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Madame Bovary: Introduction & Part I February 28, 2007

Posted by calimom in Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.
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Hi all.

Welcome to Madame Bovary. Please read the introduction…it is very helpful for understanding the genre of the book and Flaubert’s own literary style.

Hang in there, Parts are long. I will try to divide up the 2nd Part to make it easier to get through.

Have fun! I can’t wait to read the editorials for this one.

Some questions to ponder…

1. Remember “Friends?”  (“a show about nothing?”)  How would you rate Flaubert’s success in writing “a book about nothing?”

2. How does Flaubert retain our interest?

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Comments»

1. bethany3boys - March 1, 2007

The introduction was very helpful to understanding the background of the book and layout what to expect and be looking for. I sat down last night and read that and the first 6 chapters of the Part 1. It was suprisingly an easier read than I thought it was going to be. I love Flaubert’s descriptive writing. I was pretty surprised by Charles character. I don’t know I guess I expected him to be so different. It sounds like there are going to be lots of comparisons between Charles father and Emma or at least I am seeing a common thread in their personalities at this point. The line at the end of Chapter 5

“Before her marriage she had believed herself to be in love; but since the happiness which should have resulted from this love had not come to her, she felt that she must have been mistaken. And she tried to find out exactly what was meant in life by the words ‘bliss,’ ‘passion,’ and ‘rapture,’ which had seemed so beautiful to her in books”

Oh my goodness!!! SHE JUST GOT MARRIED and she is already not satisfied! It sounds like her romantic books have altered her perception of what true love is and FEELS like. I know I have met people now a days who have this romantic view of love that they see in movies and then think when they don’t have that bliss in their marriage something is wrong or that all they live for is their wedding day and getting married then you talk with them a month later and they are shocked by the reality of marriage. I can see Emma is going to be a hard one to satisfy.

And now Karen that you told me the Veggie Tales Madame Blueberry was a mock of Madame Bovary I keep singing the song as I pick up my book to read. HEE HEE.

2. calimom - March 1, 2007

I think we will see a real issue with contentedness in this book. Is there a difference between contentedness and bliss? How are we called to view our relationships with our spouses, and as Christian women are we not encouraged by the very Word of God to find our joy in our Savior?

I agree that Emma was let down after creating such an impossible fantasy in her own mind based on the myriad romance novels she indulged in up to the time of, and during, her marriage.

Sad to say, I think that this may be an all too common occurrence in marriages. Most of our expectations tend to be far out of the ball park.

3. heather - March 3, 2007

It’s interesting to compare Charles and Emma in terms of what gives (or what they think will give) them contentment. Once married, it’s the simple things which bring Charles contentment: From Part I, Chapter 5: “He was happy, without a care in the world. A meal alone with her, an evening stroll along the highway, the movement of her hand as she smoothed her hair, the sight of her straw hat hanging from a window hasp, and many other things which he had never dreamed would give him pleasure – such were the components of his unceasing happiness.”

“…his heart full of the night’s bliss, his mind at peace and his flesh content, he would ride along ruminating his happiness, like those who, after dinner, still savor the taste of the truffles they are digesting.”

“…For him the universe did not go beyond the silken confines of her petticoat; and he would reproach himself for not loving her enough, and yearn to be with her again…”

Charles is happy and content just to be with Emma, and she seems to resent his contentment in the simple things: From Chapter 7: “But shouldn’t a man know everything, excel in all sorts of activities, initiate you into the turbulence of passion, the refinements and mysteries of life? This man taught nothing, knew nothing, wanted nothing. He believed her to be happy; and she resented his steadfast calm, his serene dullness, the very happiness she gave him.”

In contrast, Emma is always looking outward, to something elusive, something “out there,” for contentment. She’s always daydreaming about something she doesn’t have, thinking that will make her happy. Even when she succeeds in securing the things she covets (like new things for their home), it never brings her satisfaction. Where Charles is satisfied with the simple, Emma’s dream of contentment is usually interwoven with dreams of greater material things or a better position in life. Even when she looks at other people, she equates wealth with gratification and passion – From Chapter 8: “They had the complexion of wealth, that white complexion which goes so well with the pallor of porcelain, the sheen of satin, the luster of fine furniture, and is kept in perfect condition by a moderate diet of exquisite foods … Their faces wore that placid expression which comes from the daily gratification of the passions…”

