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  • Madame Bovary at the Movies: Adaptation, Ideology, Context
  • Kate Griffiths
Donaldson-Evans, Mary. Madame Bovary at the Movies: Adaptation, Ideology, Context. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2009. Pp. 218. ISBN 978-90-420-2504-2

Madame Bovary at the Movies: Adaptation, Ideology, Context analyzes selected reworkings in film of Flaubert’s canonical novel. It traces and assesses the evolution of the novel across era, nation and medium (film and television).Whilst the case studies in this volume revolve around a single work of prose, Mary Donaldson-Evans uses the visions and revisions of this novel in film as a means to engage with, inform and further broader debates theorizing the process and practice of adaptation itself.

That Flaubert’s text has fascinated filmmakers is clear. It has, as Donaldson-Evans points out, been adapted at least eighteen times for the large and small screen and in at least eleven countries. Whilst this monograph makes no claim to encompass all of Flaubert’s cinematic offspring, its opening chapter does testify to their number and diversity. This initial survey is usefully and intriguingly complemented by the closing chapter’s consideration of what Donaldson-Evans deems Flaubert’s ‘step-children’, the unacknowledged reworkings of Flaubert’s novel, the art forms nourished by his text without being adaptations as such. In order to help her reader engage with the works analyzed, the opening chapter usefully offers an interpretative grid detailing prevalent trends within the study of adaptation. Chapters two to five move to read specific adaptations in the light of this interpretative grid. Chapter two focuses on Jean Renoir’s 1934 adaptation of Flaubert. It underlines the way in which the film is not only shaped by Zola’s text, but also the era and techniques of its production, as well as the personality and memories of Renoir himself. Chapter three explores the fate of Flaubert’s text in Hollywood, analyzing Vincente Minnelli’s 1949 version. Using Minnelli’s moralistic, highly-sanitized adaptation, this chapter makes an intriguing case that what does not appear in an adaptation, what is censored and cut from it, at times can be as resonant as what appears on screen. Chapter four returns to France and, in complete contrast to the previous chapter’s focus on excisions, turns to consider Claude Chabrol’s attempt in his 1991 production to return the viewer to the integrity of Flaubert’s novel. The chapter underlines that, far from returning the viewer to the truth of Flaubert, the quest for authenticity, when pushed to its extreme, serves only to alienate the viewer from the very text the adaptation seeks to protect. Using Tim Fywell’s Masterpiece Theatre adaptation (2000), chapter five explores Flaubert and the small screen. Whilst television adaptations are all too often ignored in favour of their cinematic counterparts, Donaldson-Evans makes a powerful case for their inclusion in the adaptive canon, demonstrating the sensitivity and self-reflexivity of Fywell’s project. The monograph’s closing chapter assesses, in practical terms, the various influences shaping and driving adaptations in general and reworkings of Madame Bovary in particular.

The strengths of Madame Bovary at the Movies are clear. In a highly-readable and engaging style, Donaldson-Evans not only surveys key adaptations of Flaubert’s text but also leads the reader through the intricacies of the theoretical landscape of adaptation. Fidelity criticism has, to an extent, become something of a straw man in recent writing on adaptation. Donaldson-Evans manages to demonstrate that faithfulness is and should be part of the adaptive remit whilst underlining that it cannot be the only measure of a work of recreation. She successfully harnesses the work of a variety of [End Page 194] the most persuasive theorists of adaptation to Flaubert as case study, using them to shed new light on adaptations of Flaubert, whilst simultaneously revealing what those adaptations have to contribute to theorizations of adaptation itself. The volume does not approach adaptations in isolation. It makes clear the process of cross-fertilization which occurs as successive adaptations react, positively or negatively, to their predecessors. Moreover, far from approaching adaptation as an abstract, academic exercise, Donaldson-Evans usefully makes clear the very practical demands of this...