My favourite book of all time has been mashed up and brought into the 21st century as “Gemma Bovery” the “hilarious account of an earthy English woman who moves to the same Normandy village as her namesake and embarks on an adulterous affair.
It’s French – apparemment – which makes me marginally less sniffy but not much. To take perfection and dumb it down, make it “more relevant” to the times or place we live in is just sacrilege! For the record I object similarly to the Anerican version of Le dîner de cons as well as of the brilliant Nordic “the killing”.
Yes, I am a literary snob. Not to the extent of devouring Proust when there is a mighty good police procedural to get my teeth into, just dislike the dumbing down of brilliance. As if the whole point were not the fact that things which endure do so because they are universal.
Watching Shakespeare brings tears to my eyes – not because I understand every word, I certainly don’t. We somehow have the illusion that our knowledge of the fundamentals of life gets greater with each century, (and at least we live in a far more liberal age than our predecessors, with greater rational and scientific knowledge every day), but I am constantly moved by how far the ironies of life, our desires as human beings, our idiosyncrasies were understood just as well in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries as they are today.
Bear with me on Mrs Bovary. I’m sorry Flaubert but it’s the only good book you wrote and I know it took you years to find le mot juste but it was worth the pain. Written in 1856 it tells the story of a romantic woman who has read too many novels, who is married to a dull, pedestrian doctor. Her life spirals out of control when she tries adultery then buying lots of nice things to assuage her boredom and dissatisfaction. With little requirement to “do” very much in terms of keeping house, yet not enough money to enjoy the balls and afternoon teas of the aristocracy, how did these women bring meaning to their lives?
More to the point, for me how prescient is this novel!? Are we not all in a post industrialised world where we are not forced to toil and labour each day for the essentials of bread, water and clean clothes seeking fulfilment and satisfaction? Are we not still divided into those who once they have the house, the spouse, the job are contented and happy with the day to day realities of life on the sofa in front of “Come jigging in the celebrity jungle” (Charles Bovary) and those always sniffing around for the next piece of stimulation who will probably never be satisfied?
Oh Flaubert, whilst I hope I do not die with black teeth and syphilis as you did, I am with you “madame bovary – c’est moi”.