Saturday, September 5, 2009

MADAME BOVARY - Gustave Flaubert

I have spent more time considering the name play of the title character than the literary merits of this novel. Did he mean that she was "bovine" or a cow? Also, do publishers read the book before printing the cover? Seriously, it took me five Google pages to find a non-blonde Emma.

Sigh. I suppose I should review this book for those of you who care. Perhaps you skimmed the Cliff's Notes (kids, these were paper versions of items like Spark Notes) or skipped to the end. Whiny, spoiled Emma Bovary has a series of lovers. She kills herself at the end. Oops, sorry to spoil it. Um, spoiler? Is it too late?

Yes, I understand the historical importance of this book - Flaubert was sued after portions were released in serial form. In fact, he dedicates the book to his lawyer. I must have seen too many commercials for Doritos or Bud Light because most of the steamy sex scenes that sent women groping for the smelling salts were lost on me.

And Emma is a spoiled cow. Hmm... I wonder if he planned that.

2.0 out of 5.0 Brown Cows.


Leigh Russell said...

Emma is self absorbed and spoilt but I think the book deserves a little more credit than you give it here. Historical significance apart, this is a moving story of a woman trapped in a marriage to a man she doesn't love. The real tragedy for me is her husband's story. In his own rather dull manner, he loves his errant wife. And the surname, Bovary, is hers by marriage.

Lydia Sharp said...

I'm having trouble getting past her name as well. Although, I didn't think "bovine"...if you remove the B, you're left with ovary. Um...

Kristin Dodge said...

None of the characters is compelling or likeable, including the husband. I preferred "Anna Karenina" for this type of spurned-husband theme, though I appreciate your opinion.

Froog said...

I don't recall her being "whiny", but she is selfish and shallow and naive. But then, so are we all, to some extent. It's strange to find female readers so out of sympathy with this. I suspect earlier generations of women - whether 'feminist' or not - were inspired by someone who at least tried to seek her own happiness in defiance of the repressive norms of her age and society. A more emancipated and assertive generation is perhaps frustrated that she was too feeble, that she didn't rebel effectively.

Then again, perhaps us guys just relate to her because she was hot.

The problem with these 19th century novels that were written for serial publication is that, by modern canons, they are flabby, unstructured, thematically diffuse. But they're really not ultimately about the story but the quality of the writing.

Did you finish this book in a matter of days, even though it is long? Are there scenes in it that will linger in your memory for years to come? Do some of these characters irritate you not because they are badly written characters but because they are real - irritating - people? I would suggest so.

There are not many books where you go back to them just to read a page or two at random - a description of a room, a carriage ride, a ball - like taking a glass of fine brandy. This is one of them.

Leigh Russell said...

I think Froog's right, in its day Emma Bovary would have been regarded as admirably bold, and a tragic victim of suffocating contemporary morals - but a great book should stand on its own merits, outside of its time.

On another tack, I realise I'm a lone voice here, but I still feel sorry for Dr Bovary. I can understand why his wife strays, but he doesn't deserve to be treated so badly just for being dull. Or does he?

Froog said...

Dullness doesn't 'deserve' that kind of suffering, but neither does it earn much sympathy from the reader. I think Charles is perhaps the main problem area in the book, an underwritten character, not much more than a cipher - he wasn't any more interesting to Flaubert than he was to Emma!

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I found Madame Bovary to be the biblical book of Ecclesiastes in novel form. Everything she tries her hand at ultimately doesn't satisfy. It looks like I'm in the minority here, but it was profound.