Looking inside the cover of Lydia Davis’s eagerly awaited new translation of Madame Bovary, the reader is greeted with a quantity of praise for Davis’s 2004 translation of Proust’s Swann’s Way, a work that not only earned her a MacArthur “genius” grant but also caused her to be named a chevalier of the French Order of Arts and Letters—the official Gallic seal of approval.[1] Among the accolades Viking Penguin has included for Davis’s Proust is one from Dave Eggers: “I think Davis’s is definitive.”

Definitive? Impossible: there is no such thing as a definitive translation. Not of any literary work. For translations—like art forgeries, curiously enough&mdash ...