Book Review - Madame Bovary
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"But I do love him!" she told herself.
What difference did it make; she wasn't happy, she'd never been happy! Why did life fall so far short of her expectations, why did whatever she depended on turn instantly to dust beneath her hand? - Flaubert
Emma Roualt, a young and exceptionally beautiful woman catches the eye of a humble country doctor, Charles Bovary. The doctor frequently visits her father's household, and unbeknownst to him he falls in love with her. However brief their encounters might have been, Charles asks for her hand in marriage and Emma's eagerly accept it with a certain child nativity. In her mind's eye, she can already picture a blissful life with Charles, never-ending love and passionate moments just as she has observed in the romance novels that she covetously read in her early adolescence.
Reality sets in, and to Emma's horror she realizes that her hopes and dreams can never come to fruition. Charles is a good, steady lad, but he lacks the ambitions and heroic spirit that epitomizes the romantic lovers in her beloved novels. Dissatisfied with the humdrum quotidian lifestyle that she must endure on their old country farm, Charles decides to relocate to a more populated town to revive her spirits. Little does the poor doctor know the great lengths his wife will take in order to fulfill her passionate dreams, even if she must sacrifice her own family's happiness in the process.
This is the first book that I have ever read by Gustave Flaubert. I am somewhat familiar with his writing style, since I have heard he painstakingly wrote this novel with several drafts, never truly satisfied with the outcome. I suppose all artists are their own worst critics. Flaubert wrote an exceptionally piece of work! His attention to detail is exquisite. I could almost imagine the rolling landscapes, the garden outside of Bovary's household, the exotic aura of the small hotel where Emma frequently engaged in rendezvous with her lover. The dialogue felt so intensely real, it felt as though I was sitting there beside the characters, silently taking in their conversations. Indeed, this French writer has an incredible knack with his attention to detail, a quality that is often lacking in in novice writers.
The frequent allusion to religion was something I thoroughly enjoyed. The constant debate about Christianity in the background of a woman gradually falling into the role of a tempting mistress was highly amusing. I could sense that the author was battling with his own feelings of religion, pitting Christianity against rational idealism and well-known philosophers of that time that extolled a more secular worldview where the Holy texts are merely "moral guidelines" and that "prayers can do no good." I can understand the reasoning's behind the difficulties of publishing this book, it would have been horrendously difficult, especially with the scandalous subject matter of a woman having multiple affairs. I am certainly glad that Faubert was able to publish this book in the end, it was a delightful read.
In relation to this novel, I believe the reader is forced to question their own moral codes; test their own sense of morality when it comes to the hardships and pitfalls that the main character, Emma, inevitably faces in life. Can we really blame her for falling so far from grace? Was it truly the romance books that corrupted her mind? Or was it the men that she encountered, their carnal lust that was gradually transferred onto her? In the end, she spurns all men, and can you really blame her?
"Madame Bovary" is without a doubt a tragedy, but an incredibly beautiful one. Flaubert magnificently pulls the heart-strings of the reader with subtle ease. I confessed at the end I did get a bit teary-eyed. But how could I not? It was truly a wonderful read! Sensational, erotic, shockingly immoral, but wonderful all the same. I highly recommend this to any reader that is looking for a world of escapism, or a deeper reflection upon their own thoughts of morality and extramarital affairs.
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