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.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.
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.