Thursday, 14 October 2010

Madame Bovary Part 1

Part 1 (58 pages) of Madame Bovary got read this week as part of Nonsuch Books read-along. I did manage to get hold of the new translation from Lydia Davis and so far I am finding it enjoyable and surprising.

I knew the basic plot of the novel 'bored housewife dives into fantasy and overspends leading to tragedy' so I was surprised that the first part of the book is really nothing like this.

Madame Bovary in the first part is far from my expectations of a scarlet hussy and is instead quite a normal young women. After marrying a rather boring doctor with no ambition she finds that married life does not quite live up to the romantic ideal that she thought it would be. After attending an extravagant ball at the home of a wealthy nobleman, Emma Bovary realises that her life is boring and dull in comparison which proves detrimental to her health and she becomes depressed.

The world that Flaubert describes is not necessary a boring and dull one but rather a realistic one. Unfortunately Emma has grown to believe that life is very much like the romantic novels that she constantly reads. I read an article on the BBC a few years ago which stated that women who read a lot of 'chick lit' today may have unrealistic expectations when it comes to relationships, OK this may have been abit of lazy journalism which used sweeping generalisations but Madame Bovary reminded me of this. It is not therefore surprising when she finds 'real' life and marriage are not as easy or wondrous as she was expecting; to this I am inclined to say 'join the club' ;)

Posted by Jess


  1. I quite enjoyed this, but I did keep thinking "join the club."

  2. Good luck with this one. I admit it's one of my least favorite novels ever. :/

  3. The one thing I remember most clearly about my first experience of Madame Bovary was that I thought Emma very selfish. I have not experienced that as strongly in this reread of the first part, but I do agree with you, she is wishing for too much in a very realistically described world. (Although I admit, I do wish my future husband to not be like Charles).

  4. I really didn't know much about this novel going in, and so far I'm liking it.

    I agree - yes, Emma is selfish, but at the same time, I sort of feel for her. She's bored. She has no real control over her situation. She feels trapped. Charles, though sweet, is just so darn dull.

    We shall see...

  5. Remarkable that something so fine can be crafted out of such a cast of dislikable characters. Find it so funny that many are calling the book "The Original Desperate Housewife" and likening Emma to a current day reality tv star. Gauche in the same way as many of you have suggested. Her boredom is understandable. He reaction to that boredom is ... well, uh... let's keep reading. :)

    Thanks so much for reading along!

  6. No very sophisticated comment but: I LOVE this cover! :")

  7. "The original desperate housewife"--oh, I love that! I do think it's interesting to see this in a book written so long ago. It wasn't just 1950s America that had an abundance of it.

  8. I, too, was surprised how long it takes for Emma's truly "bad behavior" to come on to the scene.

    For me, part of what ameliorates Emma's poor choices is that she basically has no training or agency in choosing the life she ends up in. She hardly knows Charles at ALL before agreeing to his (indirect) proposal, and she has so little life experience, having only lived on her father's farm. Just as it seems unsurprising that Emma finds life less glamorous than she anticipated, it seems entirely unsurprising to me that structuring society like this (women cosseted at home until they're married off in what amounts to a brokered financial deal) would result in unhappy housewives and women who "act out."

  9. Flaubert blames too many romance novels, I blame Disney today. In a very real sense, I think they have created a feeling for little girls that 'someday my prince will come", and what if he does? What if he's a huge disappointment? No one can fulfill another's expectations, or fully make someone else happy, and it's such a pity that Emma cannot see what she has to rejoice in. She can only see the darkness and disappointment, no hope anywhere.

  10. Zara - haha exactly

    Amanda - so far I'd say its a 3/5 based on part one - its ok. We will see if that goes up or down over the next couple of days LOL

    irisonbooks - yes so far she just seems abit disillutioned and depressed.

    pickygirlfoodfilmfiction - I agree completely, this is also my first reading of this book so its interesting we agree

    Frances - so far there arent likeable characters at all! but perhaps they are just realistic?

    Frl. Irene Palfy - I agree, its quite glamorous I think

    Emily - yes so far I can't blame Emma (I think this may change as a child comes into it)I many ways she is lucky that her husband does take an interest in her but she doen't know this.

    Bellezza - yes, I can easily see a new modern adaptation of this so far, its quite modern in many ways

  11. This book does seem rather timeless in that a lot of people still do have unrealistic expectations about romantic love and marriage. I'm just glad that nowadays we have better ways of dealing with it.

  12. It is a long time since I read this but I do recall thinking that things were not all that different in her time compared to ours after all!

  13. I am enjoying the implication you don't quite make, that Flaubert was writing the chick lit of his day. Without the style and technique, I guess the plot of Madame Bovary would fit into the darker end of the chick lit genre.

    In her love of romantic novels, and the trouble it gets poor Emma into, there are clearly parallels with the madness of Don Quixote.

  14. Unrealistic expectations does appear to be a timeless topic, doesn't it? Interesting that the BBC cites chick lit though...

  15. This story sounds really good!

  16. Shelly - I think ppl can have unrealistic expectations but I suppose in those days it was far worse and certainly for Emma since she didnt really have a choice on her marriage partner.

    LindyLouMac - it is quite modern so far, whether my opinion changes remains to be seen.

    Anthony - I didnt mean that Madame Bovary was chicklit of its day, just that the novels that Emma reads (romance novels) have given her unrealistic expectations and this reminded me of the chicklit article I read years ago. I've read my fair share of modern chicklit and Madame Bovary is far too realistic to fit anywhere near that catogory. Your comment has got me really courious about Don Quixote so I think I'll check that out.

    JoAnn - I have tried to find the original article but unfortunately I have been unable to.

    Jillian - The above was only the first 58 pages, should be interesting to see how it develops.

  17. It's funny how some books take on that tinge of "being difficult"; if you miss them in school, it can be hard to take them on again. And, yet, this particular story seems so relevant.

  18. I think Emma is quite bored before she gets married. I thnk that's part of why she marries him. Even going back to her convent days, she was turning to books to shake up her world a little bit. So, dull as Charles is, I don't ascribe any blame to him at this point; he really loves her. I think it's very hard to get to know Emma -- she's so detached, it's like she was born bored.

  19. I was really surprised by how normal Emma was too. I had a preconceived notion that she was a horrible person too.

    By the way, if you'd like to participate, I've tagged you. Check it out here...

  20. Hello there! Just popping by to say that I love your blog, and that I've given it an award!

    Take a peek, and thanks for blogging:

    Bethany x

    P.S I LOVED Madame Bovary!

  21. Emma Bovary's status as a reader makes me hope/think I'd feel some sort of a connection with her if I ever met her, Jessica, but she's so self-absorbed in part one that I felt much closer to her boring, "unambitious" husband Charles instead. I think this is part of Flaubert's shtick: not taking sides and making the reader decide which of the two characters deserves more empathy at the end of the day. In any event, I enjoyed reading your post and agree that this novel is much more "realistic" than I might have anticipated beforehand. Nice to meet you and your blog, by the way!