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Think you've read Madame Bovary?
April 19, 2009 6:35 AM   Subscribe

4,500 additional pages omitted from Flaubert's 500-page Madame Bovary have been released online (in French). "The site – www.bovary.fr – contains not only the published text and images of the barely legible manuscripts but interactive controls which allow the reader to re-instate passages corrected or cut by Flaubert or his publishers." It took "between three and 10 hours to decipher a single page of Flaubert's writing," done mostly by volunteers from around the world.
posted by stbalbach (39 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
If we found Madame Bovary tedious, long-winded and misogynist in the 500 page version, I assume it doesn't become less so in the expanded version?

It's a tremendously interesting sounding project -- I love the idea of it, of being able to really see and understand how much gets written and re-worked before a novel is published. I just wish all that effort had been put into a book I didn't find quite so loathsome.

(As a side note, I understand that the book is somewhat more entertaining in the original French, but my high school French lessons don't stretch to reading anything other than a box of Shreddies in the original French.)
posted by jacquilynne at 7:23 AM on April 19, 2009


What do you mean "we," kemosabe?

In any case, like jacquilynne says, this is a tremendous an opportunity to learn more about the novelist's process. On the other hand, there's a reason notes and drafts remain notes and drafts and do not become part of the finished work; one wonders if the novelist would approve of this posthumous sentimental education.
posted by notyou at 7:54 AM on April 19, 2009


What do you mean "we," kemosabe?

In the 200 page expansion of this thread, you'll discover that earlier drafts of that post made reference to my book club, the members of which pretty much disliked this book all around.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:57 AM on April 19, 2009 [7 favorites]


I loved the novel, and read it in English. Having the cut stuff for analysis does indeed provide some insights into the mind of an author so long as we remember that the novel as published and submitted by the author is what represents the novel itself.
posted by Postroad at 8:18 AM on April 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I loved the novel as well. Flaubert hated all the same characters I did (i.e. almost all of them). Thanks for this!
posted by flibbertigibbet at 8:47 AM on April 19, 2009


In the 200 page expansion of this thread, you'll discover that earlier drafts of that post made reference to my book club, the members of which pretty much disliked this book all around.

OMG, and Flaubert is tedious and long-winded?
posted by troybob at 9:03 AM on April 19, 2009


This is actually one of my favorite books ever. I don't think it's misogynist at all. In a lot of ways, Emma was a stand in for Flaubert himself. In fact, he was quoted as saying "Madame Bovary, c'est moi" ("Madame Bovary is me").

I remember reading that some modern critics see the book as sort of an early feminist statement -- that Emma was the victim of a sexist and highly-stratified culture, and did the best she could with her trapped, bleak life. However, I think this interpretation is also a bit of a stretch.

Outside of that, I had no idea there was a 500-page version. The (English) Wordsworth Classics edition I have claims to be "Complete and Unabridged" and clocks in at 269 pages. What's going on with that?
posted by Afroblanco at 9:03 AM on April 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Outside of that, I had no idea there was a 500-page version. The (English) Wordsworth Classics edition I have claims to be "Complete and Unabridged" and clocks in at 269 pages. What's going on with that?

Big pages, small type?
posted by Sys Rq at 9:22 AM on April 19, 2009


Big pages, small type?

Hmmm... It looks about average for a paperback.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:33 AM on April 19, 2009


Maybe the original is double-spaced? Or maybe it's just a really concise translation? Or maybe it's volume 1 of 2--did you get to the part where she wins the championship only to die of bovarian cancer the next afternoon?

Personally, I'm a bigger fan of Monsieur Btesticle. It's less ridiculous.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:55 AM on April 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


Don't worry jacquilynne, you're not alone. There's no book I read in the process of getting my English degree that I liked less than Madame Bovary. Though to give Flaubert credit, at least I finished it. I couldn't even finish Heart of Darkness.
posted by Caduceus at 9:55 AM on April 19, 2009


I once threw a copy of Madame Bovary out the window of the little house where I was living with a young child and a man I never, really, should have attempted to make a family with. I didn't go and pick it up, either, and it stayed there until the rain pulped it and it disintegrated.

