Madame Bovary

French reading practice with side-by-side translation

 Reading comprehension: See the links at the bottom for lessons related to the phrases in italics.

Madame Bovary, de Gustave Flaubert Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert
Nous étions à l’Étude, quand le Proviseur entra, suivi d’un nouveau habillé en bourgeois et d’un garçon de classe qui portait un grand pupitre. Ceux qui dormaient se réveillèrent, et chacun se leva comme surpris dans son travail.
Translation

We were in class when the principal entered, followed by a new student in fancy dress and a school assistant carrying a big desk. Those who were sleeping woke up, and everyone stood up as if they’d been surprised in their work.

[collapse]

Le Proviseur nous fit signe de nous rasseoir ; puis, se tournant vers le maître d’études :

— Monsieur Roger, lui dit-il à demi-voix, voici un élève que je vous recommande, il entre en cinquième.* Si son travail et sa conduite sont méritoires, il passera dans les grands, où l’appelle son âge.

Translation

The principal gestured for us to sit back down, then, turning toward the teacher, said quietly,

"Mr. Roger, here’s a student I’m entrusting to you, he’ll start in 7th grade.* If his work and conduct are praiseworthy, he’ll move into the upper classes, as befitting his age.

[collapse]
Resté dans l’angle, derrière la porte, si bien qu’on l’apercevait à peine, le nouveau était un gars de la campagne, d’une quinzaine d’années environ, et plus haut de taille qu’aucun de nous tous. Il avait les cheveux coupés droit sur le front, comme un chantre de village, l’air raisonnable et fort embarrassé. Quoiqu’il ne fût pas large des épaules, son habit-veste de drap vert à boutons noirs devait le gêner aux entournures et laissait voir, par la fente des parements, des poignets rouges habitués à être nus. Ses jambes, en bas bleus, sortaient d’un pantalon jaunâtre très tiré par les bretelles. Il était chaussé de souliers forts, mal cirés, garnis de clous.
Translation

Standing in the corner, behind the door, so that we could barely see him, the newcomer was a country boy of about 15, and taller than any of us. His hair was cut straight across his forehead, like a choir singer’s, and he looked sensible and extremely self-conscious. Though he wasn’t broad-shouldered, his woolen jacket, which was green with black buttons, looked tight around the armholes, and the vent in the cuffs revealed red wrists that were normally uncovered. His legs, clad in blue stockings, emerged from yellowed pants pulled very high by suspenders. His shoes were heavy, poorly waxed, and studded with nails.

[collapse]
On commença la récitation des leçons. Il les écouta de toutes ses oreilles, attentif comme au sermon, n’osant même croiser les cuisses, ni s’appuyer sur le coude, et, à deux heures, quand la cloche sonna, le maître d’études fut obligé de l’avertir, pour qu’il se mît avec nous dans les rangs.
Translation

We started reciting our lessons. He was all ears, attentive as if at a sermon, not even daring to cross his legs, nor to lean on his elbow, and when the bell rang at 2 pm, the teacher had to tell him to line up with the rest of us.

[collapse]

 

Nous avions l’habitude, en entrant en classe, de jeter nos casquettes par terre, afin d’avoir ensuite nos mains plus libres ; il fallait, dès le seuil de la porte, les lancer sous le banc, de façon à frapper contre la muraille en faisant beaucoup de poussière ; c’était là le genre.

Translation

Upon entering the classroom, we were in the habit of throwing our caps on the ground, in order to free our hands; as soon as we crossed the threshold, we had to throw them under the bench, so that they would hit the wall and stir up a lot of dust: that was the goal.

[collapse]
Mais, soit qu’il n’eût pas remarqué cette manÅ“uvre ou qu’il n’eut osé s’y soumettre, la prière était finie que le nouveau tenait encore sa casquette sur ses deux genoux. C’était une de ces coiffures d’ordre composite, où l’on retrouve les éléments du bonnet à poil, du chapska, du chapeau rond, de la casquette de loutre et du bonnet de coton, une de ces pauvres choses, enfin, dont la laideur muette a des profondeurs d’expression comme le visage d’un imbécile. Ovoïde et renflée de baleines, elle commençait par trois boudins circulaires ; puis s’alternaient, séparés par une bande rouge, des losanges de velours et de poils de lapin ; venait ensuite une façon de sac qui se terminait par un polygone cartonné, couvert d’une broderie en soutache compliquée, et d’où pendait, au bout d’un long cordon trop mince, un petit croisillon de fils d’or, en manière de gland. Elle était neuve ; la visière brillait.
Translation

But whether he didn’t notice this maneuver or he didn’t dare participate, when the prayer was finished the newcomer still had his cap on his knees. It was one of those motley hats with elements of bearskin, peaked cap, round hat, otterskin cap, and cotton bonnet, one of those poor things whose silent ugliness had depths of expression like the face of an imbecile. Oval and bulging with whalebone ribs, it started with three circular tubes; then alternating diamonds of velour and rabbitskin, separated by a red band; then came a sort of sack that ended in a cardboard polygon, covered with a complicated braid, from which hung, at the end of a long, too-thin cord, a little cross of golden threads, like a tassel. The cap was new, the peak shone.

[collapse]
  Translation by LKL. Please note that Flaubert’s language is incredibly rich in detail and wordplay which my simple translation cannot even hope to emulate.
Madame Bovary est un roman français classique. Écrit en 1856, il est dans le domaine public. Téléchargez l’original en format électronique pour lire la suite gratuitement :

Amazon.com  |  Amazon.co.uk

Madame Bovary is a classic French novel. It was written in 1856 and is now in the public domain. You can download the earliest translation for free: Amazon.com  |  Amazon.co.uk

For a much richer and more accurate reading, try Adam Thorpe’s 2013 translation: Amazon.com  |  Amazon.co.uk

Note: If you click one of these links and make a purchase, I may earn a commission: Ad and Affiliate Disclosure

 Madame BovaryReading comprehension

Vocabulary

Expressions

Grammar

Questions about French?

 Visit the Progress with Lawless French Q+A forum to get help from native French speakers and fellow learners.

More Lawless French

 Subscribe to my twice-weekly newsletter.

Support Lawless French

  This free website is created with love and a great deal of work.

If you love it, please consider making a one-time or monthly donation.

Your support is entirely optional but tremendously appreciated.

3 Responses

  1. Michele Leake 22 June 2016 / 21:51

    I just finished reading Madame Bovary, in French, for the third time. Such a good, descriptive novel. It provides a lot of grammar a reader will recognize after studying on Lawless French.

  2. Mary Lanier 31 October 2014 / 21:08

    Thank you for this appreciation of Flaubert’s writing. The description of the hat is hilarious. It encourages me to continue reading Mme Bovary!

Leave a Reply