Madame Bovary: An Uneducated Reading

She had some odd notions,too. By Gemintheeye.
'She had some odd notions,too.' By Gemintheeye.

The real reason for the unforgivable length of time with which I plodded through Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary was the unbearably small size of the texts of my Wordsworth Classics edition of the book.

At the surface, the book is thin. In fact, it is short at 220 pages. But, yes… but is one of my favorite words – one can’t help it, life is full of buts: but the pages are crammed with words. The letters look like they are font size 6 or 7. Needless to say, it is ‘Hell’ to read, especially for someone who is optically inconvenienced. This is especially true during the late afternoons, when the light of the sun has already dimmed and the time to turn on the fluorescent lamp has not yet come.

Which goes without saying that I could not even claim the savoring of each and every page as an excuse for my taking time with the classic novel. Every time I open the book, the small texts interfere with my concentration. How many times have I restrained my curiosity about Emma Bovary’s latest romantic delusion because my eyes have had enough? I had to put the book down instead of reading in bed (I read in bed every morning when I wake up and every evening before I go to sleep). Hence, most of my free time are spent on other things like, say, going over long essays of my favorite nose rubbing Slovenian thinker or, yes, flipping the pages of another book.

The problem, however, is not at all the appearance of the texts. In the first place, I did buy the book for only 10 Pesos (at present, P46 is equivalent to $1) from a secondhand shop.* So I guess I deserved it. Or rather, Madame Bovary and I deserved each other. I was, after all, able to bear with her for a week. I have the book’s worthiness to thank for that. I have Flaubert to thank. I would not read a book in such a state if it was not written by him (or any other writer I consider to be significant for that matter).

Thank you, Gustave.

So after the long digression, am I finally proceeding with an exposition of my uneducated reading of Madame Bovary? Yes? No? Well, NO. And why should I? The poet Charles Baudelaire put it this way: “Does one show to a now giddy, now indifferent public the working of one’s devices?” I am, of course, no poet. But you get the point. It is simply horrible. If you want, you can borrow my copy of the book and read the illegible scrawlings on the margins. It also comes with not a few underlinings, courtesy of my unsharpened pencil.

For those interested in an educated reading of the 19th century classic, there’s the Wikipedia. Just recently, I have complained about the presence of spurious information in the said online reference site. I only have the highest praise for Wikipedia’s Madame Bovary entry (and the people behind it). Madame Bovary is becoming one of my favorite books. I wish Santa Claus would be good enough to give me this. ■

* Ugh, disgusting! One should always buy new books, I hear author Chas Newkey-Burden exlaim. Meanwhile, if this advertorial is to be believed, the Philippines seems to be following the “Emma Bovary School” in the face of the global economic crisis: we’re one big mall and everybody should go dizzy shopping one’s way out of the abyss. But we all know what happened to Emma in the end: “it’s just simply dizzying!”



  1. I’ve recently had a similar problem with a translation of “Dead Souls.” The print was too small. Do you think that small print was less difficult to read at an earlier time in history? It seems that way. For example, if you look at old newspapers, they’re crammed full of minute words. But on a more important note, I wouldn’t want you to miss out on this great novel. And if you found the book in second hand shop, most likely the translation is also second rate, although that’s not always the case. I’ve found that a good translation can change everything.

  2. Hehe, I was under the impression that most of them used magnifying lenses then, like in those Sherlock Holmes adaptations. But seriously, the edition I bought was printed in 1993. The publishers were simply scrimping, and in a way it’s good because it’s cheap (and way cheaper when it got to the secondhand shop). Anyway, I liked the book so I think the translation was good enough. Surely, I’d like to get my hands on a better copy sooner or later. But then there’s the question of affordability. Two-thirds of all my books come from secondhand shops.

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