What does Emma Rouault expect when she marries Charles Bovary? All her life she has been looking for great passion - in the church as a girl and now as a wife. But marriage to a poor widower doctor also doesn't fill her passions. He loves her madly. The great love for him she expected to feel for him never appears.
Instead she is stuck in a small town in the French countryside with no real friends and no great love. When the local viscount invites to couple to a ball after receiving Charles' medical services, Emma gets a glimpse of the life she feels she should have. She starts to yearn for more but doesn't see how to attain it.
When she tires of their town, she convinces Charles to take another post in a larger community. But Yonville isn't any better. Although Emma now has a baby daughter, she still is unsettled and unsatisfied. When she gets to know Leon, a young law clerk in town, she begins to feel the love she is sure is missing from her life. He, not realizing her feelings, leaves town because he is attracted to her, a married woman.
Charles can see no evil in his wife. Whatever she wants, he gets for her despite the cost and their low income. When another gentleman comes along and she wants to accompany him on an innocent walk, Charles gives his blessing. He doesn't realize (or won't realize) that more is happening. Soon Emma believes she has found her great passion in Rodolphe. When that ends, Emma keeps looking for the passion and lifestyle she feels she deserves.
Gustave Flaubert has us looking at ourselves. Madame Bovary is a full tale of cynicism and sin and ignorance. Emma can't be satisfied. Charles spoils her to the best of his ability. The local merchant takes advantage of her greed. The pharmacist watches all and gets in his jabs when it's to his advantage. The gentleman playboy takes what he wants with no consideration for others. Even the maid gets her own in the end.
Madame Bovary is a cautionary story. Emma Bovary is a picture of what can happen when we let our own greed take over, ignoring the needs of others in our lives.
At times as I read this I thought of Middlemarch - another tale of a poor doctor marrying a woman who wants more than he can give. Scenes of continual buying on credit without repayment build in both novels, bringing ruin to the main characters.
Madame Bovary was written in the mid-19th century, so isn't the quick, easy read like a modern novel. The book started off slow for me, but by the last third I couldn't put it down. I could see the major crash that was coming, and almost welcomed it for the awful woman. Unfortunately, due to her carelessness, more get pulled down with her.
Notice: Suggestive dialogue or situations
These reviews are personal opinions only and in no way reflect other readers' opinions of the books discussed.
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