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Back to Madame Bovary

I gave up on this gorgeous novel on p. 56 on November 1, because it was so meandering to the point of near plotlessness. But I gave my niece a copy for Christmas — she has a longer attention span — and as I wrote the inscription Christmas morning, decided to give it another go.

I don't expect to finish it, or even try, but return to it — periodically — almost like a book of poetry, which it resembles. (I need a daily rush of prose inspiration regardless, but especially in the heated writing phase of my gay soldiers book. The technique certainly helped me with Columbine.)

Madame Bovary Lydia Davis Gustave Flaubert

So I plunged in again this morning, and quickly came to Part 2, as Madame has just moved to a new market town, and p. 61 unfolds with a stunning depiction of the fresh terrain:

". . . from which you first discern the valley. The stream that runs through it creates two regions distinct in physiognomy: everything on the left is in pasture, everything on the right is tillage. The grassland extends under a fold of low hills to join at the far end the pastures of the Bray country, while to the east, the plain, rising gently, broadens out and extends its blond wheat fields as far as the eye can see. The water that runs along the edge of the grass divides with its line of white the color of the meadows from the color of the furrows, so that the countryside resembles a great mantle, unfolded its green velvet collar edged with silver braid."


He goes on:

"On the horizon before you, when you arrive, you have the oaks of the Argueil forest and the escarpments of the Saint-Jean hill, streaked from top to bottom by long, irregular trails of red; these are the marks left by the rains, and their brick-red tones, standing out so clearly in slender threads against the gray of the mountain, come from the abundance of ferruginous springs that flow beyond, in the surrounding countryside.

Here you are on the borders of Normandy, Picardy, and Ile-de-France, a mongrel region where the language is without expressive emphasis, just as the landscape is without character. It is here that they make the worst Neufchatel cheeses in the whole district, while farming is costly, because a good deal of manure is needed to enrich this crumbly soil full of sand and stones."

Still beautiful in that third paragraph, but a pivot from your gaze sweeping the land, deep into the character of the people, their sounds and their toils, ending again with that crumbly soil.

I keep wondering how much of this beauty was captured by Gustave Flaubert, and how much credit goes to the new translator, Lydia Davis — (who coincidentally wrote the intro to my mentor Lucia Berlin's book!) —but that's a question for another day.

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