Saturday, September 30, 2006

Julian Barnes re-imagines "Madame Bovary"

A few days ago I posted a link to Julian Barnes' story celebrating the 150th anniversary of Madame Bovary. At the time I thought the story was available only in French: now the Guardian has published an English version.

Here is Barnes' explanatory preface, followed by a link to the new story:
A hundred and fifty years ago tomorrow, on October 1 1856, the first episode of Madame Bovary appeared in the Revue de Paris. The serialisation was a benign act of nepotism by one of the magazine's editors, Maxime Du Camp, towards an old friend of his from student days, Gustave Flaubert. This debut came at the late age of 35: Flaubert had put himself through a long and silent apprenticeship, working out his youthful romanticism, discovering a harder and more objective way of writing, and discarding - or at least, refusing to publish - almost everything he wrote. When his collected juvenilia finally appeared in 2001 (Oeuvres de Jeunesse, Pléiade edition), they were seen to take up almost as many pages as the subsequent novels of his maturity. Flaubert had always been wary of publication, and said that when it came to finally displaying himself, he would only do so "in full armour".

But there is always an entry-point for an unexpected knife: the first episode of Madame Bovary appeared with the author's name misspelt as "Faubert". The editors of the Revue de Paris also demanded 30 or so pages of cuts to the manuscript: some on aesthetic grounds, many out of nervousness at the state of censorship under Napoleon III. So words like concubine, concupiscence and adultère were removed. As the serial publication continued, and protests from readers in the provinces mounted, Du Camp and his fellow editor demanded more cuts: suppressing, for instance, the famous sex scene in the closed cab between Emma and Léon. Outraged, Flaubert consulted his lawyer, Maître Senard, about suing the magazine for infringing his authorial rights. Eventually, a compromise was reached, and two successive episodes ended with a double footnote: one by Du Camp, explaining how certain passages of the novel had proved unsuitable for the Revue, and the other from Flaubert, coldly dissociating himself from the massacred text. This public altercation probably helped draw the attention of the censors. By the end of 1856, Flaubert had signed a contract for the novel's publication in book form, the authorities had launched their prosecution for "outraging public morals and religion", Maître Senard had some serious work to do, and Madame Bovary was poised to become next year's succès de scandale.
Click here to read Barnes' story.

--Marshal Zeringue