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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