All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

on May 11, 2013

Madame BovaryMadame Bovary
Gustave Flaubert (translated by Adam Thorpe)
2012 (originally 1856), 333p
Read from my TBR pile

Emma was brought up on a farm in Normandy by her father and educated at a convent. Whilst at the convent she read all manner of contraband romantic novels and as a result, tends to seek out the romantic. When local doctor Charles Bovary asks her father for her hand, Emma is hopeful that her forthcoming marriage might prove to contain all the excitement and romance and love that she so desperately craves.

However it doesn’t take Emma very long at all to decide that her marriage is a disappointment to her in many ways. Charles is staid and dull, lacking in the gestures and words that Emma so longs to hear and feel. She allows this disappointment and lack of fulfillment to consume her, spiraling downwards. She and Charles have a daughter and even this doesn’t do much at all to rouse Emma’s spirits. She neglects her house, her husband and her child as she fantasizes about those who might be able to give her the fulfillment she so desires. She entertains thoughts of one man and then another – falling into adultery with abandon.

But although the affair is everything she dreamed of for a time, it does not end well and Emma is forced to deal with that and once again address the lack of satisfaction she feels in her life. She aims her affections at someone else, who was around before but much the same as the other scenario, she soon disintegrates into neediness and clinginess which results in her driving her would-be lover away. Emma also spends compulsively, sending her husband so heavily into debt that it seems that there is only one way out for her. It’s the only option that she feels she has left, so gone to her ruin is she….

Ahhh Madame Bovary. I think this was one of the classics on my list of 50 for the Classics Club that I was most excited to finally get around to actually reading. It was one of the classics I actually knew a little bit about (and yes okay, that’s because it contained adultery and none of the classics I ever read for school contained anything so interesting as that). However, like pretty much every other classic ever, I hadn’t gotten around to reading it. Until now.

It’s so easy to dislike Emma. She’s self-absorbed and selfish, she’s uncaring of other people’s feelings. She marries a man she doesn’t love, which was probably not uncommon at the time and once she discovers this, very early on, she seeks to find a way of fulfillment. Charles quite frankly adores her and it seems that Emma has the run of doing pretty much whatever she likes. When she is unhappy, Charles moves elsewhere in an attempt to cheer her up. After Emma has their daughter, she spends relatively little time with her (again this does seem quite common of the time, the little girl is farmed out to a wet-nurse for the first year of her life but even after she settles in their household, Emma alternately smothers her and loses interest in her with regularity). She spends money irresponsibly and often secretly. She develops attractions (that she believes to be deep love) with other men and acts on upon it with one of them, sinking headlong into an indulgent affair, sneaking out of the marital bed to rendezvous with her lover, caring little who might see her coming or going. Charles seems to remain blissfully oblivious to what his wife is up to, even towards the end when their debt is so crippling. He is also devoted to her until the very end as well.

I’m no expert on translations so I don’t know if this one is any good – I have heard that Flaubert’s prose is virtually flawless in French but given I cannot read, speak or understand French, I have to go with what I have. The novel is very detailed in some sections and rather vague in others and it was at times, rather difficult to settle into the story, particularly in the beginning before Charles and Emma meet and marry. During the time after this, I was really invested, wondering exactly how Emma was going to go down “the path to ruin” so to speak but I think the actual anticipation of that was more interesting than the actuality. I tried to be sympathetic towards her at times – she was a girl who wanted passion, who wanted to experience life at its fullest. But her lack of real consideration for others, her tendency to always put herself first above everything made that very difficult.

I think Madame Bovary falls into a category I often drag out for classics: didn’t love it, but glad I read it. It’s interesting some times, to read novels that have endured so strongly and try and figure out why they have. They’re not always likable novels, especially for me. But I’m glad that I’m giving them a go and trying to read them of my own accord, rather than because I have to, like I did in school and university.


Book #116 of 2013


Madame Bovary counts towards my participation in the Classics Club Challenge. It’s the 8th novel read so far out of 50.

5 responses to “Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

  1. I get Madame Bovary and Lady Chatterly’s Lover a bit mixed-up in my head but I know I’ve read both of them and I know I wasn’t too impressed by either. (I do remember reading this one while I was staying with my sister in Paris, and Lady Chatterly for uni several years prior.) Agree with you about Emma, but that’s about all I can remember of this one! I don’t even think I have a copy. Some of these classics, I dunno, they just fail to connect with me. Am thinking of my recent experience with Ethan Frome.

    • I’ve read LCL as well, although only once and years ago so I think I might re-read it for the classics challenge. It was ok – but sometimes the thing with reading these now is that what was so scandalous back then really seems so boring in this day and age.

  2. Violet says:

    Sorry you didn’t love Flaubert’s blistering satire of Romanticism and his critique of dull bourgeoise society. 6/10 is pretty good though. 🙂

  3. Great review! I read the book some time ago (I think around the same time as this post; I’m just slow at getting around to commenting *blushes*) and I agree, it’s so easy to dislike Emma. On the one level I do feel bad for her because she’s searching for something that she would never have but then on the other hand she’s just so inconsiderate and selfish that my sympathy for her sort of cut short. Fascinating read though, I was also relieved that it was quite an accessible read too (I’m currently figuring out what French lit novel to read next for this reading challenge I’m participating in and a lot of the books on my eReader are pretty dry =/)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: