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A happy childhood


Madame Bovary: an over-romantic, unfortunate and silly woman
Diana Athill Writer
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Flaubert, you see, is… Madame Bovary, is marvellous, because what he was doing, he was going to great trouble to sound completely, sort of, natural and ordinary. And it's wonderful. But when… I can't read Salammbô and I don't think many people can, now, actually. And The Temptation of St Anthony, which he thought was much more important than Madame Bovary.

[Q] What's so good about Madame Bovary, do you think?

I think… well, there, I think it really is… I never really thought of it in terms of the style and the language. There, I did think it was the story. I was very fascinated by this… always have been, by the story of this unfortunate, silly woman.

[Q] Silly woman?

Silly woman, yes. Romantic woman.

[Q] Is that silly, to be romantic?

To me, being over-romantic is silly, but I'm very unromantic.

[Q] Have you always been that way?

I think I've always been that way inclined, yes. I mean, when I was young, I was romantic. When I was a child, I was romantic. I suppose in my teens, I loved ridiculous romantic novels then. They were lovely. I wanted… you know, the idea of the splendid, dark, fatal hero, when one was about 15 or 16, was perfect. But I didn't last feeling like that, really. Mr Rochester. I don't think I would have fallen for Mr Rochester after I'd got a little bit older.

Diana Athill (1917-2019) was a British literary editor whose publishing career began when she helped André Deutsch establish his company. She worked with many notable writers, namely Philip Roth, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Rhys and VS Naipaul. Following the publication of her memoirs, she came to be hailed as an author in her own right.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: Madame Bovary, Salammbô, The Temptation of Saint Anthony, Gustave Flaubert

Duration: 1 minute, 56 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2008

Date story went live: 23 December 2008