Book #2: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
I had high hopes for Madame Bovary after my
brilliant and sexy knowledgable and helpful Ulysses teacher made common allusions to it during class. Despite my expectations (or perhaps because of them), I found reading Flaubert’s seminal work to be like walking through the Grand Canyon; it was beautiful until I realized there was another 200 pages before it was going to end. Because in many ways, Bovary was a precursor to many of the themes I found interesting in Ulysses. The ambiguous narrator, for example, was free to flit around from mind to mind, drawing out interior monologues from the characters that demonstrates Flaubert’s interest in the unconscious and the unseen. The seemingly banal subject matter also draws basic comparison to Joyce’s work. Madame Bovary deals with one woman’s life in a rather pastoral and dull setting, much to Emma’s chagrin. Furthermore, Flaubert’s treatment of Emma is an inspiration for female characters like Molly Bloom who finally have their thoughts—and importantly, not very innocent thoughts—aired for the first time.
Unlike Molly however, Emma never strikes me as a particularly likeable character as she is too tied up in Flaubert’s criticism of romanticism to have any dimensions beyond her marital unhappiness. I found myself getting bored at Emma’s perpetual rants about uncouth country bumpkins and even more annoyed with her as she seemed to learn little from her mistakes. In essence, I felt like while Emma’s character development from sweet daughter into unhappy wife was particularly interesting during the first third of the novel, Flaubert never took steps to introduce nuances into the intelligent, greedy, yet romantically idealistic person she became. As a result I became tired of Emma and tired of the novel itself.
While I have mostly discussed Emma’s character, Madame Bovary takes on the clergy, new atheists, Romantics, as well as many others through various side plots and characters. Flaubert is not without a sense of wit either, as I found myself laughing out loud at some of his small, yet sharp comments on everyday country life. His ability to capture the real feeling and sense of the situation is wonderful and I never found myself doubting the brilliance of Flaubert’s prose. I simply just wish there was more going on with Emma herself as bitching about her doting husband got real old, real fast.
Recommendation Rating: 6/10
tags: reviews. summer reading project. madame bovary. reading.