Thursday, July 7, 2011
Classic Lit: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Date: 1856 (1904)
Format: hardback omnibus edition
Acquired: purchased at an antique store
Read: in preparation for Madame Bovary's Daughter by Linda Urbach
Reading time: six days
When the young doctor Charles Bovary's older wife dies, he is happy to be freed from his first marriage so he can woo Emma Bovary, the daughter of one of his patients. Charles is thrilled when Emma accepts his proposal, and the couple traipses off to the small provincial town of Yonville. Charles adores his wife, but Emma, a reader of novels, yearns for passion, fancy possessions, and a fashionable life not to be found in Yonville (or on her husband's small salary). Seeking these things, the young wife and eventual mother engages in a series of adulterous affairs - and, at least for a while, her deceptions and expenditures manage not to backfire. But only for a little while...
I found Madame Bovary to be an enjoyable read. Flaubert's writing style is not hard to understand and flows smoothly even for modern readers. The novel was not what I expected (older, experienced adulteress, dark tone) because Emma is young and the book is surprisingly light in tone. It could have come across as feminist, decrying against the boredom faced by young, middle-class provincial wives perpetually stuck at home due to society's constraints on women, except that Emma is silly and superficial at the beginning and eventually becomes more of a scheming, selfish (and still superficial) vixen. She's not really a character with whom readers can commiserate. Writing in the decade following the 1848 revolutions in Europe that basically ended the romantic movement and began the realist, Flaubert throws in some anti-romanticism punches. Romantic novels are what most influence Emma's mind and lead her to her decisions, much as chivalrous romances impact Don Quixote and gothic novels lead to Catherine Morland's melodramatic scenarios. Emma's rather graphically-described death eliminates any romantic images, too, and warns Flaubert's more fanciful readers from thinking that death à la Romeo and Juliet is at all lovely. Reading-wise, I was forcing myself to read a (short) chapter or two a day at the beginning but by the end read the last third of the novel in two sittings.
Classic Bribe over at Quirky Girls Read!