Flaubert Karaoke


We were given task last week to pick a passage from a book that we particularly admired. I picked the opening of A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood because, well I think it’s pretty incredible. We read our extracts and then moved on to ‘translation’, specifically three separate translations of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. It was interesting to see the subtle differences that had been made just because it was someone else undertaking the translation.

We were then set a task to re-write the Madame Bovary extract in the style of the writer we had chosen.

You can find the three translations of Madame Bovary here

I quite liked doing this so here is my ‘Isherwood’ version of the same extract:

The new boy’s uniform was noticeably absent, instead he wore a tight green jacket cut from the sort of cloth designed to be hardwearing and practical. The buttons were black and pulled the coat across his chest, it pinched under his arms and shortened the sleeve revealing the red wrists of a boy accustomed to bad weather. The rest of this child was a mismatch of colour and style; mustard yellow trousers hitched up with suspenders, fell too short to cover his blue stockinged feet, which stood uncomfortably in dirty, hobnailed boots.

The headmaster ushered the new boy into the study hall, closely followed by the shuffle of the caretaker carrying a desk. Silence fell across the room as each boy turned his head to better glimpse the stranger. He seemed painfully aware of all the eyes sweeping across the room to fathom him. Slowly, effortlessly he backed his way into the shadowy refuge of the corner of the room. A country boy, with his straight cut hair, a gentle thing trapped like a rat staring bewildered from its cage. This moment would never leave him, but with crushing ease the boys turned around and continued reciting their lessons.

He listened to sermon attentively, either caught off guard by the poetry of the words or so scared of attention that he dared not move a muscle. The teacher had to tell him to line up, and when the boys tossed their caps to the floor he failed to follow suit and stood, clenching his cap to his lap. He twisted the hideous thing between his fingers, teasing the multitude of fashions that had been stitched together with no care for style, practicality or creativity. It was simultaneously a busby, lancer cap, round hat, otter skin cap and nightcap. This oval, stiffened by whalebone was so ugly in concept, that it held your attention like the mute expressiveness of an idiots face.


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