Thursday, 28 October 2010

Madame Bovary

I read Madame Bovary as part of a read-along hosted by Nonsuch books. Please do check out the other reviews and thoughts on this novel.

Madame Bovary is a complex character and my attitudes and thoughts towards her changed in various ways throughout the novel. Emma is someone who is unsatisfied with what life has to offer a women in her position at that time which is something that a modern reader could surely understand. But instead of being an intelligent women who tries to forge her own happiness in her own way, she is instead quite often very silly, vain and selfish. Her interests in affairs, material goods and religion prove ultimately without substance and happiness remains ever elusive. While I could understand her, her behaviour and the fact that she was not in a bad position compared with other women at that time meant that I could never feel sorry for her.

The other characters in the small town of Yonville-l'Abbaye are all unlikeable in their own way from Emma’s husband who is pretty hopeless overall, to the shopkeeper who ruins Emma into debt deliberately for his own profits and Emma’s lover Rodolphe who simply plays Emma like a fiddle for his own amusement. I am assuming that Flaubert was holding the mirror up to a certain part of French society here and unfortunately I am not knowledgeable enough to comment on how effective Flaubert was in this regard but I did wonder if Flaubert liked any of his characters at all. I'm guessing not.

Quite a lot of people have complained that this novel bored them. I think, the self-destructive behaviour of Emma does run in a loop which is repeated a few times until her untimely demise. This repeated unrepentant behaviour and the slow pace of novel in general meant that I find it understandable if people do complain that they found it boring although I personally didn't.

This novel certainly raised questions for me and made me ponder about the Madame Bovarys of today but the unlikeable characters and the overall slow pace makes it unlikely that I will pick this one up again. After saying that, I have found that the people reading this for the second time for the read-along seem to have got more out of the experience and this book was not what I was expecting at all (in a good way).

Verdict 3/5

Posted by Jess


  1. Very nice review, good for you for taking and reading a classic.

  2. I definitely agree that I couldn't feel sorry for Emma. She was in a bad situation and was unhappy, but instead of doing something about it she just turned to others and hoped they would fix it. She made one selfish decision after another with no regard for consequences and then was surprised when they caught up with her. I did love the writing though.

  3. I felt like the irony would have been more biting if I had lived in France at the time, but I still felt like we have some of the same issues today that I could apply his criticisms to. I'm not sure if I'll read it a second time, because all in all it's a bit of a downer, even with the humor.

  4. I never, ever felt sorry for her either.

  5. I admit, I did pity Emma a bit. Not a lot, but it was there.

  6. Thanks for lending your insights to the group read!

    I have to agree that people reading for the second, third or more time did seem to take something away from the latest reading that they did not experience before. When one know the details of the plot unfolding, I think one looks to other details in the book. While Emma is to blame for the choices she makes, I still found myself somewhat inexplicably sad for her by the end. There were no satisfying paths for her to choose from ultimately.

  7. I definitely felt for her. I am not married, but I have seen friends marry young and for no good reason other than they thought they SHOULD be married. A few are happy; most are bored. They aren't like Emma in that they don't cheat, but they are certainly not happy with their lives.

    And Emma was restricted in far more ways than we are. I can understand that bitterness toward a life she expected to have and the life she ended up with.

    I was also surprised that I was never, ever bored. Some classics definitely have wordy sections I tend to skim, but I was with Flaubert every step of the way.

  8. Avid Reader - I liked the realistic narrative of the writingand of the town itself.

    Shelley (Book Clutter) - yeah I did get so much of the humor as much as I got the downers, but yes I did think about all the modern Bovarys today and perhaps thats why this book has always been a widely read classic?

    Amanda - especially when I read about her daughters fate, that got me quite mad actually.

    Stephanie - see my response above ;)

    Frances - I think perhaps this book does benefit from a 2nd reading perhaps but I did understand Emma but so many times she could have put it right but didn't.

    pickygirlfoodfilmfiction - I agree that she was trapped in a marriage but her husband wasn't exactly a wife beater was he? Her husband I found quite useless but he didnt spend alot of time worring about her and is it her daughters fault she was unhappy in her marriage? But like you I can understand at least.

  9. I can't wait to read this one. I've been curious about it since people started posting about the read-a-thon. :-)

  10. Great review! I can completely understand your opinion regarding this novel... and I can see why some people may not like it at all.

    I guess if Emma was a self sufficient woman, that forged her own happiness, it wouldn't have made such an interesting novel!