My thoughts on Madame Bovary

I recently read Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert and I had a few thoughts.

I found this copy at a thrift store and it was in very decent condition.

Anyway, a brief synopsis:

The book initially follows Charles Bovary, a country doctor in a small town in France. He marries a very unpleasant older lady of his mother’s choosing who is supposed to have been very well off financially. On a visit to a patient he meets the patient’s daughter Emma who is young, pretty, well educated, and a hopeless romantic (due to the novels she loves). Charles of course falls in love with her and in the meantime he discovers that his wife is not the rich woman she made herself out to be. When the wife dies he marries Emma. At this point in the book it shifts to Emma- the second Madame Bovary- as she learns that married life is not the luxurious and romantic life she imagined. The rest of the book follows her as she begins to live outside her means and makes one bad decision after another.

Initially when I read this book all I could think about was how annoying the characters are. Charles is boring and clueless while Emma is a train wreck. But on further reflection, (its been about two weeks since I finished) I realized that I was judging them all by today’s standards.

Looking at Charles, he is a very ordinary country doctor for the time period. He has a calm domestic life and feels no ambition to become a world renowned doctor. He’s perfectly content with his wife and his life and has no idea his marriage is in turmoil because Emma has never told him of her difficulties and it wouldn’t occur to a married man in those days that perhaps his wife wants something more out of life than running the home and raising a family. It is a bit frustrating as the modern reader to be able to see what is right under his nose but he hasn’t the slightest clue.

Emma is a lot more complex as a character. She is naive, emotional and ambitious for her husband. She is bored in her marriage and is full of rage for what she considers her husband’s lack of ambition. In a way she reminds me a little of Catherine from Northanger Abbey because she too has read novels that influence the way she sees the world. I think that the way Emma is dissatisfied with solely being a housewife to a middle class doctor is a very modern feeling and I can identify with that to some extent. What makes me want to scream is how she expects her husband to understand what she’s feeling without ever conveying it to him. Instead she goes behind his back to borrow money and buy expensive things and forms bad relationships to fill the need of hers to live like a romantic heroine in one of her novels.

Flaubert’s writing was very descriptive and I am the kind of reader who enjoys that so the book flowed well for me. I can see why this book was considered scandalous for the time period in which it was written. A well brought up genteel lady unhappy and behaving like a common hussy because she is bored with her marriage? Gasp.

All in all a very good read that I would recommend. I initially gave it 3.5 stars and amended it to 4 out of 5 stars.

If you’ve read this, tell me your thoughts!

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