Thursday, October 21, 2010

Madame Bovary Group Read: Week Two

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

This past week I read Part Two of Madame Bovary, where Emma, now a mother, moves with her husband to a larger town and he sets up a practice there. Emma is ambitious for the hapless Charles, who will do just about anything to please his wife. Meanwhile,  flâneur and rake extraordinaire Rodolphe arrives on the scene.

Rodolphe is an interesting character and Emma's passion for him illustrates both her descent into a world of her own imagination and her lust for possessions. He's a rich single man with an actress mistress who's bought an estate in Emma's town. She finds him attractive right away, and he notices her, too. When one of their early encounters combines a memory of the frisson between herself and Léon and of the delicious ball she's attended, the one that gave her a taste of the high life, she's lost.

"I have a lover," she says, in one of the most famous lines of the book, "I have a lover." She's as delighted as a shopper with a shiny new bauble. But her passion for him reaches beyond a shopper's fleeting thrill; she clings to him like her life depends on it and she's blind to his lack of regard for her. Oh sure, he likes her, and finds her attractive, but she means no more to him than any other of the many women he's known. He sees an easy, appealing mark in the pretty young woman and knows he can treat her however he wants and she'll always come back for more.  But when she starts to demand too much, he cuts her loose.

I found this section fascinating for Flaubert's social commentary and for the developments in Emma's character and her and Charles' relationship. At times it seemed like her affair with Rodolphe was the stuff of cheap dime-store novels, but that's the point- that she's throwing herself away on someone who's not worthy of her, on a relationship that's entirely a fantasy. Rodolphe is what in contemporary parlance we'd call a player and Flaubert makes it obvious to the reader that he doesn't give a whit about Emma, who seems to become more and more obsessed as time passes. By the end of the section, it seems that she's about to fall into an even deeper abyss.

Or maybe not, but despite never having read the book before I do know how it ends, so I suspect I may be right. We'll see!

Thank you to Frances of NonSuchBook for organizing the Group Read and click over to her blog to see other participants' entries.



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14 comments:

Zibilee said...

I really want to read this book, so I am finding your commentary very interesting. I hope that the ending isn't too predictable for you!

jewwishes said...

I am enjoying your commentaries, so far.

Jeanne said...

I love how easy it is to understand--and for me, at least, to sympathize--with the intensity of Emma's fantasy life.

Marie said...

Zibilee, it's not a matter of it being predictable- I just know how it's going to end because I've heard about it :-)

Jeanne, yes!

Emily said...

I found my own reaction to Rodolphe interesting - he is everything you say, a player and a libertine, but often I found myself liking him better than most other characters, just because he wasn't laboring under the delusion that acting in any particular way (whether conforming to bourgeois respectability or having a "grand passion") would secure him everlasting happiness. He was playing the game, and he knew he was playing it, and he expected everyone else to know it too.

Mystica said...

I am having this book so I too am very keen to follow your commentary.

Frances said...

So beautifully played that Emma's greatest moment of joy in her relationship with Rodolphe, the "I have a lover" section you refer to, occurs when she is alone and not with her new lover. Just as her appearance is of prime importance to Rodolphe, his appearance and status are of prime importance to Emma. The thought of a lover is of more importance than the lover himself. But as Emily suggests, only Rodolphe is self-aware or accountable enough to own his own failings. So I also feel more kindly towards his character than I should.

Marie said...

Frances and Emily, yes, I find Rodolphe sympathetic if only because he is so honest- even if he's not a nice guy.

pickygirlfoodfilmfiction said...

I thought Rodolphe, though a complete rake, was really quite funny. As you say, he seems to be the only "real" character we have, which is absolutely ridiculous.

The part where he goes through the letters and the locks of hair was just really comic to me.

Frances said...

Also had to laugh at the part when Emma snuck into his room once again after dashing through town in the wee hours. He advises caution but you know he can't believe her persistence. Oh my god, she's here again. Just another instance of her inability to read social cues that we see begin in earnest in part one at the ball. Painful. And a little sad.

Bellezza said...

The abyss into which she falls is never-ending, and I love how you call Rodolphe a player. What a perfect adjective for him!

Shelley (Book Clutter) said...

Rodolphe is so interesting because he's such a rake and yet I respect him because he seems to have the most insight into relationships. He articulates all of Emma's feelings that she can't voice herself. He has no heart, but he's one of few, maybe only, characters with half a brain. I'm wondering why Flaubert chose to do that.

Carina said...

I found myself liking Rodolphe more than I liked Emma. She just seemed way too over-the-top, and didn't seem to realize that she was getting scarily obsessive and possessive of Rodolphe.

Anthony said...

Rodolphe is your classic lounge lizard, swanking around in that green velvet suit. Player is spot on. He goes for the naive, the ones that don't see through his tired, cliched schtick. But poor innocent Emma, desperate for a lover, is a perfect target. She clings and clings, not what oily 'Dolphy is after at all. He is the comic act of MB, more than Homais.