Daily Archives: August 4, 2012

Madame Bovary, Part 1

My online book club read Madame Bovary for July. This was my third time through the novel and each time I have a different experience. I found a book of essays on Madame Bovary by novelist Mario Vargas Llosa called The Perpetual Orgy. Vargas Llosa has a real thing for this novel and credits repeated readings with saving his life. (I’ll review The Perpetual Orgy next week.)

What about Emma Bovary? Is she a heroine? Does she deserve our pity? Scorn? Sympathy? I’d say she’s an anti-hero. She’s an outsider who makes such bad choices. She is her own worst enemy.
This time around I wondered why Charles was such a weak person. I find I get drawn in more to stories where all characters are strong as they tend to be in say an argument between two Aaron Sorkin creations. Here Emma just isn’t a good match for Charles. Yet does is she justified in her infidelity? What is Flaubert’s aim here I wondered.
I did learn that Flaubert had an affair for several years and based Emma’s character on his lover,
I also found a little background information from The Writer’s Almanac:
. . . Gustave Flaubert (1821) (books by this author), born in Rouen, France. He was a notorious perfectionist in his work, and once said, “I spent the morning putting in a comma and the afternoon removing it.” In 1851, he began what would become his first published novel, and his masterpiece. Five years later, Madame Bovary (1856) appeared in La Revue de Paris in serialized form. It’s the story of Emma, a doctor’s wife, who is dissatisfied with her life and longs to experience the passion, excitement, and luxury she has only read about in novels. She has two long-term affairs, accrues insurmountable debt, and ultimately takes her own life with arsenic.
From Madame Bovary, chapter nine: “Deep down in her heart, she was waiting and waiting for something to happen. Like a shipwrecked mariner, she gazed out wistfully over the wide solitude of her life, if so be she might catch the white gleam of a sail away on the dim horizon. She knew not what it would be, this longed-for barque; what wind would waft it to her, or to what shores it would bear her away. She knew not if it would be a shallop or a three-decker, burdened with anguish or freighted with joy. But every morning when she awoke she hoped it would come that day.”
A month after the final installment of Madame Bovary was published, the French government banned the book, and hauled Flaubert up on charges of offending public and religious morality. Flaubert and his lawyers defended the book, saying that, by exposing vice, the novel was actually promoting virtue. Flaubert was narrowly acquitted, and Madame Bovary was published in book form two months later. The publicity and scandal of the trial contributed to its success.
Flaubert wrote: “It is a delicious thing to write, to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating. Today, for instance, as man and woman, both lover and mistress, I rode in a forest on an autumn afternoon under the yellow leaves, and I was also the horses, the leaves, the wind, the words my people uttered, even the red sun that made them almost close their love-drowned eyes.”
I’ll add more tomorrow.
1 Comment

Posted by on August 4, 2012 in classic, French Lit


Tags: , , , , , ,