Madame Bovary-Gustave Flaubert: Desperate Housewife in the 1800s

Madame Bouvary

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The original is in French and I read the English translation by Alan Russell (Penguin Popular Classics).

I’m rather a novice with reading the classics so the writing seemed rather excessively descriptive and flowery to me. Perhaps with some books, you need guidance to understand them fully and several articles I read about this book online made me appreciate it more.

Charles Bovary is an nondescript local doctor, used to living ‘by the rules’. He establishes a minor practice and marries suitably, if unhappily. After his wife dies, he meets Emma Rouault, the pretty daughter of one of his patients. Captivated by her beauty, he is thrilled when she agrees to marry him.

Emma, for her part, has been a dutiful daughter and model student at a convent. Once married, however, she finds herself restless and dissatisfied with the lack of romance and grandeur in her life. She turns first to fervent domesticity, occasional piety and finally to outside affections, seeking what seems to be missing.

The men in her life are at first captivated by her charms and beauty, like her husband is. However, eventually both Rodolphe and Leon tire of her incessant neediness and leave her. As Emma delves deeper into the quest for romance, she plunges her family into debt, to support her lavish lifestyle.

I imagine that the original in French would have added considerably to the story. After all, the setting, the social norms and the quest for and to be a perfect mistress are more French than English. Still, the story brought out the gradual descent into depravity and finally, depression very well. Emma’s active mind seeks an outlet and finding none, turns to materialism and desperation. Her fall into the debt whirlpool would probably resonate with women even today, especially since even empowered, we end up chasing material objects to replace emotional chasms.

If you’re interested in unusual female characters and are willing to stretch your reading muscles a bit, this might be a good place to start.

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