Author: Gustave Flaubert
Date Read: March 24th 2017
“When Emma Rouault marries Charles Bovary she imagines she will pass into the life of luxury and passion that she reads about in sentimental novels and women’s magazines. But Charles is a dull country doctor, and provincial life is very different from the romantic excitement for which she yearns. In her quest to realize her dreams she takes a lover, and begins a devastating spiral into deceit and despair.”
I had to read Madame Bovary as part of one of my modules for English Literature and up to this point, I had not yet read a book as part of my course which had resonated with me in such a way as this book did. Naturally whenever I know I’m going to read a book written before the 19th century, my stomach automatically drops and I have to mentally prepare myself in order to fully immerse myself in the book when I’m reading it. I usually expect that it will take a considerable amount of time to read and that I won’t generally enjoy reading it. So finding out that I had to read this novel, written originally in French in 1856, I was preparing for the worst and probably the most monotonous read of my life. Oh how wrong I was.
Not only did this book defy my expectations but it also shocked and captivated me, as it contains the unexpected which makes it all the more thrilling to read. It follows the story of a young woman, Emma, who marries a prestigious doctor, Charles Bovary, and becoming unsatisfied with married life longs for other romantic pursuits and so engages in relationships with other men. The novel mainly focuses on the effect of these relationships on Madame Bovary and how her actions have long term consequences which continually affect her throughout her life. I just really appreciate how scandalous Madame Bovary’s actions would have been perceived at the time the novel was published and how as a reader now, we still aren’t supposed to agree with her actions but I do find how she acts as a high class lady, very intriguing.
Usually whenever I don’t like characters I find it really hard to enjoy a book however this didn’t prevent me from liking this book. I found Madame Bovary extremely abrupt and really rude and obnoxious in how she treated her husband and even the lovers that she took. I think why this worked so well was how I could see the awful way she treated her husband and it being reflected in the dismissive way Rudolphe treats her before he leaves her. However the most aggravating character for me was definitely Charles Bovary, who was so blinded by the love of his wife that he disregarded himself in favour for her, which considering the time of publication I’m assuming the husband would never have been that lenient with his wife. I just thought the mismatch between all the characters really added a depth to the novel which wouldn’t have existed had it stuck to normal social conventions of the time and hadn’t been perceived as scandalous.
Once I’d read half of the book, someone spoiled the ending for me by telling me that Emma dies at the end of the novel although I was still clueless as to how her death actually comes about so it hadn’t been entirely ruined. I continued reading, instinctively guessing and trying to come to a conclusion of how her death arises: does one of the men in her life kill her? or does she die naturally without any of the problems in her life being solved? or worst of all does she kill herself out of love? For me, the whole Romeo style of sacrificing your life in the name of love is just frustrating and would have been such a bland way the novel could have ended so therefore this was the ending that I was expecting. Again, I was completely proven wrong and none of my predictions were right which again satisfied me to some extent. To say I was satisfied with the unexpected ending would be a fair conclusion because it made the whole novel just that bit better than I was expecting.
I think why I enjoyed this book so much was that it exceeded all my expectations and wasn’t in any part boring or predictable. Also I feel like all the books I’ve written about so far have been ones I’ve read in my spare time, so thought I’d like to take the time to write about a book I’ve had to study that I enjoyed. Let’s see how long it takes for me to find another book that I actually like that I’m having to study.