I'm currently reading Lydia Davis' new translation of Madame Bovary and it is exquisite. I rarely underline sentences when I am reading a novel but with this one, I find myself reaching for a pen to highlight certain passages. Like the one below, so perfect and precise:
"Perhaps she would have liked to confide in someone about all these things. But how to express an uneasiness so intangible, one that changes shape like a cloud, that changes direction like the wind? She lacked the words, the occasion, the courage."I was so captivated by the book's lyrical prose that I immediately looked up Lydia Davis and found this article on translation that she wrote for the Paris Review. I don't speak or read French but it is interesting how she listed all the previous translations of the phrase 'bouffées d’affadissement'. Which makes you wonder, if a phrase can be interpreted in so many ways, how about an entire book? And what of the author's writing style, can one really capture that in translation?
I never thought about this before because for the most part I am just thankful for great books that have English translations I can enjoy. And indeed if a piece of literature is able to stand the test of time partly because of its English incarnations, then its essence must have been preserved, right? Definitely something to think about. In the meantime, I will continue to savor this beautiful book.
Have any of you read Madame Bovary? I'd love to hear your thoughts about it. Most especially, what do you think of Emma?
Images from the film adaption of Madame Bovary (1991)