madame bovary ...

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert is considered to be one of the greatest novels ever written and is hailed as Flaubert's masterpiece.
It is a prime example of Realism which depicts the banal activities and experiences of everyday life, instead of a romanticized viewpoint.

This novel, if read when I was a twenty-something, would have thrilled me. I can see myself sitting around with my girlfriends discussing the oppressive paternalistic society that subjugated poor Emma Bovary. I would empathize with Emma's ennui, her flight into romantic fantasies, her constant search for meaning in a meaningless life. I would blame her culture for her lack of self-actualization. I would cite pro-feminist works such as Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique and essays by Gloria Steinham illustrating how women have been pressured to conform to society's expectations of them. I would not lay the blame for Emma's trials and tribulations on Emma, but on the society at large. It would have made for a great thesis in a "Women's Studies" class.

Alas. I am no longer a twenty-something. Instead, I am late forty-something who has 'been around the block' a time or two. And I just could not relate to Emma Bovary. Or her husband, Charles. I found not a single sympathetic character in this novel. I wanted depth and perception. Instead, I found a novel that glorifies the shallowness of its characters and their lives. Surely, as women, by the time we hit our forties, we've lived out our own version of Emma Bovary: the fairytale wedding, the delusion of 'happily ever after', the endless spending of trying to keep up with the Joneses, the pursuit of beauty and sex to define our self-worth, the foray into motherhood ... And, hopefully, we've reached a place where we can say "Enough." These things do not define me. And so begin our truer journeys into self and the creation of an authentic life (one in which we establish parameters based upon our experiences, trial and error, and self wisdom.) This novel taught me nothing new. It did not stretch me mentally, emotionally. I found its prose (lauded as perfection) to be tedious.

**Alain de Botton summed Madame Bovary as thus:

" It's about a shopaholic adulteress who swallows arsenic after credit fraud."

And that's all I really needed to know.


** Thanks to Dave for the link /reference


gz said...


Adullamite said...

How nice to see your brain working well. 'Get wisdom' it says in Proverbs, and you have.

Bullets said...

Fifty-five dollars gets you three tabs of Cialis.
Love the post. I like it when you are terse.

soubriquet said...

Madame Bovary. I can only vaguely remember her, she's from the way distant past, college summer reading list.
I remember the big compulsory lists, you must have read all of these books befor I see you next term....
And then, there I am, taking notes, writing in the margins, sketching diagrams to try help me interpret plots and character interactions... And what? What, I ask... I'm all ready, when I'm next in that seminar, all ready to discuss Flaubert, Tostoy, Dostoyefsky, Solzhenitsyn, Kafka. (Oh I loathe Kafka...)..... And?

Now I understand what it was about, of course, and why the hell I ploughed through "Far From the Madding Crowd", when I disliked it from page one.

You hit the nail on the head with Mrs Bovary.
" It's about a shopaholic adulteress who swallows arsenic after credit fraud."

I love that. I wish I could have summed up a whole heap of turgid classics so well.
For some reason, I'm only able to recall one note I wrote, when trying to distill Anna Karenina.
"Chapter 9. Vronsky Meets Oblonsky."

I tried so hard to see greatness and literary wonders, but I was too busy yawning.

goatman said...

I wonder if this book could have been historical impetus for all of those later trashy paperback romance novels -- reading for soap opera fans.
I did some work for a woman nearby who must have had thousands of those and claimed to have read each one. (I didn't ask if any were good enough to read again)
I had to prop up the shelves for her or she may have suffered a trashy death buried in pap!

Anonymous said...

I'm looking at the book cover above. Was it her habit to smoke DURING sex? Because she is puffing away at that cigarette while loverboy looks like he is about to go downtown.
Can I say that here?

soubriquet said...

Well, Cowboy, it looks like they're trapped in a heady cycle of lust and ennui.....
And you think he's about to step out for a pizza?

soubriquet said...

Mind you he might need to rush to the E.R. if that nasty pink tarantula on his head bites.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read the book, but I might guess his name would be Monsieur Testacle.

Anonymous said...

The man leaned against the green post and spit on the ground. "Sometimes that bus ain't for you. You just gotta catch the next one."

red dirt girl said...

@gz - xxx

@adullamite - thank you kind sir.

@cowboy - keep it brief and pithy, eh?!

@soubry - Kafka I liked because I had a brief infatuation with existentialism. Anna Karenina I couldn't finish ... I tried to read Wuthering Heights a few years ago and couldn't finish that one either ..... I'm afraid I'm getting rather cynical in my old age. Where's the romantic ???? Argggghhhh......xxxxxx

red dirt girl said...

goatman - apparently Emma Bovary spent much of her leisure time reading "trashy romantic novels" which is why real life never met up to her expectations. However, I definitely think M. Bovary spawned the daytime soap genre!! A good thing your neighbor had you to prop up all her pap ....!

red dirt girl said...

