Friday, 14 September 2012

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (3/5)

GoodReads says: One of the acknowledged masterpieces of 19th century realism, Madame Bovary is revered by writers and readers around the world, a mandatory stop on any pilgrimage through modern literature. Flaubert's legendary style, his intense care over the selection of words and the shaping of sentences, his unmatched ability to convey a mental world through the careful selection of telling details, shine on every page of this marvelous work.

Madame Bovary scandalized its readers when it was first published in 1857. And the story itself remains as fresh today as when it was first written, a work that remains unsurpassed in its unveiling of character and society. It tells the tragic story of the romantic but empty-headed Emma Rouault. When Emma marries Charles Bovary, she imagines she will pass into the life of luxury and passion that she reads about in sentimental novels and women's magazines. But Charles is an ordinary country doctor, and provincial life is very different from the romantic excitement for which she yearns. In her quest to realize her dreams she takes a lover, Rodolphe, and begins a devastating spiral into deceit and despair. And Flaubert captures every step of this catastrophe with sharp-eyed detail and a wonderfully subtle understanding of human emotions.
Translated: by Eleanor Marx-Aveling.

I say: I can see why this scandalized readers when it was published, but as with most of these older novels, it’s not nearly as shocking for those of us reading them now. So, for that feat, I kind of applaud Flaubert.

But only kind of, and here’s why:

I am so tired of female characters marrying people they don’t love, for whatever reason, and then having affairs with other men. They have absolutely no long-term planning (for lack of a better expression) and/or are just so ridiculously naïve and fickle they bring to mind children in the playground constantly wanting every new toy they see. Now, I am no way saying that one should stay in an unhappy marriage or that women in those days had much choice, but there’s just no excuse for the cheating.

End of moral indignation.

As can be deduced from that little outburst, I didn’t like Emma Bovary at all. In the beginning of the novel she seems nice enough, but when she starts getting bored with her husband Charles, it’s almost as if she turns into a different person. Although I understand how her ennui leads to contempt for Charles, I don’t see how she can be so naïve as to believe that life should be like the novels she reads. Or is it that she simple feels that she is entitled to a certain lifestyle. Bearing in mind that she is not stupid, she still manages to lie, cheat and plot her way to ruin.

I cannot understand her depravity or selfishness, and I actually get quite peeved just thinking about it.

And then we have, as always, the buffoon of a husband who doesn’t understand or see anything, and blindly believes his wife. But even with these quintessential characteristics for all husbands of women like Emma, I quite liked Charles. He wasn’t the brightest of men, but did the best he could with what he had. Unfortunately, he was so easily persuaded by those around him he wound up making one mistake after the other.

His only mistake was being eager to please and trust, and that never leads to good things.

After reading the synopsis I feel a bit weird that I don’t really have that much to say about Flaubert’s writing (or the translation). It was fast paced and showed some intricate detail of life in France at the time, both in the country and in Paris. I actually enjoyed some of the neighbours’ talk and stories more than I did the Bovary’s. I feel about this novel the same as I did Tess of the D’ Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy; it’s a great literary work, and I acknowledge that, but since this blog is more about how I feel about the story, I can only give this 3/5.  


  1. I didn't like Emma Bovary either. She really annoyed me!

    1. I thought I was the only one annoyed with her because people seem to like her from the reviews I've read. She was just too much.