The 154-year-old heroine of Flaubert’s classic French novel Madame Bovary has just been reincarnated as a Playboy Bunny. Yes, that’s right: in October, all of you gentlemen who read Playboy “for the articles” can say you’re reading it “for the classic French literature” instead. According to The Independent, the magazine is publishing a chapter from the latest English translation of the novel, along with a Madame-Bovary-inspired “Playmate of the Month” photo spread.
To help get modern Playboy readers interested in a French novel that’s over a century old, Playboy is hyping the book as “the most scandalous novel” ever published.” Of course, to call that headline an exaggeration would be putting it mildly, as Flaubert scholar Professor Yvan Leclerc pointed out in the Independent:
“Personally, I am amused, and delighted, that Madame Bovary should appear in Playboy. As far as I am concerned, the more people that read Flaubert the better. However, I was a little startled to see that Playboy, no doubt for commercial reasons, advertises Madame Bovary on its cover as the ‘most scandalous novel of all time’ More scandalous than the Marquis de Sade? Or a thousand works of extreme modern erotica? Hardly.”
Well, it may not be the most scandalous novel of all time, but if you enjoy literature, there are good reasons to get excited about the new translation. This latest version was translated by American novelist Lydia Davis, a well-regarded writer in her own right who is also known for her translation of Proust. When preparing this translation, Ms. Davis explains that, unlike earlier translations, she tried to stay as close to the original novel as possible while still capturing the beauty of Flaubert’s prose:
“I’ve found the ones that are written with some flair and some life to them are not all that close to the original. The ones that are more faithful may be kind of clunky. So what I’m trying to do is what I think hasn’t been done, which is to create a well-written translation that’s also very close, very faithful to the French.”