Thursday, October 28, 2010

Madame Bovary Group Read: Final Week

So it's done- I've finished Madame Bovary.

When we last saw the intrepid Emma, Rodolphe has dumped her and she was about to resume her affair with Léon, the clerk with whom she was infatuated earlier in the novel. This affair doesn't really go any better. Meanwhile, her financial troubles escalate and it seems like it's only a matter of time before it all comes to a head.

I won't say exactly what happens, but this is a book that ends badly for just about everyone except jolly Homais, the anti-clerical and more than slightly ridiculous pharmacist. Poor Charles, a nice guy who loves his wife and tries to do right by her only to be scorned, rejected, humiliated and cuckolded; poor Berthe, who doesn't deserve what happens to her, either. She's the only member of the family to bear the weight of Emma's transgressions in the end.

I really didn't have much sympathy for Emma; I get how bored and oppressed she felt, and how trapped. But she's so melodramatic, and her affairs are so tawdry and built on fantasy. The only man who truly loves her is her long-suffering husband. We hear about how repulsive she finds Charles, how he repels her and disgusts her. But what does he actually do to deserve this scorn? Let's not forget that after the brief beginning of the novel, we see him only from her distorted point of view. All he does is try to be a loving husband and he's rejected at every turn. More tragic is the fate of little Berthe, who never even has a chance at a decent life. But if her husband is some kind of mutant to Emma, her little girl seems to barely exist.

I think Madame Bovary is a book that needs to be read and re-read to fully savor its subtleties and structure, its nuances and details. It's been fascinating to read other bloggers' reflections on the book over the past few weeks; there's so much going on in this book and I know I've only got the most basic sense of how it's put together. The first read is always primarily about plot. It's definitely a book everyone should read, both because it's a magnificent work of literature and because it's a book that's referred to and alluded to in so many other works of literature, film and popular culture. I'm so glad to have participated in the group read and I want to thank Frances at NonSuchBook for hosting. I can't wait for next month and Doctor Zhivago!

Rating: BUY

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ImageNations said...

This book is on my TBRs. I am only waiting to lay my hands on one. I love what you wrote though I don't know much about the story. I would still hunt for it. Thanks BB

Harvee said...

Wonder what kind of book it would have been, the ending and all, if a woman of the time had written it!

Zibilee said...

After reading all your posts on this book, I have decided to take it along for my mini vacation at the end of January. Thanks for inspiring me to finally get to this book!

Shelley said...

I think it was one of the biggest ironies of all that Homais, who I thought was the worst character, comes out the most unscathed in the end. Berthe's fate is the saddest part of the book.
I feel like I need to watch a movie version now!

Anonymous said...

What did Charles do? Why, he didn't live up to Emma's fantasies.

Frances said...

And I had to marvel at the cutting treatment Homais received from Flaubert for his conventional success and happiness. In Flaubert's words, he seemed somehow more reprehensible than Emma in part.

Thanks so much for reading along, and I look forward to Doctor Zhivago next month.

Anonymous said...

Homais was interesting to me - he is somewhat non-traditional, yet he does seem to be derided for his desire to be more than a simple town pharmacist. The last line was very telling.

I'm with Shelley - I want to watch a film version.

Isabella K said...

I almost want to reread the book already, with attention this time to Homais. By the end I thought he was pretty despicable.

Re films, I recommend the version with Isabella Huppert. It's quite slow-moving but interesting because Emma is played so "blankly" -- it's really entirely left to the viewer to form a judgement of her.