Thursday, January 19, 2012

Madame Bovary

One Silent Winter has a book club that features the classics.  This month's book was Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert set in the mid 1800 in Normandy France, a novel about a middle class woman---Emma--who yearns for a life of wealth and romance like those heroines that she reads about, and her country doctor husband--Charles--who is dull, boorish, and only marginally successful.  His love and devotion to her does not fulfill her need for romance, so she seeks it in illicit affairs which are not satisfying either.  With no care for money, she ruins the family with unpayable debts, and finally not able to face Charles, she commits suicide.
This novel was interesting to me on several levels.  First of all the setting was just a few miles from where I lived for three years.  The rural setting has changed little from the 1800's.  Farmers still use horse drawn carts in their fields, much of the work is done by hand.  They are a poor people scratching out a day to day existence.  
The major towns like Rouen, although having come into the 20th century still retain remnants of the old world.  Only a block or so off the main streets with its paved roads and autos, you can see a sight like this--narrow cobbled streets with houses tall and narrow hovering over passersby. You can imagine Emma hurrying through these narrow passageways on the way to meet her lover, or leaving the opera to get a breathe of air.
I also enjoyed the contrasts in the book.  Flaubert used such good word pictures it drew you into the scenes.
Boiled beef dinner that I
had many times while in
Throughout the book Flaubert contrasts reality with Emma's romantic expectations.
"But it was above all at mealtimes that she could bear it no longer, in that little room on the ground floor, with the smoking stove, the creaking door, the oozing walls, the damp floor-tiles; all the bitterness of life seemed to be served to her on her plate, and, with the steam from the boiled beef, there rose from the depths of her soul other exhalations as it were of disgust. Charles was a slow eater; she would nibble a few hazel-nuts, or else, leaning on her elbow, would amuse herself making marks on the oilcloth with the point of her table-knife."
This quote, from Part One, Chapter IX, demonstrates Flaubert’s combination of realism and emotional subjectivity-- realism because of telling of tiny details, even if unpleasant; subjective because we can feel Emma’s disgust and frustration. The importance of the object world to Emma’s thoughts is emphasized by the connections of her soul’s exhalations to the steam from the beef.  Flaubert connects emotions to objects throughout the story--making emotions inseparable from objects,  Emma cannot escape from the physical world and live the life she imagines. She is trapped among objects that disgust her.
The only criticism I have that sometimes Flauber's obsession with descriptive words gets in the way of the movement of the story--it feels labored, but on the whole is was a good read, a study in reality and fantasy and a picture of the times in France during the 1800's.


  1. Interesting to have lived where the book's setting was.

  2. I have to confess I've heard about this book for many years but never knew what it was even about! Glad you enjoyed it and the memories it brought back for you! Enjoy your day!

  3. Thank you for visiting my blog. I notice your weather gadget on your blog...wish it was that warm here in Wisconsin.

  4. I didn't know that story either - I have heard about her. sandie

  5. I remember reading that one years ago. The passage you selected is filled with description and, quite frankly, it's unfair of the writer. He never provides balance. No one's life is as excruciating as he describes all the time. I don't care whose it is.

  6. i kept sneaking here but i had not finished re reading it so i waited. i love this post completely, it is what i had in mind when i started read with me. how lovely that you know those streets, you make me want to know more about you! i will announce winner tomorrow, sorry for the delay!