Emma Bovary is the original desperate housewife. Beautiful but bored, she is married to the provincial doctor Charles Bovary yet harbors dreams of an elegant and passionate life. Escaping into sentimental novels, she finds her fantasies dashed by the tedium of her days. Motherhood proves to be a burden; religion is only a brief distraction. In an effort to make her life everything she believes it should be, she spends lavishly on clothes and on her home and embarks on two disappointing affairs. Soon heartbroken and crippled by debts, Emma takes drastic action with tragic consequences for her husband and daughter.
When published in 1857, Madame Bovary was deemed so lifelike that many women claimed they were the model for its heroine. Today the novel is considered the first masterpiece of realist fiction. Flaubert sought to tell the story objectively, without romanticizing or moralizing (hence the uproar surrounding its publication), but whereas he was famously fastidious about his literary style, many of the English versions seem to tell the story in their own style. In this landmark translation, Lydia Davis honors the nuances and particulars of a style that has long beguiled readers of French, giving new life in English to Flaubert's masterwork..
Let's set the scene...
As outlined in the Moby Dick post, Dean and Rory are walking along the rough-and-tumble streets of Stars Hollow. Dean admits that he's been paying attention to Rory over the past few weeks.
Dean: Every day. After school, you could out and sit under that tree there and you read. Last week it was Madame Bovary. This week, it's Moby Dick.
As a friend recently said to me, "When I got to the end of that book I was so happy that bitch got her comeuppance, I might have peed a little." That pretty much sums up what I thought of the character of Emma Bovary... a self-absorbed country girl who has is quite delusional about her station in life. The sense of entitlement to things and people is pervasive throughout the entire story. To the point where you're actually egging her on to swallow that handful of arsenic. Mmm... tastes like almonds, doesn't it, Emma? So tasty... I think you should have a bit more!
Madame Bovary is that classic tragedy of a life wasted. A young woman constantly searching for happiness and never quite achieving it... simply because her definition of happiness is so utterly unattainable. She finds the great love(s) of her life, and then gets bored as they grow familiar and the relationship becomes more of a marriage. She is unable to see the beauty in a relationship that has reached that level of intimacy. Due to the fact that she tends to escape into books (nothing wrong with that), she has this far-fetched and fictional idea of what a true romance entails and of what her life should be.
Flaubert accomplished something interesting in his writing. He made the protagonist of the story completely detestable and he did not allow her to redeem herself in any way by the end of the story. Even her death, although much desired, was purely selfish in it's nature... leaving her husband and child to clean up the mess she had created. There is really no character you end up rooting for. Although you feel badly for Charles Bovary, his "ignorance is bliss" way of living leads to him being about as sympathetic a character as his wife. The remaining characters, while crucial to the telling of this tale, don't secure a spot in the reader's heart. The only character that I felt any semblance of warmth towards was Justin, the chemist Homais's assistant. His bumbling innocence is charming... and it doesn't hurt that he's the one that helps Emma along in choking down the arsenic.
In the end, I'm glad I read this book again. As I mentioned in this post, I had previously read Madame Bovary for an AP English class in high school. Although I remembered nothing of the story, I'd be interested to see what 17 year old Elizabeth thought of Emma's self-importance.
Who do I see reading this in the Stars Hollow gazebo?
I love Babette Dell. I mean, really... how could you not? She's the type of friend you'd run to instantly to get all of the latest dirt on your mutual friends. If she lived in Flaubert's "Yonville", Babette would have known all about Madame Bovary's money troubles and affairs the moment they started. She's a true "broad" (and proud of it) and would be ecstatic to see such an uppity bitch get what's coming to her.