Madame Bovary

Gustave Flaubert, translated by Eleanor Marx-Aveling, artwork by Marc Camille Chaimowicz

By David Terrien

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, translated by Eleanor Marx-Aveling, artwork by Marc Camille Chaimowicz (Four Corners Books)

The eighth in a series of artist responses to classic novels and short stories, Flaubert’s Madame Bovary is reprinted here, in its first English translation (1886), with more than 250 images by Marc Camille Chaimowicz. Born in France and based between London and Burgundy, Chaimowicz has created, over 40-plus years, a body of work that addresses the complex varieties of sexual and romantic possibility, often autobiographically (Flaubert, too, said of his creation: ‘Madame Bovary, c’est moi’) and often under the influence of French literary sources (the artist’s 2011 exhibition Jean Genet... The Courtesy of Objects, for example, circled around female sexual identity in Genet’s The Maids, 1947). For Madame Bovary, the archetypal story of adulterous desire fuelled by romantic delusion, Chaimowicz mixes photographs of French provincial exteriors and interiors with simple photographic collages (some black-and-white, some marked with splashes of colour), assemblages of perfume bottles and jewellery, overlappings of lace and legs and hands and breasts, found illustrations and details of work by other artists. These images, often with anachronistic elements, offer an atmosphere as much as they mark what’s happening in the text, but it is in their detail and repetition of patterns that they mimic the strengths of this greatest of realist novels.

This article was first published in the May 2013 issue.