Read 4,500 Unpublished Pages of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary


Why study a lan­guage like French? For the unpar­al­leled plea­sure, of course, of read­ing a beloved, respect­ed, and endur­ing nov­el like Madame Bovary in the orig­i­nal — or so lit­er­ar­i­ly inclined Fran­cophiles might argue. After all, they’d rhetor­i­cal­ly ask, can you real­ly say you’ve read the book if you haven’t actu­al­ly read the very same words Gus­tave Flaubert wrote? But now, lit­er­ar­i­ly inclined Fran­cophiles who also have an enthu­si­asm for the web (not an over­whelm­ing­ly large group, wags may point out) can insist that you haven’t real­ly read Madame Bovary unless you’ve read it all in the orig­i­nal: all 4,500 pages of it. Yes, the French do tend to write longer sen­tences than most, but that impres­sive length has less to do with a nation­al lit­er­ary style than with thor­ough­go­ing com­pletism, an impulse that brings togeth­er all of the 1856 nov­el­’s orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished pages as well as all of those cut, cen­sored, or revised, free to read online at

“After a marathon effort of tran­scrip­tion by 130 vol­un­teers from all over the world, includ­ing a clean­ing lady, an oil prospec­tor and sev­er­al teenagers,” writes the Inde­pen­dent’s John Lich­field, “all the vari­ants of Gus­tave Flaubert’s mas­ter­piece can be con­sult­ed on a new web­site. This is believed to be the first time that the com­plete process of cre­ation, and pub­li­ca­tion, of a clas­sic nov­el has been made avail­able on the inter­net,” much less on a site that “con­tains not only the pub­lished text and images of the bare­ly leg­i­ble man­u­scripts but inter­ac­tive con­trols which allow the read­er to re-instate pas­sages cor­rect­ed or cut by Flaubert or his pub­lish­ers.” Despite this unprece­dent­ed­ly vast and acces­si­ble trove of Madame Bovary resources, strug­gles over the prop­er inter­pre­ta­tion of the once-scan­dalous nov­el will doubt­less only con­tin­ue, not only at the lev­el of just which word Flaubert intend­ed to write on the fourth draft of a par­tic­u­lar­ly cru­cial para­graph, but at the lev­el of whether to con­sid­er the whole book tragedy, com­e­dy, or some­thing in between. Enter the Madame Bovary Archive here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

As Pride and Prej­u­dice Turns 200, Read Jane Austen’s Man­u­scripts Online

See F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Hand­writ­ten Man­u­scripts for The Great Gats­byThis Side of Par­adise & More

The Online Emi­ly Dick­in­son Archive Makes Thou­sands of the Poet’s Man­u­scripts Freely Avail­able

James Joyce Man­u­scripts Online, Free Cour­tesy of The Nation­al Library of Ire­land

Mary Shelley’s Hand­writ­ten Man­u­scripts of Franken­stein Now Online for the First Time

The Com­plete Works of Leo Tol­stoy Online: New Archive Will Present 90 Vol­umes for Free (in Russ­ian)

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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