Friday, 29 October 2010

Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert

Emma Bovary is beautiful and bored, trapped in her marriage to a mediocre doctor and stifled by the banality of provincial life. An ardent reader of sentimental novels, she longs for passion and seeks escape in fantasies of high romance, in voracious spending and, eventually, in adultery. But even her affairs bring her disappointment and the consequences are devastating. Flaubert's erotically charged and psychologically acute portrayal of Emma Bovary caused a moral outcry on its publication in 1857. It was deemed so lifelike that many women claimed they were the model for his heroine; but Flaubert insisted: 'Madame Bovary, c'est moi'.

As much as I loved Flaubert's style of writing I found myself disliking Emma more and more as the novel progressed. Initially I was sympathetic towards Emma's situation; believing that marriage would solve all of her problems but discovering that life is not like a romance novel. And I could understand when she started trying to fill up the void in her life with material objects and affairs. But then she become demanding with her lovers, forcing them to fulfill the romantic fantasies she had from novels, and she couldn't cope when everything didn't work out entirely as she'd planned it. She just couldn't let go of her dreams and realise that life isn't perfect and that you have to make things work, rather than expecting men to rush into your life and fix everything. This is an excellent book to analyse and study because of this concept (and many others that feature in this novel), but I got rather frustrated with Emma towards the end of the novel. It was also horrifically depressing in places, so don't read this if you're having a sad day. I definitely recommend this book because of the incredible amount of issues it covers, as well as the wonderfully descriptive yet very readable narrative style. But I'm afraid that sometimes I just wanted to take Emma by the shoulders and shake her! 8/10


  1. Madame Bovary is one of my very favourite classic novels BUT I agree with you completely that Emma is one of the most frustrating characters imaginable. She has so many wonderful things in her life but she just can't be satisifed with what she's got. It's difficult to feel any sympathy for her at all.

  2. I'm glad it's not just me who found her rather unsympathetic! Initially I felt really sorry for her but this changed over the course of the novel. Still, it's beautifully written and I really enjoyed reading it so Flaubert has to be given credit for making us want to read about such an unsympathetic heroine!

  3. I've only ever read this in French, I studied it at university but I loved it - couldn't stand Emma either!