Saturday 30 January 2021

Madame Bovary

Finished January 28
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, translated by Mildred Marmur, foreword by Mary McCarthy

I read this as the choice for the Classic Spin #25 that was due to be completed on January 30th. The back cover of my copy describes it as "possibly the most beautifully written book ever composed...a book that invites superlatives...the most important novel of the century." I cannot agree. It was not an easy read, and I found that none of the characters were ones that I could like. I think there are other novels of the 19th century that I enjoyed more than this one. Any Jane Austen would be preferable to me.
I did enjoy Mary McCarthy's foreword, and it gave me some useful context for the read.
It was an interesting study though. Emma Bovary is definitely a narcissist. She really has no empathy for anyone else, not even her child, and doesn't care what the effects of her behaviour on others are. She wants what she wants and she feels she deserves it. 
Charles is weak in character and not very bright. His mother is aware of his failings and tries to organize his life as best she can, but once his first wife dies, and he has already met Emma, he is beyond that control. He falls for Emma and never questions her fidelity, even when everyone around them knows of her affairs. He trusts her with his money and never questions her on her purchases. He moves house and practice for her so she has a better atmosphere to live in, a new start, after she becomes depressed with her lot in life after an invitation where she experiences a livelier social life and more luxurious surroundings. He gives in to the pressure of her and the pharmacist Homais who want to be associated with a successful experimental surgery, never considering the patient's real wishes, or his own abilities. 
Emma falls easily for the flattery of her lovers, particularly her first one, who is experiences at this sort of thing. And she falls for the promises of the moneylenders, who know what they are doing, and try to hide their connection to the public result, but delight in their profits. She digs herself deeper again and again, and sinks to considering criminal acts to cover for herself. 
Even after Charles finds proof of her disloyalty and must deal with the financial implications, his feelings for her do not change, and their child suffers the most. 
I'm glad I've read it, but for me it is not a book I will reread.


  1. What a "lovely" book. :) Emma sounds like a rather dreadful person, congrats on persevering and finishing her story and your CC spin!

  2. I think I almost added this to my Classics Club list but I didn't. It doesn't sound like something I would like.