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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Madame Bovary

by Gustave Flaubert
The only thing I knew about this book before reading it was that it was about a French woman who had an affair. It's a tragic tale, really, of a beautiful, young woman who is an incurable romantic, swayed in her ideas by novels of love and adventure. Emma Bovary yearned for adventure. She was bored with the dullness of day-to-day existence. She longed for the pampered life of an aristocrat, but the reader knows that even that would not have made her happy. Emma would soon tire of anything that became routine. I think Madame Bovary suffered from bipolar disorder in addition to dreaming of the unattainable.

I can see why this is a considered a classic. I think there are times in any married woman's life that she could relate to Madame Bovary, when we look across the room and study the man we married with contempt. Unlike Emma's husband, I suspect most husbands occasionally look at their wife in a similar way. Emma never learned to look at the good things in her husband and her life. She was always unsatisfied, because she was always selfish and self-centered.

I probably would not have read this book if Lotus Reads had not suggested it. Thank-you, Lotus. I enjoyed it. I think it is interesting to note that all three classics I've read so far were published in 1850-1860's, and yet are so different.

A few passages I liked.
The less Charles (Emma's husband) understood these elegant whims, the more they captivated him. They added something to the pleasure of his senses and the charm of his home. They were like a layer of golden dust sprinkled over the narrow path of his life. It's interesting to note this passage after finishing the book. I can see the foreshadowing of Charles's granting Emma's outlandish desires even though they later get out of hand. When I first read this passage I thought what a delightful way to appreciate charming things in life.

A man, at least, is free; he can explore the whole range of the passions, go wherever he likes, overcome obstacles, savor the most exotic pleasures. But a woman is constantly thwarted. Inert and pliable, she is restricted by her physical weakness and her legal subjection. Her will, like the veil tied to her hat with a cord, quivers with every wind; there is always some desire urging her forward, always convention holding her back.

She was exasperated by Charles's apparent unawareness of her ordeal. His conviction that he was making her happy seemed to her an idiotic insult, and his placid confidence about it struck her as ingratitude. For whom was she being virtuous? Was he not the obstacle to any kind of happiness, the cause of all her miser, the sharp-pointed tongue in the buckle of the strap that wound around her, binding her on all sides.

This is how they wished they had been: each was creating an ideal into which he was now fitting his past life. Speech is a rolling mill which always stretches out the feelings that go into it.

Why did everything she leaned on instantly crumble into dust? . . . But if somewhere there existed a strong, handsome man with a valorous, passionate and refined nature, a poet's soul in the form of an angel, a lyre with strings of bronze intoning elegiac nuptial songs to the heavens, why was it not possible that she might meet him some day? No, it would never happen: Besides, nothing was worth seeking - everything was a lie! Each smile hid a yawn of boredom, each joy a curse, each pleasure its own disgust; and the sweetest kisses only left on one's lips a hopeless longing for a higher ecstasy.
Doesn't Flaubert write beautiful. He captures the longing, the aches of an insatiable appetite so well. Haven't we all felt that same pain? Rereading these passages has increased my respect for Flaubert's writing and the beauty of this book.

16 comments:

Alyson said...

This sounds like an interesting book. I didn't know anything about it, and probably would have never even thought to read it, but now it's going on by TBR list.

Janice said...

I've never read this though I have got the BBC series on Video and quite liked.

Annie Frisbie said...

I read this a few months back--same translation--and was swept away by it. The emotions were so immediate, and I loved how he pulled me into Emma's situation. I'm reading Anna Karenina now, which explores some of the same themes and I'm finding it just as engaging.

Les said...

I started this book last summer, but couldn't get interested. I'd like to give it another try... maybe for the next Classic Challenge.

Nyssaneala said...

I have been meaning to read this book ever since 10th grade Honor's English when I had to choose between reading Grapes of Wrath or Madame Bovary, and I went with Steinbeck (sparking a life-long love for his novels). That was 11 years ago, and I still haven't read Madame Bovary! I keep forgettinga about it, I need to go buy a copy as a visual reminder.

adrienne said...

I always thought Emma was in arrested development. She never got over the romanicism of her adolescence and therefore acted like an angsty, heart-driven teen.

Framed said...

I don't know. The writing is beautiful but I'm not sure I want to read about some self-obsessed woman. I just want to focus on my own problems. HeHeHe

Lover of Books said...

I didn't really like it but I am glad you enjoyed it. :)

3M said...

This is one of my favorite novels. All married women can learn something from it.

hellomelissa said...

i read this book in england last year for the 2nd time, and enjoyed it far more at this point in life than i did the first time.

Lotus Reads said...

Sorry I'm late commenting booklogged! So glad you read Mme. Bovary and I'm absolutely thrilled you liked it! When I read it the first couple of times I found myself feeling very sorry for Emma, but funnily enough, when I read it for the third time recently, I came to the realization that she was such a selfish, self-absorbed person and it was hard for me to feel any sympathy for her. I was shocked at myself for feeling so differently about her. But, Flaubert's writing still sweeps me away every single time.

Love the passages you picked - they are my favorites, too.

Thank you for this lovely write-up, booklogged.

Lotus Reads said...

p.s. Yes, didn't think of it before,booklogged, but she does display many of the symptoms of the bipolar disorder. Good observation.

sarala said...

I read this in college. I was a French major and read it in the original. It is a beautiful book.

Orange Blossom Goddess (aka Heather) said...

A wonderful review! This book is a favourite of mine...I've got to dig my copy out.

The Traveller said...

Oh noooooooo! Halfway through Feb and only 1.5 books read - I am gonna have to revise some choices I think! Wish me luck...

Library Mama said...

Happy Valentine's Day!