Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Madame BovarySomewhat reminiscent of The Awakening, we find Madame Bovary a tale of another young married woman coming to the realization that there really is no  happily ever after.

Emma Bovary faces this realization by finding all that she disdains in her husband and fulfilling her sexual needs outside of her marriage.

The ignorant husband, Charles Bovary is an inept country doctor who has never learned to pay attention to life’s subtleties.  He chooses to carry on as though life is wonderful and ignores what is nearly under his nose.  The book opens with Charles as a young student facing adversity in the classroom and I was misled into believing the books would get into more of his character.  Sadly, that was not the case.  Charles would surely have been a more likable character.

Charles’ second wife, Emma is the daughter of a patient.  Educated in a convent and not very worldly, she spent much of her time reading romance novels and believed being married, and to a doctor, would fulfill the fantasies she imagined awaited her.  Her ideals are quickly shattered and she begins to regret her decision to marry a man she is quickly coming to despise more and more.  Motherhood does not fulfill her in any way so seeks fulfillment outside of her home and begins an affair with a local law clerk.  Along with sexual betrayal, she also begins spending recklessly and without consideration.  This just has to come to a bad end, and it does.

The local pharmacist, Monsieur Homais, is one large bag of hot air.  An obnoxious man who thinks himself brighter than he actually is, and who often leaves a trail of wreckage behind him.  He is always looking for something new to try out and then convinces others to do so and when things don’t turn out as planned, Homais is the first to step back in the shadows while the fallout doesn’t’ touch him.  Avoid this man at all costs.


Wasn’t it a man’s role, though, to know everything?  Shouldn’t he be expert at all kinds of things, able to initiate you into the intensities of passion, the refinement of life, all the mysteries?  This man could teach you nothing; he knew nothing,he wished for nothing.  He took it for granted that she was content; and she resented his settled calm, his serene dullness, the very happiness she herself brought him.  

In Madame Dubuc’s day the older woman had known herself to be the favorite; but now Charles’s love for Emma seemed to her a desertion, an invasion of her own right; and she looked on sadly at Charles’s happiness, like a ruined man staring through a window at revelers in a house that was once his own.  

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 traveler leaving a bit of his fortune in every inn along the road.  

…the more flowery a person’s speech, he thought, the more suspect the feelings, or lack of feelings, it concealed.  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.  

…of all the icy blasts that blow on love, a request for money is the most chilling and havoc-wreaking.

Monsieur Flaubert is the first writer I’d bring a gift to.  And for our tete a tete, perhaps some croissants along with a box of condoms for this salacious man.  I’m sure I’d learn a lot and would love to ask where he did his writing and how he came to decide when his words were achieving what he meant them to.

My rating for Madame Bovary is an 8 out of 10.

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Next up, Tana French’s In the Woods…In The Woods


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