Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, Kindle Edition, 372 pages,
Published September 26th 2017 by AmazonClassics (first published 1856)
Emma Bovary, daughter of an uneducated farmer and wife of a dull doctor in northern France, harbors a passion for everything beyond her grasp—sophistication, romance, love, and deliverance from her banal provincial life. Motivated by the primal, idealized, and vain, she seeks adventure. And with each new endeavor, Emma sets for herself an inevitable and inescapable trap.
Condemned as an affront to public morals, Madame Bovary’s obscenity trial made it notorious. Today, Emma stands as one of fiction’s most famous figures, and the novel itself, among the most pioneering and influential in world literature.
S1: E1 The new boy at Stars Hollow High has a crush on the bookish Rory Gilmore. As she empties her locker for her transfer to Chilton, Dean appears and introduces himself.
DEAN: Uh, well, I've been watching you.
RORY: Watching me?
DEAN: I mean, not in a creepy, like, "I'm watching you" sort of way. I just -- I've noticed you.
DEAN: Every day after school you come out and you sit under that tree, and you read. Last week it was Madame Bovary. This week it's Moby Dick.
RORY: But why would you --
DEAN: Because you're nice to look at, and because you've got unbelievable concentration.
DEAN: Last Friday these two guys were tossing around a ball and one guy nailed the other right in the face. I mean, it was a mess, blood everywhere, the nurse came out, the place was in chaos, his girlfriend was all freaking out, and you just sat there and read. I mean, you never even looked up. I thought, "I have never seen anyone read so intensely before in my entire life. I have to meet that girl."
Warner Bros. Television/ Via GIFR
The Pilot episode sets the stage for the entire Gilmore girls series: a bookish and top-of-her-class Rory Gilmore has her sights set on Harvard when enter: the trials of being a teenager. Naive and unworldly, and much like Emma, Rory knows nothing of the affairs of the heart other than what she has devoured within paper pages. Both women gain nuance and excitement from the books they are reading and the lives being led inside of them. Perhaps as an allegory to Madame Bovary, Rory debates setting aside her safe lifestyle and set goals to substitute passion and excitement at its first presentation. (Is Dean our eventual Gilmore girls version of Charles Bovary? Does Jess becomes Rory's Rodolphe?!) However, unlike Madame Bovary, Rory has Lorelai to knock some sense into her by "pulling the Mom card". Oh Emma, would you have forgone poison and debt if you had had your mother to scold you? Side Note: Does your viewpoint on AYITL change when comparing this as a parallel?
"A woman who had laid on herself such sacrifices could well allow herself certain whims."
- Part 2, Chapter 7
“'How so?' replied the clerk. 'It is done at Paris.' And that, as an irresistible argument, decided her." - Part 3, Chapter 1
"But the disparaging of those we love always alienates us from them to some extent. We must not touch our idols; the gilt sticks to our fingers."- Part 3, Chapter 6
Madame Bovary, the OG real housewife. There is poison, treachery, and intrigue—really, what more could a girl want? Madame Bovary embodies the type of desire that coveting creates, and she is as dramatic and self-centered as they come. The bit about Emma's child seeing her mother dying of a self-induced arsenic poisoning? It's signing a dotted line ensuring her child lifelong trauma. But, no worries, Emma is the true star of the show, oui?
WHAT THE WHAT?:
Gustave Flaubert was a perfectionist who took tremendous amounts of time perfecting and editing each page of his work as he wrote. Because of this, he wrote 12 novels throughout his entire forty-year period of being a writer when most novelists of that time produced about one book per year. His editing style was to perfect and complete each page as he wrote it, leading to a full month with perhaps four pages of work. However, this type of perfectionistic detail led to a new genre of realist literature that also cemented his fame.
CARO'S RATING: 4 OF 5 STARS
This novel is easily compared at first glance to that of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, and separating the two while reading was like watching a sort of "sliding doors" scenario. Here are two women who leave their families to be with whom they love, their individual trajectories yielding to widely different social circumstances and treatment, but both ending in self-induced tragedy. Yet, I feel that what differentiates Madame Bovary from Anna Karenina is how in-depth the male author got in touch with the female psyche through their female lead. Leo Tolstoy killed it, but with Madame Bovary, I feel like Flaubert still wrote her through the lens of a man. She seems to somehow only exist relationally as if I am witnessing her through Charles' perspective, even when the book is written in a third-person narrative. Emma's emotional depth seems lighter and less intense or all-encompassing, like a feather in the wind, but perhaps that pertains solely to the polarity between each woman's character.
Emma lives in a self-fulfilling prophecy of always wanting to attain "more" yet continually finds that the concept of "more" is only sustaining a dissatisfaction with what you have. However, I'd like to present the idea that Emma was simply held back by a fervent patriarchal system. Her only option to overcome her own circumstances was to advantageously use her womanly wiles and hope for the best. She was first a child stuck on a lowly farm with a dim-witted father and missing the advice of a knowledgable woman. Marriage was the only way out of her situation, no matter the relationship with the groom. Emma's only option of escaping her ever-present dissatisfying circumstance was to continually climb a ladder through various subsets of society, all limited to the social ranking of her latest affair. The life she wants for herself can never exist without a man in tow. She may manipulate situations to gain money, but she can never make her own. She may manipulate a man with feminine charms, but he still must choose her. If she had known of all of the worlds that existed, beyond pages within books, would she have ambitiously chased after and found her idyllic life? Could she ever have been satisfied if her decisions were that of free choice? If parts affect the whole, can we wholely fault her for simply wanting more for herself in the first place? Yes, Emma Bovary basically sucks, but would she have made different choices?
Also, screw the underlying message that this is what happens when women are able to read.
Books on Trial: Madame Bovary and Anxiety About Women Who Read
Mental Floss: 10 Surprising Facts About Madame Bovary
Beyond Madame Bovary: The Life of Gustave Flaubert The New Yorker: Teaching Madame Bovary
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