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murphs

Madame Bovary

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Hi Murphs, welcome to BGO.

 

I haven't read Mme Bovary recently, I read it rather a long time ago when I did French at uni, so I've had the erm, pleasure of reading it in French and English. Unfortunately I loathed it in both. I found Emma Bovary such a tedious character I couldn't summon any sympathy for her at all. :rolleyes: But I'm sure there's loads of people round here who have read it and liked it.

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Hi Darkstar,

 

Sounds like that would have been fun :rolleyes: As it wasn't on any of my courses for school or uni I never had to read it before. I was surprised how unlikeable the heroine is though.

 

Murphs

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I also had Madame Bovary on my must read list for years (always hearing it listed as a 'classic') but when I finally read it, I, too, thought she was a really vapid and unlikeable character and couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. Could it be that the only thing was that the topic was risque for its time?

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A few years ago I went to an evening class 'European Novels in Translation'. Madame Bovary was one of the titles we studied and I enjoyed it immensely. I don't know if this was for its quality or the fact that some of the other novels were not to my taste at all!

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I don't think the author wanted you to have much sympathy for her which I was surprised about - her poor husband was so devoted & blind to what was going on at all times. Even encouraging her to go horse-riding with the first guy who had his eye on her :)

 

I thought it would be more like Anna Karenina (fave novel) where you really felt sorry for the heroine (or anti-heroine) & indignant at the injustice of women's treatment in society !

 

She was a great shopper though - Madame Bovary - you'd have to give her that ;)

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Restored

 

Hazel 27th October 2006 07:11 PM

 

Amazon synopsis - Emma Bovary is beautiful and bored, trapped in her marriage to a mediocre doctor and stifled by the banality of provincial life. An ardent reader of sentimental novels, she longs for passion and seeks escape in fantasies of high romance, in voracious spending and, eventually, in adultery. But even her affairs bring her disappointment and the consequences are devastating. Flaubert's erotically charged and psychologically acute portrayal of Emma Bovary caused a moral outcry on its publication in 1857. It was deemed so lifelike that many women claimed they were the model for his heroine; but Flaubert insisted: 'Madame Bovary, c'est moi'.

 

Just finished reading this today and I enjoyed it immensely. Emma marries a country doctor who is not very good at his job, yet with him she sees wealth and status ahead. Life with Charles Bovary does not fill her expectations and she seeks out new loves, new thrill, and new riches. Her wild notions are borne out of reading novels and she wants the all encompassing hero in her life. A real man: brave, tall, handsome, wealthy, strong, confident and powerful. She doesn't understand that this is an impossible dream and sets out on 2 affairs hoping that each will in turn fulfill her desires. She soon finds out that in adultery one finds the "platitudes of marriage". She falls out of love of these men, but still in love with the fictional idea of a hero tries to mould these men into what she desires, unsuccessfully.

 

While in the search for perfect bliss, she also manages to bring about financial ruin on her family, and the denouement is a desperate race to free herself from ruin and secure her notion of a romantic life.

 

I really fluctuated between disliking Emma intensely and feeling damned sorry for her. Her husband while a little dull and completely incompetent does not deserve the treatment he suffers at her hands. He is just not enough for Emma. She is so self-absorbed and pathetic at times that I just wanted to shake her. At times, she acts as a criminal and completely manipulates her husband so calculatingly. But it is because she is so pathetic, so unaware of the reality of herself and those around her that you pity her.

 

Ultimately though I felt sorry for her daughter, Berthe. because (and don't read this spoiler if you don't want the end spoilt for you)

 

 

 

She loses her mother, father, grandparents and is eventually sent off to work in a cotton-mill by her poor aunt. Berthe is really the one that Emma's actions hurt. Emma, so strident in her mission that a woman should have a hero and all she desires, completely takes that away from her daughter. The 'sins of the mother' in this case.

 

 

I really enjoyed this book. It is well written, a little flowery at times, and tells a convincing story of rural life, and the desires that exceed it.

 

Hazel 28th October 2006 10:56 AM

 

How spooky - I finish this book yesterday and the Independent today is giving away the film free. Rushing down to Tesco as we speak...

 

Hazel 28th October 2006 11:54 AM

 

In the Guardian Review 30/9/06 - Julian Barnes reimagined the ending to Madame Bovary, which I just got round to reading last night. I am not all that impressed actually, but for those who have read the book, you may be interested in reading Barnes' version.

 

http://books.guardian.co.uk/departm...1884095,00.html

 

Vicky 29th October 2006 06:16 PM

 

Thanks for the link to the Barnes 'reimagining.' I love Madame Bovary (I’ve already managed to read my way through two copies) and I find Flaubert’s style both engaging and thought provoking so I’d definitely recommend it to other readers.

