Madame Bovary (1856) is the French writer Gustave Flaubert's first published novel. The story focuses on a doctor's wife, Emma Bovary, who has adulterous affairs and lives beyond her means in order to escape the banalities and emptiness of provincial life. Though the basic plot is rather simple, even archetypal, the novel's true art lies in its details and hidden patterns. Flaubert was a notorious perfectionist and claimed always to be searching for le mot juste ("the precise word").
When it was first serialized in La Revue de Paris between 1 October 1856 and 15 December 1856, the novel was attacked for obscenity by public prosecutors. The resulting trial, held in January 1857, made the story notorious. After Flaubert's acquittal on 7 February 1857, Madame Bovary became a bestseller when it was published as a single volume in April 1857. Flaubert's masterpiece is now considered a seminal work of Realism and one of the most influential novels ever written. In fact, the notable British-American critic James Wood writes in How Fiction Works: "Flaubert established for good or ill, what most readers think of as modern realist narration, and his influence is almost too familiar to be visible".
Glenda Jackson hits the mark in this superb narration of Flaubert's classic novel. Her reading perfectly captures the restlessness of Emma Bovary, a character perpetually dissatisfied with her solid, steady husband and bourgeois life in provincial 19th-century France. Emma's unrealistic dreams (she yearns for a perfect, romantic love that will sweep her away into perpetual bliss) lead her into one affair after another, and then to financial ruin and suicide. Jackson is especially outstanding in the scene which takes place the night before Emma plans to run off with her lover, Rudolf. To Rudolf, Emma is just one in a long series of conquests, and he gets cold feet at the thought of being permanently responsible for her welfare and that of her child. In a swoony, sighing voice full of noble suffering, Jackson reads his flowery letter of tears and regret, saying he loves her too much to ruin her life and her reputation. Then, without missing a beat, she switches to smug, cynical satisfaction, as Rudolf admires the letter and congratulates himself on his close escape.