Saturday, January 5, 2013

2013 Goal: Reading Madame Bovary

As I mentioned in my 2013 goal, I’ll be reading mostly women lit that focuses on women authors or complicated, strong female characters this year. The first one I picked up to read was Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert…and WOW…what a good one.

Rating: Five Stars

Madame Bovary

The book centers on the ambitious, romantic and ever dreaming Emma. She marries young when she thought she was in love. But when “the happiness that should have followed this love not having come, she must, she thought, have been mistaken. And Emma tried to find out what one meant exactly in life by the words felicity, passion, rapture, that had seemed to her so beautiful in books.”  

She wonders what her life would be like if chance had brought her another man to marry. She imagines how different and wonderful it would be from her current life. When she gets a taste of a rich and elegant ball, she falls in love with the romance of it all. She wants her husband, Charles, to inspire the passions inside her, and teach her the beautiful, extraordinary things in the world, but he is a commonplace man who talks of normal, everyday things. Charles is very happy with their married life and is blind to all of Emma’s unhappy qualms. She never tells Charles any of her hopes and dreams…but rather keeps it all inside her.

So Emma begins to look to other men to fill this void in her. She first has an emotional affair with a young Leon. Then when he removes himself, another man, Rodolphe, steps in whose ambition is to conquer Emma. When she accepts, they begin a long affair…one which she eventually decides she’ll leave Charles and run away with him. When he backs out of their plan she becomes despondent and ill.  Her husband Charles is so out of touch with Emma that he always thinks she has this nervous condition…when really her heart flutters at the passions that she feels. Eventually Emma recovers and a chance encounter brings her back in touch with Leon. From there, they begin a passionate affair which Leon pushes for. Emma consents and eventually becomes more and more like her previous lover, Rodolphe…the wooer, the romantic…while Leon struggles to keep up with her.

Emma eventually spirals out of control…leading to a tragic end. Her life becomes full of lies and deceit and eventually it catches up to her and those around her.

I’ve thought so much about this book since I finished it. I’ve kept wondering if Emma really would have been happier if she had married into a rich and luxurious lifestyle to a man who was romantic and she dreams of. Would she have still found the unhappiness that always seems to find her? Would she have become bored with him, too, like she did of all her lovers?  

Or rather is the problem that she was never truly free? Even when she fought for freedom from Charles, she still always turned to another man. Even when she gained legal freedom, she still turned to another man (sleazy, con artist) to guide her with her finances which she has no clue how to handle. It seems like there is no place in this society for a woman like Emma. She tried religion, but she was much too romantic and sexual to be a nun. She tried marriage yet that didn’t suit her either. She never looked inside to what she could contribute or what she could do to make her situation better…instead she wants happiness to find her. She wants the men in her life to bring her the romance and passion to her. If she was living in a society where a woman wasn’t assumed to either be a nun or married…would Emma have been freer to dream outside of love and romance? Would she have been able to dream bigger?  

Lesson #1 of 2013: When you feel lost or unhappy...don't blame the people around you. Get involved, change your habits, and look inside yourself to see what you have to contribute to the bigger world. 

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