Madame Bovary

Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.

I should have had Madame Bovary on my list as a reread. I should have read this in high school or college or somewhere. I’m not really sure why I didn’t.

This book should have been the mister rather than the missus Bovary. In my opinion Charles Bovary is what you would call a nineteenth century sad sack. When we first meet Charles (for he starts and ends the book as you’ll soon see) he is a shy student who grows up to become a second rate doctor (more on that later). He has an overbearing mother who convinces him to marry a much older, supposedly rich, but nevertheless nagging woman who makes him miserable. oh yeah, and add insult to injury, she’s nowhere near wealthy. After the lying lady’s death Charles meets Emma Rouault (our ahem – heroine), the daughter of Charles’s patient. He falls in love and wins her heart only to have her mope about because her life soon after the wedding isn’t exciting or wealthy enough. Poor Charles! But, the sad tale of Charles Bovary doesn’t stop here. There’s more! As mentioned before he is a second rate doctor so his attempts to heal a clubfooted patient fail miserably. That failure only irritates our dear Emma even more. She soon convinces herself she deserves better in the way of the company of other more exciting and accomplished men and by spending Charles’s money. Emma convinces herself adultery isn’t a sin because it’s cloaked in beauty and romance and how can those things be bad? And isn’t she, as Charles’s wife, entitled to Charles’s money? So, Charles is in debt and his father dies. What’s left? Emma attempts suicide and our Doctor Bovary (irony of ironies) can’t save her. After her death he finds her illicit love letters and learns of her infidelity…then he dies. The end.
Nope. Not a stitch of happiness in this classic.

Early in the story there is this sense for foreshadowing: “One moment she would be gay and wide-eyed; the next, she would half shut her eyelids and seem to be drowned in boredom, her thoughts miles away” (p 22). Charles should have seen this odd behavior and run away, very far away.

Author Fact: Gustave Flaubert is expelled from school at the age of 18 for helping organize a protest.

Book Trivia: Madame Bovary is Flaubert’s first book.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust twice. First in the chapter called “Men Channeling Women” (p 166), and again in the chapter called “Wayward Wives” (p 231).

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