Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert


“One’s duty is to feel what is great, cherish the beautiful, and to not accept the conventions of society with the ignominy that it imposes upon us.”

Here’s a classic for my stack this competition: the infamous Madame Bovary!  How have I not read it until now?  Criticized as salacious in its time, the novel follows Monsieur Charles Bovary and his wife, the young Emma Bovary; Emma marries the country doctor with hopes of experiencing the glamorous life of a noble woman.  When their far more boring life fails her expectations, she finds herself bored, feeling contempt towards Charles, and falling in love with more interesting men.

Madame Bovary is often called “the perfect novel.”  Stylistically it has fantastic prose, prose I believe is probably even better in French, the language in which it was written.  I’ve heard that Flaubert was a perfectionist; I only hope he was happy with the work that he crafted for I see no room for improvement.

Even though I think the novel has surpassed the point of plot spoilers, I won’t tell you the end, only that it ends dramatically wrong for Madame Bovary.  While a novel that seemed really ahead of its time and was, it ultimately still is another story about a woman who is bored, gets involved with another man outside of her marriage, and pays for it.  Madame Bovary is a character who is selfish, bored, and petulant, and obsessed with the chance of living an extravagant life.  In the foreground we have a story that nobody should be a stranger to, but in the in the background, as I have to point out, there is shown the story of a society with overly rigid opinions and expectations towards womanhood, wifehood, and motherhood.  Still it’s a hard novel to rejoice in; I never quite enjoying praising a book that continues a society’s obsession with the shallow woman who fails her purpose, and fails, in my opinion, to point the shame towards the society, not the woman.

My Belgian reader for this novel, Audrey, had also not yet read Madame Bovary when we sat down to record her reading.  When Audrey offered to read the first page of Madame Bovary for me, she even extended a choice to me: should she read it in English or in French?  Being my notoriously indecisive self, I asked her what she preferred.  She told me she could read it in French, perhaps add a little something different to my other collection of recordings.   It really does — there’s something about hearing a text in the language in which it was written that cannot be undervalued.  While it may surpass my limited knowledge of French, I believe it serves the memory of Flaubert, the French perfectionist, better.

Books Read: 8


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