comments on MB. I agree, the Davis translation is really wonderful, and Emma's story feels timeless...

I haven't read War and Peace, but that same couple's translation of Anna Karenina is so, so wonderful. I spent some time in Russia years ago and I can say their translation is both very accessible and very Russian! I loved it! (So interesting to compare, btw, Emma's and Anna's stories!!)

Ann Summerville said...

I don't think I've ever read it although know the story (perhaps from a movie). Definitely a book that's worth looking out for.

Jessie Carty said...

Sad that ive missed this classic as well. I'm trying to use my kindle to catch up on some!