Why did I love this book?
How very terrible is the overmastering desire that torments Madame Bovary! How large is our sympathy and, at the same time, our disgust for this woman of the provinces who, longing for the gay life of a Parisian, as it was in the first half of the nineteenth century, betrayed everyone she knew, including her doltish, if devoted husband, Charles, a country doctor. Fifty-five years have passed since my first acquaintance with Gustave Flaubert’s 1856 masterwork of psychological and sociological realism, a work that does not pass judgment on human folly but only presents it, although the absurdities of society and the pretentiousness of certain egotists are skewered by the author’s satiric ferocity.
In 1967, I was unprepared by life to receive Flaubert’s insights, rendered in the subtlest of prose, in, arguably, the first example of literacy realism. Do you hunger to read gorgeous language and enjoy a reader’s sensual pleasure? Do you wish, at whatever age you are now, to begin to understand the human heart? (It can never be fully comprehended, only felt.) Read Madame Bovary in the Lydia Davis translation, and prepare to be astonished.