Must Read Series: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

I finally finished reading this book after a week. This is probably the longest time taken by me to read any book. Emma’s journey of life left me wistful. Thought provoking yet leaving a void in my mind.

Madame Bovary

Gustave Flaubert’s masterpiece novel Madame Bovary was first published in 1857. This story is based in nineteenth-century France.

It is about Emma, a beautiful daughter of a farmer, who becomes the second wife of Charles Bovary. Emma yearns for an exciting life full of passion and luxury.

Charles Bovary is a mediocre country physician. He is dull and has no true ambition. He adores Emma and is blind to all her faults.

“She had to be able to extract some kind of personal benefit from things, and she rejected as useless anything which did not contribute to the immediate gratification of her heart, for her temperament was more sentimental than artistic and she sought emotion, not landscapes.”

The above quote from the book speaks a lot about Emma’s outlook and temperament.

In her quest for excitement, Emma soon finds herself in a clandestine relationship with Rodolphe Boulanger, a wealthy bachelor. Emma wants a life of ecstasy and passion. After frequent rendezvous with Rodolphe, she plans to elope with him but Rodolphe ends the relationship with a note sent in a basket of apricots. This leaves Emma distraught and she drifts towards religion for a brief time. As she recovers from grief, once again the boredom sets in.

Flaubert has beautifully quoted Emma’s state of mind, “The closer things were to her, the farther her mind turned away from them.”

Emma spends a lot of money on luxury and she had also spent a lot on gifts for Rodolphe. She makes wrong financial moves that leave her in debt. She eventually destroys the finances of the family.

Yet she still seeks the excitement and passion, which this time she finds in Leon Dupuis. He is the notary’s clerk in Yonville. Emma lies to Charles and frequently goes to the town to meet Leon, under the pretext of taking music lessons. Charles however is blissfully ignorant of his wife’s trysts. He is very much in love with his beautiful wife.

Her debts in the meantime continue to mount to the extent that she has nothing left to sell. She tries to ask Leon and Rodolphe to help her clear her debts but she is turned down and eventually left with no option. It is a spiraling downfall with a tragic end.

To me, Emma is a complex character who comes across as selfish and self-absorbed. She even seems to have almost no affection or feeling of responsibility towards her daughter, Berthe. Her life seemed to be full of just an excessive yearning for adventure and excitement. Her constant need to seek passion and ecstasy is difficult to fathom.

Flaubert’s meticulous craftsmanship makes this novel a timeless Classic and indeed a Must-Read. No doubt it is one of the most discussed book in the world of literature.

* This book is available on amazon.

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