Excuse Me, Madame

I’m well into the latest translation of MADAME BOVARY by Lydia Davis, and I couldn’t be happier.

Josephine Carr suggested the other day that I listen to it on audio — as it’s read by Davina Porter, and my god Davina is one of the best — but Davina’s version is not available for download and the local library copy is checked out.  So I’m waiting for the audio, and reading instead.

You know what’s so great about the story so far?  How much Flaubert trusts his reader to be smart and able to follow the complexities.  I thank him for that.  Here is my favorite paragraph so far:

Before her marriage, she had believed that what she was experiencing was love; but since the happiness that should have resulted from that love had not come, she thought she must have been mistaken.  And Emma tried to find out just what was meant, in life, by the words “bliss,” “passion,” and “intoxication,” which had seemed so beautiful to her in books. (p. 30)

Which had seemed so beautiful to her in books.  Any thoughts?


13 thoughts on “Excuse Me, Madame

  1. lisahgolden

    I obsessed about this book a couple of years ago. I became so entangled with it that I eventually threatened to burn my copy along with a receipt to the Holland Tunnel that served as its bookmark. I burned the receipt and hid the book. I just couldn’t burn it.

    The same day I burned the receipt (it was charged with some emotional stuff), the movie version of Madame Bovary was on Turner Movie Classics. I ran on the elliptical for the entire movie as my punishment for even considering burning that book. Any book, really.

    Bliss, passion and intoxication. What a dangerous mix of words.

    I have a question for you (completely unrelated, but about books). Could you email me at lisahgolden at gmail dot com? Thanks!

  2. erikamarks

    Teri, I think that is one of the hardest things as a writer, to walk that line between trusting your readers to be every bit as smart as you know they are BUT still wanting to be sure they can grasp your meaning AND not wanting them to have to work to understand you (which plenty of writers do, or maybe I’m just a damn lazy reader–either is possible).

    That passage is spot-on.

    Also just wondering…still going with TOWNIE?

    1. Teri Post author

      I am still reading TOWNIE. Hoping to finish next week, but this MADAME BOVARY has absolutely got most of my attention …

  3. Downith

    I read this as a undergrad student for my BA (French) It was completely lost on me then – what did I know at 18? Might be time for a re-read – or on audiobook if I can get it.

    1. Teri Post author

      If you can get the library copy with Davina Porter reading, do it. I plan on listening to it as soon as I can, even after reading it.

      I hear you on the re-reading-thing. There are books I loved when I was 20 that I pick up now and wonder, “What in the world did I like about this book?!?!!?!!!” And others that I just think, “Did I even read this?”

      1. Lyra

        I assumed I had read this and couldn’t remember. Then after hearing Lisa say she was obsessd, and you say it has absolutly gotten your attention, I pull up a little tidbit. It rang no bells. None.

        One of the reasons I love my husband is that I shoot him an e-mail, do we have this? He’s studied it a couple of different times, thinks we may have a couple different translations about. “There’s also a new translation by Lydia Davis, I think”. I love that he knows this sort of thing, and follows it with “I think”.

        I’m going to check when I get home, but if Sean Penn pops up anywhere, his copy of the book, he’s filming the movie, I’m not going to read it.

      2. Teri Post author

        Well isn’t that a very interesting development! I, too, have a husband who is humble, yet in the know on all things literary. You should see the books we have crammed into this little house — a woman was in here earlier and saw the small painting of his Ideal Bookshelf, to which she said, “You don’t have enough of the REAL ones??” Ha!

        And I must say I’m with you on Sean Penn.

      3. Deb

        Would you believe I was once shunned because of my books? I was wondering why I wasn’t invited to book club with the other class mothers. Then one of the mothers who had been here said ‘but you have so many books and they’re such smart books.’ Um, that’s a reason. I guess. I haven’t read Madame Bovary but that is a beautiful paragraph. It is now on the list!

        And for the record, my clothes may not be unpacked yet but all my books are. Priorities, you see.

      4. Teri Post author

        Deb. Shunned because of your books. I believe you 100%.

        I also remember when I was in my early 20s and would lay out classics I hadn’t read so I’d look smart. Who was I trying so hard to look smart FOR? I couldn’t even tell you. Geez.

  4. josephinecarr


    This is really SO FUNNY. I was so re-inspired by that paragraph you posted that when I was at the library, I looked for Porter’s reading, again, and THEY HAD IT. So, I’m going to listen to it again!

    It seems to me that sometimes it’s these apparently small things that make blogging so wonderful.


    1. Teri Post author

      And Jody, I just got your book in the mail: My Very Own Murder, which I plan on reading as soon as I get through this big stack on my desk!!

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