 

However, I don't feel Barnes really got the essence of Emma for me. I always saw her as impulsive and self-absorbed and in some ways able to fictionalise her own life internally. I always got the impression that other people’s emotions just didn’t register for her. I believe that Flaubert once described Emma as a female version of himself, rather than a ‘vulgar little woman’ and I think there is an affection for her that is evident in the book despite her failings.

 

Ultimately my biggest disagreement with this retelling is the self-awareness and reflection shown by Emma which certainly is not evident in the original text. I think that Barnes is trying to redeem her but in doing so has missed the point. I certainly don’t believe that Flaubert’s feelings were as black and white on issues such as death and morality as Barnes would have us believe. (Equally this article refers in passing to Anna Karenina which has similar themes but again relies on the seemingly obvious criticisms of women and fails to look deeper into the text.)

 

Vicky 29th October 2006 11:26 PM

 

Amazon synopsis Flaubert insisted: 'Madame Bovary, c'est moi'.

Heh, that would be the quote I was thinking of, I didn't catch it on the first read through.

 

Hazel 30th October 2006 09:23 AM

However, I don't feel Barnes really got the essence of Emma for me. I always saw her as impulsive and self-absorbed and in some ways able to fictionalise her own life internally. I always got the impression that other people’s emotions just didn’t register for her.

I completely agree with you. I think the ending was the ending Emma wanted to completely fufill her imagined romantic tour-de-force. Any less drama just wouldn't be good enough for her.

Ultimately my biggest disagreement with this retelling is the self-awareness and reflection shown by Emma which certainly is not evident in the original text. I think that Barnes is trying to redeem her but in doing so has missed the point.

Again, I agree - that was my biggest complaint of Barnes' ending. He positioned her as having some sort of awakening from her dramatic stupor and realising that what she had was good. Emma, for me and for Flaubert I think, wasn't just going through phase in her life, this is how she was: self absorbed, selfish, materialistic, and at the mercy of her emotions. She truly believed that she was a heroine destined to be rescued by a wealthy hero - she belived that was her destiny and if she couldn't have that then she would control her fate as laid out in the novels she read. There is no way she would have fizzled out to a domestic life as Barnes imagines.

 

Nice to have someone to talk about a book with - which has been lacking on BGO for a while! Thanks!

 

Vicky 30th October 2006 06:49 PM

 

My pleasure! I love the stereotypes around novels like Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina etc. especially as lot of them are a lot more open to interpretation/more forgiving than people think.

 

Have you read Stendhal's The Red and The Black?? It has a completely different style but makes for an interesting comparison.

 

Hazel 31st October 2006 12:36 PM

Have you read Stendhal's The Red and The Black?? It has a completely different style but makes for an interesting comparison.

No I haven't but will now have a nose at it on Amazon!

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I've just finished Madame Bovary and loved and struggled with it. I loved it because I found the writing beautiful in parts (some of Flaubert's imagery and analogies are wonderful) and some of the background characters were a joy (the pharmacist Homais was a wonderful character to loathe - pompous and unknowingly destructive). I struggled because it was loooong and some paragraphs or whole chapters weren't necessary, but I suppose that's how it goes for older books (no modern pressures to cull, cull, cull).

 

I found Emma's character not particularly unlikeable - I connected with her no matter how foolish she seemed to get. I found her attempts to redeem herself touching (she did this several times by trying to throw herself into her marriage), and her shopping addiction telling (given today's 'shopping therapy' culture), but her passivity, cloying romanticism and her unworldliness were her undoing. The unworldliness (in terms of what cads can be like) was facinating and well constructed because she was a 'worldly fallen woman' type object.

 

The ending was expected (and I already knew it from reading something about the book years ago) but perhaps a little 'tacked on'. It had that unusual 'bookend' structure - Charles childhood in the beginning and his death in the very end. I'm not sure if it was meant to be his story overall, since he didn't seem to feature a great deal. He wasn't a bad man, just a coarse dolt, but I did pick up during Charles' and Emma's courtship there were suggestions he was only lusting after her (remember the reference to the whip in one of the rooms he was waiting in?).

 

I also liked Flaubert's construction where it became clear in the end that the voice the novel was written from was of her distorted world view, and later, when Charles finds out about her infidelities, it changes to his view which is just a sea of hurt and depression.

 

And finally, I found the book a great comment on the constraints on women throughout history. After all, these days, she'd have become a doctor herself, married, divorced and used contraceptives. Or may be not, since she was such a passive romantic...

