April 15, 2009 / 6:59 PM / 10 years ago

Students, cleaner help Madame Bovary's online debut

ROUEN, France (Reuters) - Drafts of “Madame Bovary,” Gustave Flaubert’s classic tale of adultery and thwarted dreams, are being shown online for the first time thanks to a mass effort to transcribe the originals.

Some 650 volunteers from all over the world, including teenagers, an oil worker and a cleaning lady, have transcribed thousands of often hardly legible hand-written manuscripts in a project overseen by a museum in Rouen in northwestern France.

First serialized in the 19th century in “La Revue de Paris,” a literary journal, the story of Madame Bovary’s unhappy marriage, doomed love affairs and horrific suicide has gone on to become one of the most popular French novels.

The municipal library of Rouen holds a vast collection of original manuscripts, drafts, early copies, corrections, annotations and re-writes that eventually converged in the novel.

The decade-long project to prepare the writings for publication on the Internet cost 120,000 euros and was supported by the work of literature fans from 12 countries.

The result can be seen at www.bovary.fr and is meant to appeal to specialists as well as amateurs.

Even though Flaubert’s text was censored before publication, his portrayal of adultery as an attempt to escape from stifling small-town life was deemed so immoral that the author faced trial. He was acquitted, his novel was published in book form and became a bestseller.

Reporting by Marc Parrad, written by Sophie Hardach, edited by Richard Meares

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