“Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert
(First publication: 1857 / This edition: ROADS Publishing 2013)
Taken with coffee one morning at Dean & Deluca—I love the morning light and shadows.
‘But the most wretched thing, is it not, is to drag out, as I do, a useless existence.
If our pains were only of some use to someone, we should find consolation in the thought of sacrifice.” (p.268)
Madame Bovary…where to begin… First of all, I love this book. I didn’t know anything about the story before I purchased it. I was browsing around Kinokuniya and noticed all the ROADS Classics editions and just wanted one ROADS. Any. Just a ROADS. (The ROADS Classics are so beautiful—check them out!) I had never thought about reading Madame Bovary. I kind of “don’t like classics”—but then I actually end up reading many and loving them anyway (go figure). Madame Bovary had never seemed appealing to me.
I’m so glad I read it. It’s one of my favorite classics now. In short, the story follows the life of Madame Bovary, who dreams of luxurious life and fame but feels suppressed by her loving husband and life in the province. This desperation sends her struggling and spiraling down until she ruins herself and her home. The overall storyline might seem a bit “dull” but Madame Bovary is such a complex character, and the most selfish I’ve ever come across. I feel like I understood her…but I hated her—the way she took advantage of people who genuinely loved her (her husband, especially), the way she puts herself before others always, and the way she will do whatever she pleases without caring if she hurts others. I especially hated how she was so confused and mad at her own existence—even though she was of reputable status and had more than others—that she had to neglect and ruin other people’s lives too.
I ended up empathizing with all the other characters—Charles, her daughter, Léon, and even Rodolphe (the “worst” of the men that Madame Bovary had an affair with), etc. Though throughout the story, Madame Bovary kept making it seem like she was the victim and that she was suffering the most, I did not sympathize with her frustrations.
Now it’s just like I’m writing a hate-note to Madame Bovary, but…I enjoyed reading this immensely! The immature way she thinks and goes about her selfish decisions is just so absorbing! It’s like watching a movie with a horrible and mean woman who pisses you off but, out of curiosity, you still want to know how she will end up. This was also my first Flaubert, and I love his writing style—every line is so beautifully written. I highly recommend this to anyone who loves classics…or anyone, really. I’ve noticed that she’s referred to quite often in other books and all, so it’s always good to know what a well-known character is all about.
Here are a few of my favorite lines from the book:
…her life was cold as an attic facing north; and boredom like a silent spider, was weaving its web in the shadows, in every corner of her heart. (p.56)
Love, she thought, must come suddenly, with great thunder and lightning, a hurricane of the skies, which falls upon life, revolutionises it, roots up the will like a leaf, and sweeps the whole heart into the abyss. (p.118)