I haven't read the Davis version yet, but I wanted to play the translation-review game of picking a passage and comparing the renderings.
Here, Charles's first wife, mortified after some financial irregularity is exposed, departs this earth:
Mais le coup était porté. Huit jours après, comme elle étendait du linge dans sa cour, elle fut prise d’un crachement de sang, et le lendemain, tandis que Charles avait le dos tourné pour fermer le rideau de la fenêtre, elle dit: «Ah! mon Dieu!» poussa un soupir et s’évanouit. Elle était morte! Quel étonnement!This is a good touchstone passage for ruling out some poor translations, that smooth over Flaubert's brutality here. "Elle était morte! Quel étonnement!" is darkly comical. I wish I still had my first copy of the book in translation, which did something awful here.
Quand tout fut fini au cimetière, Charles rentra chez lui. Il ne trouva personne en bas; il monta au premier, dans la chambre, vit sa robe encore accrochée au pied de l’alcôve; alors, s’appuyant contre le secrétaire, il resta jusqu’au soir perdu dans une rêverie douloureuse. Elle l’avait aimé, après tout.
(What follows is premised on the accuracy of the foregoing text, which is a large assumption; Wall and Davis may've each used a different critical edition.)
But the damage was done. A week later, as she was hanging out the washing in the yard, she had a seizure and spat some blood, and next day, as Charles turned his back to draw the curtains, she said, "Oh! My God!" heaved a sigh and passed out. She was dead! How astonishing!Davis:
Once everything was finished down at the cemetery, Charles went home again. There was nobody downstairs; he went upstairs to their room, saw her dress still hanging over the foot of the bed; then, slumped across the escritoire, he stayed until it was night, adrift in a troubled reverie. She had loved him, after all.
But the blow had struck home. A week later, as she was hanging the wash in her yard, she began spitting blood, and the next day, while Charles, his back turned, was at the window closing the curtain, she said: "Oh my God!," sighed, and lost consciousness. She was dead! How astonishing it was!Wall describes the empty downstairs with "There was nobody"; Davis's following the French gives us the more poignant "He found no one downstairs."
When everything was over at the cemetery, Charles went back to his house. He found no one downstairs; he went up to the second floor, into the bedroom, saw her dress still hanging at the foot of the alcove; then, leaning on the writing desk, he remained there till evening, lost in a sorrowful reverie. She had loved him, after all.
Davis is generally more literal, though both translators make the strange choice of the imprecise "A week later" for Flaubert's "Eight days later."
Wall interprets her as having a seizure, perhaps following Eleanor Marx's "she was seized with a spitting of blood," which is not the same thing as a seizure, but does try to do something with the "fut prise" that Davis simply omits; Davis's "began spitting blood" also implies that it continued through into the next day, which I had never inferred. "Passed out" is closer to the dictionary sense of "s'évanouir" than "lost consciousness," but the former in English at least implies something less severe, like too much to drink. The French connotes fading or vanishing away, which is hard to match in English. Still, I wouldn't import "consciousness" into the sentence. And it's a loss that the clichéd "heave a sigh" for "pousser un soupir" is abridged by Davis into merely "sighed." That was unlikely to be lazy writing by Flaubert.
The odd thing is Davis's expansion of the text's "Quel étonnement!" into "How astonishing it was!" Not only does that expand on the text, I'm not even sure that's English. Who would say that?
As always, translation is a mug's game. But I don't think Penguin needed to replace Wall's version, which I hope finds a good home elsewhere.
... (And without reprinting the preceding paragraph, where Charles's parents confront this first Mme Bovary about the disappearance of her fortune, Flaubert has the wonderfully mundane "On s’expliqua. Il y eut des scènes." Wall translates the first sentence as "Questions were asked," which is fair enough, but Davis mysteriously renders it as "They had it out," which is so bizarre as to make me wonder whether we are indeed looking at different French texts. Marx's "Explanations followed" is not bad either.)