I think this quote from chapter 9 sums it up well: “Everything immediately surrounding her – the boring countryside, the idiotic bourgeois people, the mediocrity of everyday life – seemed to her an exception in the world, something she had fallen into by accident, while beyond all this the realm of bliss and passion stretched forth as far as the eye could see. In her longing she confused the pleasures of luxury with the joys of the heart, elegant customs with refined feelings… Sighs in the moonlight, long embraces, tears flowing onto yielding hands, all the fevers of the flesh and the languors of love – these things were inseparable from the balcony of a great castle in which life moved at a leisurely pace, from a boudoir with silk curtains, a thick carpet, filled flower stands and a bed mounted on a platform, from the sparkle of precious stones or the aiguillettes of liveried servants.”

4. heather - March 3, 2007

I think Flaubert keeps our interest with his beautiful language, for one thing. He uses amazing imagery in his writing. In reference to her reading of romance novels he says “Emma soiled her hands with this dust from old lending libraries.” Describing conversations between Emma and her mother-in-law: “… the words ‘mother’ and ‘daughter’ were exchanged all day long, accompanied by a little twitch of the lip, and both women uttered sugary words in a voice quavering with anger.” Here were some other favorites: “His raptures had settled into a regular schedule; he embraced her only at certain hours. It was one habit among many, like a dessert known in advance, after a monotonous dinner.” “But her life was as cold as an attic facing north, and boredom, like a silent spider, was weaving its web in the shadows, in every corner of her heart.” “ … she would dust off her whatnot, look at herself in the mirror, pick up a book, then begin to daydream between the lines and let it fall to her lap.” “All the bitterness of life seemed to be served up to her on her plate, and as the steam rose from the boiled meat, waves of nausea rose from the depths of her soul.” I know I can’t write metaphors and similes like he does!

I think Flaubert’s use of changing narrative also helped to hold my interest. The book starts out in first person plural, as if we, the readers, are Charles’ classmates, then it shifts to third person, but from Charles’ point of view. At that point, we are only seeing glimpses of Emma – she’s still on the periphery. Gradually it shifts to Emma’s point of view, as we get a better glimpse of who she is and what makes her tick. I liked the way Flaubert gradually unfolded Emma’s character.

5. Michelle - March 7, 2007

So… it occurs to me that this book was not originally written in English and we are all reading translated copies. Speaking from past experience, the translator can make a HUGE difference in the book. I’m curious to know who is reading which version. I’m reading Signet Classics translated by Mildred Marmur and an introduction by Robin Morgan.

6. heather - March 7, 2007

Good point, Michelle. I wish I could say I thoroughly researched which one to buy, but I ended up with the Bantam Classics translated by Lowell Bair, primarily because it was the one Bethany linked to here on the website, and because of this reviewer’s thoughts from Amazon:

“When I was teaching World Literature we began class each year reading Gustave Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary.” Unfortunately, this is the one novel that most needs to be read in its original language since Flaubert constructed each sentence of his book with the precision of a poet. As an example of the inherent problems of translation I would prepare a handout with four different versions of the opening paragraphs of “Madame Bovary.” Each year my students would come to the same conclusion that I had already reached in selecting which version of the book they were to read: Lowell Bair’s translation is the best of the lot. It is eminently readable, flowing much better than most of its competitors. Consequently, if you are reading “Madame Bovary” for pleasure or class, this is the translation you want to track down.”

That is as far as I looked!

7. calimom - March 7, 2007

I am reading the Oxford World Classics with a translation by Gerard Hopkins. I read this book last year and my notes say that it was the one that Bethany had on the link. I am not finding too much difference with content, however, as I look back on my last journaling I do find that the different translations draw the reader’s attention to details differently or more vividly than the others. While some of us, describing something in English, might say “brilliant” our friends might say, “glowing,” thus reducing the power of the word in the imagination of the reader.
I wish I had required a specific translation to you all. We run into this problem all the time with our high school literature class but in my haste to get this up and running I short changed this group of gals. I do think we will all get the general language, poetry and flow that the author intended…just to varying degrees.

8. Michelle - March 7, 2007

Ah Man Heather. Looks like you did a great job researching. That is a pretty glowing (or shall I say brilliant) recommendation by that World Lit teacher. Oh well, I suppose I’ll stick with my copy.


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