@cowboy and soubry - while the cat's away, the mice shall play ....I liked this poster of Madame Bovary precisely because she had a ciggy dangling out of her mouth, and her pink (tarantula) fingers were digging in the back of the poor sap's head as she lead him to her pleasure ....If only the novel could have lived up to the promise of this poster!! Then I would have enjoyed it immensely.

red dirt girl said...

Mr. Wit - there you go again, summing up my wordy post in a literate, concise statement or two. Nice! The bus to Madam Bovary was not one I should have taken. Live and learn, my friend. Live and learn!

Jan Hagel said...

Where's the romantic??? Nothing lasts forever, you know ... the age of dinosaurs ... this year's flu ... mankind ... true love ...

J Cosmo Newbery said...

I tried to read it once. Didn't succeed.

red dirt girl said...

Hello again. The romantic is right HERE! RDG is quite the romantic. Madame Bovary is NOT! I still believe in true love .......despite my divorce. I'm quite hopeless in that regard.

red dirt girl said...

You didn't miss much!

Anonymous said...

How did I miss this? I got through Bovary last year but only because I had just gotten through the entire Proust in 290 days. Flaubert was a light snack after that. Still, I've never felt like I've really "gotten" any novel. I can survive them if the use of words, the sentences themselves, are interesting to me. If there is some broader, underlying point to the writing, which I understand most good novels have, I will be oblivious to it.

This is a pointless comment.

Hi mule friend!

red dirt girl said...

Hi Dave!

Your comments are never pointless! And Proust in 290 days IS quite an achievement - one I doubt I shall ever achieve. I can only imagine how light and fluffy Bovary must have felt after Proust. Not all my novels have to be 'great' in that they have larger underlying points to make. But you know, when a book is declared to be one of the greatest novels ever written, then yes, I'm expecting some greatness ...... somewhere: in its prose, plot, point of view, character development ..... geesh, I'd have been happy with a pithy dedication!

good to see you back on the blogs a bit!

Anonymous said...

Well, yeah, there's nothing new there. But really there's nothing new under the sun, at least where storytelling is concerned. And, admittedly, it's no Middlemarch...no Anna Karenina. Still, despite a first half that left me surprisingly cold, I was eventually drawn in. I have rarely read a death scene so detailed and tortuously long in a work of literature. I found it -- Emma's suffering and Charles's grief -- wrenching. I realize if you don't respond to a work of art, there's nothing anyone can say to argue you out of it. Still, I'm surprised you could read that novel and not find one sympathetic character. I had tremendous sympathy for Emma herself. Not to mention her husband, Charles, her young daughter, her lonely widower father, so many of the minor characters. Also, I do think you're off the mark saying that the book "glorifies the shallowness of its characters and their lives." If Emma chewing on a wad of arsenic and dying in grisly fashion in front of her family and neighbors is glorification, I've lost track of what the word means. Also, Flaubert was famously satirizing the bourgeois world he was depicting (think Homais, the pharmacist)...from glorifying it, I believe he was skewering it and much of its populace. And although I would have found your imagined twentysomething response to the book a tad cliche, I do think your fortysomething self kinda' missed it. Maybe try it again in 20 years...and maybe pick a different translation: a lousy translation from French to English can truly ruin things. If you're not totally turned off 19th Century literature and you haven't yet read "Middlemarch," I encourage you to give it a whirl. Cheers, and happy reading!

red dirt girl said...

Anon ~ thank you for your thought provoking comment. After considered review of Madame Bovary and my initial response to it, I am choosing to stand by my words.

I am certainly willing to reconsider my opinion if presented with a compelling argument. You cite Emma's 'grisly death' as emotionally wrenching, chiding me for summing up Flaubert's novel as a glorification of shallowness.

Yet I read the long and tortuous death scene as a thematic summation of my long and tortuous reading of Madame Bovary itself.

Certainly Flaubert could have put Emma Bovary to death in a number of more expedient ways if he had chosen. I was not emotionally swayed nor 'wrenched' by her protracted death scene because I felt no compassion for Emma. And I place the blame for that squarely on the writer - Flaubert failed to convince me that these characters' lives mattered. I was emotionally unmoved.

I expect 'great literature' to be timeless in its depictions of humanity. Possibly I am expecting too much from a novel whose intent was to skewer the 19th century french bourgeois and am critiquing it in light of my 21st century sensibilities. I find Flaubert's depiction of suicide quite trivializing in comparison to my own struggles with suicidal ideation and a family history pitted with suicides and suicide attempts.

You accurately read my twenty-something self as cliched. Twenty-somethings ARE a cliche, and the second paragraph is intentionally sardonic.

And while my forty-something self might have missed the point of Flaubert, the joy of being forty-something means that I won't be wasting my precious sixty-something time re-reading a book that I did not enjoy the first time round.

I am quite pleased with your comment in that you opined a differing point of view and made an engaging counterpoint argument to my 'thesis.'

On your suggestion I shall add Middlemarch to my reading list. Keep a look out for its future 'review' here at the gate.
And possibly next time you won't find the need to cloak yourself in the guise of a Nony Mouse.