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Fulcrum -

I read Madam Bovary many years ago in my twenties and it's always been one of my favourite novels. You realise, of course, the constraints of 19th century French provincial society. I could sense the pent-up sexuality of Emma and the romanticism probably fed by novels! Unfortunately I lent someone my copy and never saw it again.

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Yes, and her pent up sexual appetite was nicely augmented by her love of church finery and ritual, but I loved how Flaubert repeatedly referred to her feelings of lassitude (if that's the word) at the actual nuts and bolts of having faith per se. She just couldn't translate all the vanity of her life into a real emotional connection with others. And that is so relevant to the human condition.

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I have just finished reading Madame Bovary and I have to say I was very disappointed. I found Emma quite unsufferable and I had no sympathy for her at all - in fact I just wanted to shake her and tell her to get a grip.

 

It took me a week to read (which is quite a long time for me); basically because I wasn't bothered about it.

 

I am finding it hard to see what all the fuss was about but I can see how it was deemed controversial at the time.

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I am just about to start on Madame Bovary. I have caught a glimpse of a few disappointed people on this thread...so, erm, feeling a bit pensive. Oh, it'll be ok, peeped and saw someone who loved it. I'll hang on to that for now! ;)

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I found this book really slow...I don't know what it was about it which made it so, maybe the translation from French to English...it might have lost something in the translation. I don't know. What I do know is that I suddenly noticed that I was halfway through yet didn't feel like anything had really happened yet!

 

 

I liked the way the book was named after her married name and yet the whole book is about her not being happy being married and about everything that goes on outside of her marriage, so to speak.

 

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She just couldn't translate all the vanity of her life into a real emotional connection with others. And that is so relevant to the human condition.

 

Having just finished Bovary - I thought that this thought from Fulcrum really got to the heart of the matter. I wish he/she would have written more about it.

 

I can't really say that I enjoyed reading this book. I found it just a bit too painful a read. M. Bovary herself puts you in different states of mind. As a female, I should be able to understand the tedium and frustration of a life where, perhaps having an aptitude for a more learned and adventuresome life, you are relegated to a life of keeping house, raising children and being a 'lady'. But in M. Bovary's case, her desires really are never specific; she just suffers from a general malaise - or more apt, ennui, because at this time in history, she couldn't probably conceive of what it would be that would have made her happy. So she lives her life, at first creating mental dramas and then real ones, of which she sucks every bit of life out of (crushing them in the process) in this desperate attempt to feel satisfied.

 

I think what makes this book special is that though a reader might be inclined to think of this story as specific to gender and the time of it's telling, I feel it's truly more a incredibly apt description of a type of person that has always existed and still does today. That person who just keeps searching for something and isn't even sure they know what it is, they just know they are desperately unhappy. Is it religion? Is it God? It is passion and love? All these things ultimately fail for M. Bovary - so in the end the question is that of what is missing; what is this fatal flaw in such a character that seems to fate them to such a life of misery? Is it vanity? Ambition? Greed? Some tragic combination of these things?

 

So as a character study it is truly superb. The slight problem though, is that in today's world, I think this type of person is more easily read. More easily identified. So it only takes half of the book to really have the measure of what is happening and what she is about. After that, it's all a little bit redundant and you're just wondering when and how the misery is going to end. I can't say I was bowled over by the prose - the details of rural life were really quite tedious and I felt the depiction of the chemist got in the way at times. At the end, I finally understood that Flaubert was using this character as a bit of counterpoint to M Bovary - the opposite personality if you like. But this realisation only came at the end for me; for most of the book he was annoying filler.

 

The depiction of Charles Bovary is an interesting one as well. He is unambitious, not particularly bright, not curious and not really deep in any sense of the word. As a reader I felt bad for him but had that thrown in my face to some degree at the end when, faced with the deceit and incredibly damaging behaviour of his wife, he steadfastly maintains his lack of backbone and will. Flaubert kind of throws him in your face here - as if to say, 'See! you felt sorry for this poor clod but even at the most low of lows, he doesn't redeem himself or his character. He's still passive. He's still pathetic. That's what M. Bovary was living with.'

 

So, it's certainly worth a read - as a superlative study of character, but I can't entirely say it's wonderful pleasant to do so. Especially if perhaps you have some of these issues of 'searching' in your own life.

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As a female, I should be able to understand the tedium and frustration of a life where, perhaps having an aptitude for a more learned and adventuresome life, you are relegated to a life of keeping house, raising children and being a 'lady'.
I don't think it is as much her having an 'aptitude' for a learned and adventurous life - more from her reading of (romance) novels, she expects to have a dramatic life more in line with those that she reads. So she re-figures the men she meets into romantic heroes and melodramatic love affairs. Obviously the men, not taught in the specifics of fictional love affairs, don't live up to her fictional expectations, falling woefully short, which then leads to her ennui.

