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[67] Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

bovary.gifIf the Portrait of Dorian Gray was regarded a poisonous book that it formed the basis of charges against Oscar Wilde, then Madame Bovary must be an act of blasphemy, for Flaubert, who breathed life into French literature by dissolving public’s apathy and imbued in society the needed sting of gadfly, was tried for offenses against morality and religion. The novel boldly peers into the heart and mind of an adulteress–whose romantic yearnings, refusal to settle for drabness of provincial life–has gone awry and wrecked her life and her family. What shocks me about the devestatingly realized Madame Bovary is not the reckless pursuit of her romantic dreams, nor is the proliferation of wild carnal desire that perpetrate all social conventions and moral standards, or otherwise I would have perused the book with the same curiosity I read Lolita or Brokeback Mountain (one of the very first posts of this blog). What blows me away, and utterly intrigues me is the pure artistry of the novel–the artistry with which human concupiscence is portrayed. Flaubert seems to have a specific artistic idea in mind, which required the transformation of even the most sordid subject matter by the magic style: the poise of the narrative structure, the opulence of the prose, which peers character’s mind and emotions, and accounts for their actions and emotions, especially the unconscious mind at work. The mercilessly accurate picture of lower-middle class provincial life in all its stifling dreariness and the minor figures accentuate the fantasies of the doomed heroine.

While most of the narrative focuses on Emma Bovary’s romantic escapades and habitual secret meetings with her various lovers, these scandalous events were interspersed with rich tapestry of prose that somehow justifies her actions and steers us to being sympathetic with her. Not only is she alienated from her husband by a growing sense of inward detachment, she is afflicted by marriage’s banality: The dull conversation. the drabness of country life, her husband’s unawareness, and the settled calm. She thought she had love within grasp until she conceived the painful truth that marriage had been a mistake because happiness which she had expected the marriage to bring her had not flourished. She may not be content with what her dutiful (and very loving) had given her, but lust did not drive her to adultery either. She was constantly choked by checkered emotions that out of wounded vanity she pursued the elegant living and sensitive feeling and sparks of love. The opulent prose, carefully calibered, renders these checkered emotions so real: The wild carnal desires, consumed by lust, the cravings of money, the eyes full of meaningful talk, the fear of being indiscreet, the ecstacy of being surreptitious intimacy, the terror of thought of being deprived of any portion of love and fits of depression all merge into a single torment that multiplies her longing and starved sensuality.

Although Emma failed at finding the happiness she perceived, she hated no one nor did she feel a tinge of remorse at her doing, through all the betrayals, the infamies, the countless fierce desires that had racked her, she experienced the short-lived affection, sensual joys and love that art had long painted so large. Maybe one has no choice but to live the maladies of life in order to fully understand and appreciate its meaning. The height of one’s pleasure is immediately followed by degradation of such pleasure and realization of its paltriness. Maybe it’s the transience of such pleasure that gives her the ultimate pleasure, so that she would without regret continue to cling to it, out of habit or out of depravity, and pursue it more desperately; ironically destroying all possible happiness due to her excessive demands and annihilating any hope.

4 Responses

  1. I’ve always wanted to read this, but never found the time. Love the review, though. Hopefully I’ll be able to squeeze this in somewhere. I was browsing your review titles…you’ve got a TON of them!

  2. […] marriage, she rejects her marriage and turns to him to fulfill her passionate nature. No she is not Madame Bovary, because Anna has the power to put people under her influence and make them fall in love with her. […]

  3. […] Further Reading [67] Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert […]

  4. To me “Madame Bovary” can best be described as an ice cold work of perfection with no sympathy for any one. I do not find it leads us to have sympathy for Emma Bovary but to see her as fool, a completely selfish person with no positive value other than as an object of lust. Only a fool would love her, a fool like Doctor Bovary. To me it has to be on the top ten lists of novels of all times. It may not be a book that leaves you feeling good about humanity after you read it other than the pride in contemplating a master work of art

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