No one is more particular about language than the French, so that they named Lydia Davis a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters means a lot. Davis, an American, has demonstrated her skill in rendering 19th-century French into contemporary English over the course of a long career; her recent translation of Proust’s Swann’s Way earned special acclaim. In addition, Davis is an accomplished fiction writer, and her profound understanding of the genre informs every detail of her new version of Gustave Flaubert’s MADAME BOVARY (Viking, $27.95). And there are many wonderful details. Flaubert’s novel of romance and adultery “is now viewed as the first masterpiece of realist fiction,” Davis says, and in it Flaubert captures not just the emotional nuances of his characters’ ennui and passion, but itemizes the everyday objects they use, the fabrics of the clothes they wear, and the conveyances they ride in. Davis’s unobtrusive endnotes supply cultural and historical details, by which today’s readers can see how acutely Flaubert captured his own time, and how much his social satire is still relevant in today’s consumer culture.
Every year or so, I make a literary pilgrimage to one of my all-time favorite books, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. If possible, this year’s journey was even more enjoyable than usual, thanks to the publication of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: An Annotated Edition (Harvard Univ., $35), edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks. Austen’s classic has always been a book to take your time with and to savor; that pleasure has only been amplified with this gorgeous new edition. I probably don’t need to sell you on the book’s plot, but the annotations here give new insight into the story, period, and author. The images show period dress and illuminate interesting aspects of Austen’s life. All in all, it feels like an old friend has been made new again. On a cold winter night, open Austen’s classic and rediscover it all over again.
This beautifully bound and illustrated edition of A CHRISTMAS CAROL AND OTHER CHRISTMAS WRITINGS (Penguin Classics, $20) by Charles Dickens will delight Dickens aficionados and young readers alike. Start a Christmas reading tradition in your own household, or send it to your favorite impressionable youngster to class up the bookshelf a little. Older readers will enjoy tracing the evolution of Dickens’s Christmas style, and will appreciate the excellent notes, introduction, and appendix.