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.
This year’s classic comes in the form of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, which, despite its undeniable ‘wordy-ness’, was mostly enjoyed by our prudent classic readers. Biggest praises go to the descriptive passages and the humour that sits surprisingly well within the story, lifting the enjoyment level up a few notches for most of us.
It would be fair to say that Emma was not well liked by our group … thought to be, for example, ‘… an unlikable, self-absorbed, unrealistic girl/woman’ with ‘… a life with no goals outside her own selfish existence’, ‘a modern day desperate housewife[!]’. Harsh words, but mostly shared by all our members.
No doubt this was the view the author intended his readers to take. He did little to inform us on why Emma had become such a self-centred soul, and it was noted that the lack of an omnipresence narrative leaves the reader (if deciding to even care) wondering how she became so. The fact that some reviewers see Madame Bovary as a prelude to feminist writing we found interesting. Back then, well bred women with the good luck to make a respectable marriage did not carrying on in such a manner, but whether this donates feminist leanings, or simply an ill matched pairing is debatable. It could be that Flaubert was simply writing a tale of a relationship strangled by unrealistic dreams and high expectations.
Whatever the intent, a classic such as Madame Bovary does not survive the test of time unless it resonates with a series of generations. This is clear when it was asked by a member, ‘Don’t we all know someone like Emma?’ Yes, we do. And it seems as though Flaubert was on the money when it came to bringing her to life.