Friday, March 9, 2007

Madame Bovary (thoughts)

As promised, my third completed Reading Across Borders book.

I'm not sure what I expected out of Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary. I think, something a little more uplifting. I really enjoyed reading the novel, and Flaubert's writing flows off the page beautifully. But I wasn't really prepared for what was, in essence, a classic tragedy.

The plot is pretty simple (note that this *might* contain spoilers if you know absolutely nothing about the novel): Emma Bovary is discontent with her middle class French provincial life, and her unambitious doctor husband. She appeases this discontentment by taking lovers and buying a lot of stuff.

**end possible spoiler**

The reader sees where Emma Bovary is headed pretty soon into the novel. So, it becomes a waiting game: as Emma enmeshes herself more and more into an unsustainable life, when will crisis hit? And what form will this crisis take? Meanwhile, the reader gets glimpses of other characters, although I wouldn't call any of the other characters fleshed out.

So, what saves the waiting game from being incredibly boring? Well, it's Flaubert's ability to describe a certain emotion, or thought, or style with perfect precision. This is a book for people who enjoy language, who wish to revel in it. In fact, I'd like to pick it up in the original. Meanwhile, I'd recommend it for those who enjoy classics, and who don't mind the heroine of the novel to be an anti-hero.

Favorite Passages
But in her eagerness for a change, or perhaps overstimulated by this man's presence, she easily persuaded herself that love, that marvelous thing which had hitherto been like a great rosy-plummaged bird soaring in the splendors of poetic skies, was at last within her grasp. And now she could not bring herself to believe that the uneventful life she was leading was the happiness of which she had dreamed. (45)

How happy she had been in those days! How free! How full of hope! How rich in illusions! There were no illusions left now! She had had to part with some each time she had ventured on a new path, in each of her successive conditions-as virgin, as wife, as mistress; all along the course of her life she had been losing them, like a traveller leaving a bit of his fortune in every inn along the road. (194)

Whereas the truth is that fullness of soul can sometimes overflow in utter vapidity of language, for none of us can ever express the exact measure of his needs or his thoughts or his sorrows; and human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars. (215-6)

But casting aspersions on those we love always does something to loosen our ties. We shouldn't maltreat our idols: the gilt comes off on our hands. (320)

She longed to fly away like a bird, to recapture her youth somewhere far away in the immaculate reaches of space. (332)


Sarah said...

I must get around to re-reading this! I remember when I first read it that I was appalled by, but admiring of the death scene- it's certainly realistic rather than romantic. Flaubert writes sublimely (in translation)- I wish i could read the original french.

acquisitionist said...

Emma's wholehearted seduction by ideas makes this fun reading for a biblophile. Nice selection of quotes. I see that you have Waiting on your challenge list. I'll be back to check for a rewview!

booklogged said...

Very nice review, Eva. I wasn't sure what to expect when I read it earlier this year, but I liked it, too.