However, I will definitely check this site out, which sounds fascinating. Thanks!
posted by jokeefe at 10:02 AM on April 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I couldn't even finish Heart of Darkness

*sigh* - I have read HoD at least 6 times. It's a weird book like Moby-Dick but mercifully shorter. Just don't make me read Lord Jim again - it's understandably important for opening the way to modernism (ie. tearing down Victorian certitudes), but probably better talked about than read.

my English degree

I honestly think most literature that isn't contemporary is best approached as an adjunct to history, as a way of understanding a historical period, which means undergraduate literature is often lost on students who have not had the time to read and understand the period in question. For example before reading MB, one really needs a grounding in 19th century French history, which is fairly complex and beyond the scope of the literature department for undergrads. Literary theory is much sexier than literary history but it's like fast food, tastes good but not ultimately nourishing.
posted by stbalbach at 10:21 AM on April 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


I honestly think most literature that isn't contemporary is best approached as an adjunct to history, as a way of understanding a historical period

Apart from the difficulty of defining the contemporary, this gives rather short shrift to literature as a means of understanding the present, or literary history, or any tradition, including history, in which we might recognise a piece of ourselves, I would argue..

More strange to me is reading MB for an English degree, although I suppose it might make sense on a course on the 19thC realist novel in general. But I admit I've only read Flaubert's Parrot...
posted by GeorgeBickham at 10:45 AM on April 19, 2009


I couldn't even finish Heart of Darkness.

I'm genuinely taken aback by this.
posted by WPW at 10:46 AM on April 19, 2009


Apparently, the 1857 edition had 490 pages, and the 1873 edition had 470 pages. A modern paperback French version can take up to 576 pages, bu that probably includes a good bit of commentary.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 11:16 AM on April 19, 2009


Part of me is thinking, "Well, Flaubert was a good enough editor of his own work to know what should have been cut," but the other part of me is pretty sure I'm just trying to assuage my disappointment that I can't read French.

I love Madame Bovary. And I'm an English major. And for the record, I finished Heart of Darkness, but I like "Fitzcarraldo" better.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:44 PM on April 19, 2009


short shrift to literature as a means of understanding the present, or literary history, or any tradition, including history, in which we might recognise a piece of ourselves, I would argue..

Those things are fine too - it's a question of what to emphasize and foreground I suppose, which is really a matter of opinion - and every book can be approached in a different way depending. The 19th century realist novels are a good fit for a history adjunct approach.
posted by stbalbach at 1:25 PM on April 19, 2009


It took "between three and 10 hours to decipher a single page of Flaubert's writing"

That's quite fitting, since it apparently took Flaubert about that length of time to decide upon the form of a single sentence.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:48 PM on April 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I couldn't even finish Heart of Darkness.

Are you sure you're not actually talking about Finnegan's Wake, and you didn't even get as far as the title?
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:51 PM on April 19, 2009


The 19th century realist novels are a good fit for a history adjunct approach.

Sure, although I find that literature undergrads can be highly resistant to the historical adjunct approach. Even textual history - the history of the work itself, and the subject of the original post - is a hard sell.

The 4500 pages with scans and transcripts seems, on a cursory glance, to be an exercise in genetic criticism, which is largely a French tradition of textual scholarship, although there are genetic editions in progress of, for example, Joyce.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 1:53 PM on April 19, 2009


A friend of mine is doing something similar to genetic criticism with Beckett.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:02 PM on April 19, 2009


This fascinating project awakens two very different reactions in me. On the one hand, it's a unique opportunity to see how the novel was created, and for any lover of Flaubert's impeccable prose that's quite a temptation; on the other hand, Flaubert would have hated the very idea that people would be pawing through his drafts, and if he'd known about this would probably have burned them. Anyway, thanks for the post!

The idea that Madame Bovary is misogynistic is as silly as the idea that Huckleberry Finn is racist, but if you didn't like the book, hey, you didn't like the book, chacun à son gout and all that.
posted by languagehat at 2:06 PM on April 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


Sure, although I find that literature undergrads can be highly resistant to the historical adjunct approach.

As an undergrad history major, my favorite assigned texts were novels. Not that I dislike history books (continue to read them), but novels as a tool for understanding history are very powerful, with the right historical background to understand it. Many people will justify the "guilty pleasures" of reading genre historical fiction (or movies) because it teaches them about history - I think with undergrad lit students it could be the same way, it's all in the approach. But then, if your a lit major, who wants a history class, that's not why your there. But just as history classes assign novels, couldn't literature classes assign history texts.
posted by stbalbach at 2:23 PM on April 19, 2009


I couldn't even finish Heart of Darkness.

I'm genuinely taken aback by this.


Seconded. I found Heart of Darkness to be a joy to read.

Also, Sys Rq's comment made my day.
posted by brundlefly at 2:50 PM on April 19, 2009


But just as history classes assign novels, couldn't literature classes assign history texts.

