Friday, April 21, 2017

Flaubert's best works, ranked

Peter Brooks is the author of Flaubert in the Ruins of Paris: The Story of a Friendship, a Novel, and a Terrible Year.

Number one on the list of Brooks's favorite Flaubert's works:
Madame Bovary

This remains as fresh and pertinent today as it was at publication—and it is still a shocker. We have seen plenty of adultery in the novel, but Emma Bovary’s experience of love and sex both marital and extra-marital is captured with extraordinary vividness and immediacy. The material world and the world of sensations are given to us in stunning detail. You might say this is the first truly “realist” novel in its detailing of the sights, smells, touches of everyday life. It is also the story of a longing that we all share to break out of the everyday, to experience the rare and significant. Emma Bovary may be deluded in her search for rapturous happiness, but it makes her a creative spirit, like the man who created her. “Madame Bovary is me,” Flaubert is supposed to have exclaimed. Yes, in that he has so well imagined an imprisoned spirit seeking adventure and release. There are two good translations of Madame Bovary available: by Geoffrey Wall (Penguin), and (even better, I think) by Lydia Davis (Viking).
Read about the other entries on the list.

Madame Bovary is on Ed Sikov's list of eight great books that got slammed by critics, Culture's list of the three of the worst mothers in literature, Alex Preston's top ten list of sex scenes from film, TV and literature, Rachel Holmes's top ten list of books on the struggle against gender-based inequality, Jill Boyd's list of six memorable marriage proposals in literature, Julia Sawalha's six best books list, Jennifer Gilmore's list of the ten worst mothers in books, Amy Sohn's list of six favorite books, Sue Townsend's 6 best books list, Helena Frith Powell's list of ten of the best sexy French books, the Christian Science Monitor's list of six novels about grand passions, John Mullan's lists of ten landmark coach rides in literature, ten of the best cathedrals in literature, ten of the best balls in literature, ten of the best bad lawyers in literature, ten of the best lotharios in literature, and ten of the best bad doctors in fiction, Valerie Martin's list of six novels about doomed marriages, and Louis Begley's list of favorite novels about cheating lovers. It tops Peter Carey's list of the top ten works of literature and was second on a top ten works of literature list selected by leading writers from Britain, America and Australia in 2007. It is one of John Bowe's six favorite books on love.

--Marshal Zeringue