 

I feel it's truly more a incredibly apt description of a type of person that has always existed and still does today.

I think that's very true, though this generation's romance novel is the pages of Hello! where readers are led to believe that grand houses, designer gear, money falling out of our ears, and beautiful children are all required to make us happy, are what makes for a dramatic love affair. Most people's lives won't even come close and there we have a modern malaise.

 

I can't say I was bowled over by the prose - the details of rural life were really quite tedious and I felt the depiction of the chemist got in the way at times.

 

For Flaubert, the devil was in the details, and yes, it's a style that can annoy.

 

At the end, I finally understood that Flaubert was using this character as a bit of counterpoint to M Bovary - the opposite personality if you like. But this realisation only came at the end for me; for most of the book he was annoying filler.

I think for me, Charles, was an example of a perfectly decent man, desperately in love with his wife. A true grand love affair that she should have been nurturing instead of her fictional flights of fancy. He stood as an opposite for the men that she chased and was always let down by. I really didn't think of him as filler, if nothing else, he enabled her to play out her romantic tableauxs and was steadfast and loyal in his feelings for her.

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I think for me, Charles, was an example of a perfectly decent man, desperately in love with his wife. A true grand love affair that she should have been nurturing instead of her fictional flights of fancy. He stood as an opposite for the men that she chased and was always let down by. I really didn't think of him as filler, if nothing else, he enabled her to play out her romantic tableauxs and was steadfast and loyal in his feelings for her.

 

I think you've misunderstood - I meant that the chemist is the filler and counterpoint - not Charles. It seemed to me that this must have been the intent given quite a bit of the end was given over to the details of the chemist's life and the fact that he ends up getting some kind of honorary cross. He was the kind that revelled in all those little details of life and pomp and the perhaps quaint social affairs of the countryside.

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Not sure why poor little Homais (Everyman) should be 'filler.' He is one who understands the predicament, but can do nothing - like most of us. As an example of a bad marriage, a misalliance, Madame Bovary is on a par with Middlemarch and Anna Karenina.

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I think you've misunderstood - I meant that the chemist is the filler and counterpoint - not Charles.
Ah, sorry, that makes more sense!

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It is wonderful to have a site like this, where you can read a book then come online to hopefully find comments from others who have also read the same book, posted their thoughts either agreeing or disagreeing with you own.

 

I have only just finished Madame Bovary and I not sure just why I’ve not read it until now. I thought it was a wonderful read. She cried out to me from different perspectives, either as the debauched, wanton, cheating wife or alternatively as a woman trapped and desperate to break away from small town, provincial mediocrity, an unfulfilling marriage and soulless home life.

 

I found even though I could see her obvious faults and limitations, I could not help but feel sorry for her. To the outsider she appeared to have plenty but internally there was so little. She sensed there was more to life but just didn’t have a notion of how to achieve it or even the slightest possibility. She was totally unaware of what she was doing to Charles and Berthe, completely emotionally unattached to family life; to her mind, finding her romantic hero would bring her salvation. Alas, not so.

 

I look forward to reading this one again sometime.

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I have only just finished Madame Bovary and I not sure just why I’ve not read it until now. I thought it was a wonderful read. She cried out to me from different perspectives, either as the debauched, wanton, cheating wife or alternatively as a woman trapped and desperate to break away from small town, provincial mediocrity, an unfulfilling marriage and soulless home life.

 

A marvellous book, I agree. We don't have to like or love her, but we can't help sympathising with her hopeless position as one overpowered by impossible dreams and suffering almost heroically in her frustration. Compare this to Anna Karenina, another 19th Century heroine killed by love and jilted by her paramour. Anna is more sympathetic - especially on the domestic front - and has her nice side, but again she's in an impossible position. Odd too that we feel strongly, but differently, for the betrayed husbands, one so naive, the other so rigidly correct. The case for suicide - blame the men? Some would, especially these days.

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I have read this a couple of times and I love it! Couldn't put it down!

 

 

I don't think you have to like the "heroine" to appreciate it, in fact I don't think we are supposed to like her, but rather consider her and her situation. Who is to blame etc.

I find Flaubert highly amusing to the point of laughing out loud and some of the scenes in the book are pure genius.

I adore Rodolphe and his letter writing and the auction scene is so clever. I also love the descriptions and the Hippolyte event!

 

And Emma's demise though a little grotesque is just fantastic.

 

Five stars from me. And I am now reading my second Flaubert book.

 

( my screen name is inspired by Madame Bovary. Or her mental state at least:) )

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