Remake of ‘Madame Bovary’ | Financial Times

Jean Améry is best known as the author of At the limits of imaginationa harrowing account of his experiences in Nazi concentration camps, standing alongside Primo Levi’s. If this is a man as one of the most moving and profound reflections on the Holocaust. Little known is the fact that Améry actually wrote thousands of articles on popular culture, as well as two “novel-essays”, the second, Charles Bovary, Country Doctor: Portrait of a Simple Man, now translated into English for the first time (some 40 years after its German publication). This book is a different but demanding critique and bold reflection on Gustave Flaubert’s work of psychological realism. Madame Bovary.

Améry’s story begins at the end of Flaubert, after the murder of Emma Bovary but before her husband Charles discovers the letters sent by his old lovers, Rodolphe Boulanger who real estate agent and student and secretary Léon Dupuis. Charles’ description of his great pain in the opening chapters is arresting, even shocking, in its directness and intimacy. With the receipt of letters, this pain has acquired a necrophilic character that is deeply disturbing as Charles dwells on the images of Emma’s corpse, in a vision of an impossible mourning refusing to give up dealing with the dead reminds Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights.

The main source of Améry’s book – described in the first of two essayistic chapters where the author abandons the voice of Charles and speaks his own – is Flaubert, who Madame Bovary Destroying Emma’s thoughts and feelings with a difficulty and force that has never been seen before in the history of fiction, Charles did not think that he had a different domestic life: “Realism undermines his flag, psychology tells itself before the truth of this poor. man.” To explain Flaubert’s failure, Améry turns to autobiography, retelling the story of Flaubert’s life in a way that suggests it has narrative power.

In the later chapters, the line between fiction and non-fiction becomes increasingly blurred: Charles discusses the condition of the bourgeois with the pompous village pharmacist, Monsieur Homais, and Flaubert becomes one of old classmates of the country doctor. The voices of author and character seem to merge in the chaotic final chapter, “J’Accuse”, where Charles accuses his creator of denying him human rights (liberté, égalité, fraternité). This scene was inspired by Emile Zola’s famous essay, but Flaubert’s own investigation of the accusation after the publication of Madame Bovary. The metafictional self-consciousness and surreal atmosphere of Charles Bovary It may feel like an archetypal postmodernist work, but its strong voice and emotional directness result in something else, something separate.

Améry reads Flaubert the way Emma Bovary reads his famous poems – that is, with emotional attachment. Indeed, because Améry appreciates it, like other readers Madame Bovary although “not a novel, but a novel par excellence” he is deeply concerned with the impossibility of Charles’s doubts about his charming and indecisive wife. Instead of Flaubert, Améry portrays a husband who discovers that his wife is a criminal, and is happy with that knowledge. his”). Of course, Charles was devastated by the correspondence between Emma and her lovers. But he returns to these letters, finding in them a lesson about erotic thought – a passion that sometimes flows from his dead wife to the men she loved the most. In one of the most critical moments of the trial, where truth and fiction cannot be separated, he not only kills Rodolphe and Léon, but also abuses their corpses.

Charles Bovary especially when Améry follows his central character into dark places of jealousy, grief and desire. However, the success of literary chapters dictates how they sit alongside essayistic chapters. Améry’s attempt to stay conscious of Flaubert’s mind, and the resulting criticism of his portrayal of Charles, is interesting reading, but the pompous attitude is about the truth. and the bourgeois subject as a flat failure. One imagines that many readers will be tempted to skip these pages. It would be a shame to do so, since much of the final chapter’s power comes from Améry’s collection of arguments about truth and his persuasion of heart and soul. thought in great confusion.

Due to its different nature like story and essay, Charles Bovary It may not appeal to readers who are not familiar with or interested in Flaubert’s great work. But for many readers, Améry’s thought-provoking and moving book provokes us to rethink what we thought we knew about one of his most important and much-discussed works. of European literature.

Charles Bovary, Country Doctor: Portrait of a Simple Manby Jean Améry, translated by Adrian Nathan West, New York Review Books, RRP£8.99/$14.95, 176 pages

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