Wednesday 23 April 2014

Madame Bovary Read-Along Part II

Madame Bovary Read-Along Hosted by ebookclassics &         Cedar Station

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Part II

Well, the change of scenery has improved Emma's spirits in one aspect, at least ……….. she has found someone to worship her.  Quickly disillusioned with her marriage, Charles is barely thought of as she seeks to satisfy her self-important ego by engaging a worshipful admirer.  Leon Dupuis, a law student, takes one look at Emma and falls in love.  Yet while soaking in his adoration initially, she tortures the young man by springing from flirting with him, to ignoring him, to a nervous ennui.

In spite of giving birth to a lovely little girl, Emma barely gives her a thought as she pursues her idea of  a fulfilling life.  I didn't get the impression that she despised motherhood, only that she was ill-equipped for it; children must not have been a part of her sentimental novels, and she doesn't quite seem to know what to do with them, therefore the easiest course is to ignore her daughter.

The operation on Hippolyte had tragic results but gives more insight into the character of Charles; he is entirely well-meaning but not the best judge of human character or circumstances.  He also does not like to face anything unpleasant, which leads us to believe that even if he had insight into Emma's character, he would not have known what to do with her dalliances and would have retreated from the problem instead of facing it.

Albert Fourié (1885)
source Wikimedia Commons
The scene at the agricultural fair in chapter 8 was an attempt at brilliance by Flaubert.  What irony to have the illicit private seduction of Madame Bovary (by Rodolphe), occur in the middle of the festivities and raucousness of the townspeople during the speeches.   The personal nature of the act contrasted against the backdrop of the merry, yet public celebration added to the tension.  It brought to mind a symphony.

Again, Emma turns to books to justify her emotions.  Lacking a moral compass, she does the only thing she has learned to do, trust her emotions and support her desires with her reading material.  She is in a circular spiral to tragedy but Emma, because of her self-deception, is the least likely to see it.  She is rather a pitiful figure and I wonder if it was Flaubert's intention to make her so.  Her mood swings, rather than being a psychological manifestation, appear designed to illicit the response that she requires from the person she is engaged with, and the expected response is based on bad plots from sentimental novels.  So far Emma doesn't appear to be able to realize that, since her relationships do not appear to be going the way she wants or expects, perhaps there is something wrong with her expectations. Instead she attempts force and manipulate all behaviour and emotions to fit into her fantasy world.


  1. Ugh! This poor woman. It is excruciating to follow her.

    1. Yes, I think if Flaubert had made this a novella, it would have been more bearable. Spending a whole book in deep introspection about a shallow, selfish woman and her means of committing adultery is getting rather wearing. I'm reading Zola's The Kill now, and the content is similar but Zola's writing is much more layered and intricate.

    2. True, true. Secretly, though, I want to reread MB one day.

      And I have to add The Kill to my list, too. Zola is an effective writer.

  2. Great post! I am also going to have to check out Zola!

    1. Thanks! Zola is pretty amazing. The people who are participating in the Zoladdiction for April (see sidebar) who have never read Zola before, have been blown away. I think he's one of the most understated writers that I've come across yet.