That depends on your definition of a history text. Material that is on the borders of history and myth, such as some medieval chronicles, can lead to interesting discussions. In general, though, you can't really get literature students to read a modern historical treatise as they would a novel, since you will get bogged down in debates about reality and its narrative representation that are better taught through fictional examples. Sir Walter Scott would be good for that, but for the most part students can't stand him.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 2:57 PM on April 19, 2009


In a way, literature and history are complementary: it's hard to understand works if you don't know about the historical context -- this is most evident with books such as L'Éducation sentimentale or Le Rouge et le Noir. But once you know enough about the period to understand them, they can be appreciated on their own terms. And, as stbalbach points out, they can also be used to teach about the times they depict. Notably, they offer narrative descriptions of everyday life, which are easier to digest than the reconstructions of everyday life from secondary documents.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 2:57 PM on April 19, 2009


it's hard to understand works if you don't know about the historical context

That's always the case if you define understanding as situating a work in a historical context, yes. But you can choose different goals for reading a work. You might read Flaubert for moral edification, for thrills or out of curiosity about language and arrive at perfectly workable kinds of understanding for your purposes.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 3:30 PM on April 19, 2009


Thank you, very interesting.
posted by Wolof at 5:16 PM on April 19, 2009


You can get some idea of the productivity and methods of genetic criticism in this article (sorry, gbooks, couple of pages missing, but should not impair understanding too much).

I'm one of the translators of the linked piece.
posted by Wolof at 5:31 PM on April 19, 2009


The idea that Madame Bovary is misogynistic is as silly as the idea that Huckleberry Finn is racist

Or that Don Quixote is misandronystic.

Emma Bovary, like Don Quixote, was lost in unrealistic romantic fantasies, and while that can make for good satire of that particular person's outlook, it would only become misogynistic if it was suggested that women - as a whole - suffered from the same delusions.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:39 PM on April 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Very true - especially when, in the very same book, you have a such a counterexample as Madame Homais.
posted by Afroblanco at 7:04 PM on April 19, 2009


Madame Bovary is one of those books I should've read a long time ago but it's on the list of books I want to read once I've finally gotten my French up to snuff. Since that goal keeps getting postponed I think it's time I get a good translation and read it.

And I hate to ruin a perfectly good joke but "ovary" in French is "ovaire."
posted by Kattullus at 9:59 PM on April 19, 2009


Are there other examples of crowd sourcing transcription like this?
posted by LarryC at 12:39 AM on April 20, 2009


Sure, although I find that literature undergrads can be highly resistant to the historical adjunct approach. Even textual history - the history of the work itself, and the subject of the original post - is a hard sell.

I take it you aren't allowed to suggest to them, at that point, that the study of literature is apparently not something they're cut out for, and they might care to try something else?

it's hard to understand works if you don't know about the historical context

That's always the case if you define understanding as situating a work in a historical context, yes.


MacBeth makes no sense to me as a tragedy without historical context around how Lady M would have looked to a contemporary audience. To me it looks like an arsehole getting his just deserts; it simply doesn't work as a tragedy at all, and certainly not as a great one (I'd rate Titus Andronicus higher).

Likewise if one fails to think about Merchant of Venice in modern versus older readings you're missing a lot (on my mind, since I saw this for the first time in the weekend, and fucking fantastic it is, too, but it could easily be retitled, "The Tragedy of Shylock".)
posted by rodgerd at 2:04 AM on April 20, 2009


Kattullus: "And I hate to ruin a perfectly good joke but "ovary" in French is "ovaire.""

Still works. Less vulgar, more subtle, more French.
posted by stbalbach at 5:55 AM on April 20, 2009


Sure, although I find that literature undergrads can be highly resistant to the historical adjunct approach. Even textual history - the history of the work itself, and the subject of the original post - is a hard sell.

I take it you aren't allowed to suggest to them, at that point, that the study of literature is apparently not something they're cut out for, and they might care to try something else?


You can by all means had out Fs if students get basic historical facts about the text wrong, but not for failing to mention said facts in their writing. They are aware of this, which is why they are leery of using history even when you offer to them on a plate, which you shouldn't be doing anyway if you want them to improve their understanding of literature and confidence in their writing. I give them really a lot anyway, but you have to mix it up a little and let them come to it.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 12:53 PM on April 20, 2009


That's always the case if you define understanding as situating a work in a historical context, yes.

No, I really mean understanding the words on the page. But maybe that's because I come from translation, where understanding everything that's in the text (and around it, too) is paramount -- miss an important allusion, and you'll hate yourself forever.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:49 PM on April 20, 2009


I am, of course, firmly on the side of m'colleague directly above.
posted by Wolof at 2:10 AM on April 21, 2009


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