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I enjoyed the humor in M.B. which was totally unexpected by me. One of my favorite lines occurred early in Part 3 when Emma and Leon were trading lies about how much they'd missed each other and the ambitions they'd had for their lives. Emma came up with this one-liner which makes me chuckle..."I should much like to be a nurse at a hospital." This, from the woman who shunned her child and thought only of herself! I also laughed out loud at their very long carriage ride. Ooh la la!
I'm discussing this with a RL book group tonight. I'll come back tomorrow with any wisdom I gain from the group.
This book was a surprisingly easy and quick read (the Francis Steegmuller translation). Flaubert shows himself to be a master of finding the perfect phrase, perfect term, perfect analogy to describe, well, everything. But in particular, the female psyche, thought processes, and emotions. The novel is divided into three parts that more or less reflect the three phases of Madame Bovary's downfall. After the first I loved her. After the second I started to think she was pathetic. By the end I was pretty much through with her-- as was everyone else, except Charles.
Despite this story being known as a tale of adultery, I felt it was more of a cautionary tale of excess and self control. Her lack of self control-- with money at least as much as with love-- is what led to her downfall. There are lots of interesting comparisons to Lily Bart and House of Mirth. (I liked Lily and HoM much better than Emma.) On the whole I liked the book, especially the writing, but it was hard to muster any sympathy for the characters (except Berthe). Even Charles, in the end, just fell to pieces and really was the bland weakling that Emma hated him for being. Also, the end of the book-- post Emma's death-- was odd, like it didn't quite fit. It seemed like Homais was being demonized but it wasn't clear to me why. Madame Bovary is a must read for the writing and the novel's influence, but I think there are better similar novels out there. 4 stars
Book No. 78: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. 3.3 stars.
Tons of reviews on this one so my comments will take the place of a formal review. The story moved swiftly like a recitation of events in some places and then dragged in other parts due to Flaubert's scrupulous attention to detail. There were no likable characters in this story and only one, Charles, who could be considered happy, although that was mostly because he was too dull-witted to notice the world around him. He was so infatuated with his wife Emma that he couldn't see beyond himself to her extreme unhappiness.
Flaubert is credited with being a master of realism. In Madame Bovary he not so subtly points out the problems in French society in the early 1800's. It was a time when appearances were all-important and people were judged on who they knew and what they owned. Hmmm...not altogether different from modern times.
Emma Bovary is a tragic person, someone who is in love with love and who looks for happiness in all the wrong places. She is a dreamer who is easily bored, melodramatic, hypocritical, and materialistic. She rejects her daughter and detests her husband. If it weren't for the occasional bits of brillliant writing and humorous situations, this book would have been a real slog.
We had an interesting book group discussion on this last night. Our lit professor pointed out all the symbolism and good qualities of the book that I missed. Sometimes classic literature is wasted on me! This will go down as our most exciting discussion, not because of the book, but because of the tornado sirens that brought our conversation to an abrupt halt. After a 30-minute delay, we decided to take advantage of the lull in the storm and get home while we could!
One of the aspects I believe people miss is Emma's lack of decision in choosing Charles as a husband. A lot of women will focus on what a terrible mother she is, but I'm surprized more don't sympathize or object to the idea of having a marriage arranged, or of being utterly financially dependent. Perhaps some people would make the best of a situation, but I think Emma is the type of character, as is the case with many of Flaubert's books, and I've read almost everything he wrote, who in deserving or wanting more, always get less.
Also, Emma Bovary is not necessarily some fantasy woman Flaubert created to be an immaculate, likeable creature. He exposes some of the shallower, ridiculous aspects of her personaility. He doesn't chime in the way a Thackeray or Dickens would with a bit of narrative jesting and this is one of the reasons why he is considered a realist, and probably is a little difficult to read. Let's be careful though, if all we want are likeable characters, what does that say about ourselves and the kind of books will we get?