Mme Bovary ( Gustave Flaubert)
Reading challenge: 24 July – 07 October 2012
There are so many reviews out there in “cyberspace” about Mme Bovary that I will refrain from adding another one. It is one of the true classics that took me into a world of a 19th century “desperate wife”: femme insatisfaite, des amants et s’ennuie à la campagne
I made a list of some facts I thought you’d like to read.
Facts about Gustave Flaubert ( 1821 – 1880)
- Died comparatively young
- Retained his powers of expression until the end but had frequent recourse to drugs
- Syphilitic with symptoms as migraines, swellings, stiffness, vomiting, vertigo
- Suffered from epilepsy
- Troubled relations with their mother and perhaps never overcame the adverse conditioning of childhood
- No complete and satisfactory union with a woman. Flaubert was childless.
- Flaubert was a hermit.
- Complete opposition between his literary eminence and his failure to lead a tolerable life.
- Physical and psychological cripple
Facts on Book Mme Bovary (1857)
- There are 20 translations of the book into English.
- Ry, France is the model for the market town that most obviously resembles Yonville-l’Abbaye in the novel.
- Emma’s story, 27 chapters, is embedded in her husband’s (5 chapters at the beginning and 3 at the end).
Facts abot the origins of the story:
- Eugène Delamar ( a former student of Flaubert’s father ) and Delmare’s wife Delphine who inspired the character of of Madame Bovary
- Memoires de Mme Ludovica : account of the amorous and financial extravagances of Louise Pradier, the wife of the sculptor James Pradir, whom Flaubert knew.
- Memoires of Mme Lafarge convicted of poisoning her husband in 1840
- Flaubert’s relationship with Louise Colet
Flaubert and Louise Colet
Facts about the plot:
- Emma is detached and icy. She navigates the world of romance, passion and excitement to fulfill her dreams but often finds real-life to be inescapable.
- The lure of marriage to a country doctor and motherhood is short-lived. She falls madly in love with a cad , then with a coward.
- She leads a double life of domesticity and adultery.
- Conclusion: Marriage was no better than adultery for ensuring one’s happiness.
- This novel was full of bourgeois – bashing. Flaubert despised everybody in the book, and he despised their way of life. Flaubert by his habitual use of the imperfect past tense he created a new style:
- “imparfait éternel” – the representation of time that makes the event blend with memory and with repetition.
- ( talk – eat – cut some cheese – munch an apple – empty a glass – go to bed – snore)
Facts about Mme Bovary in the movies:
The best known versions of Mme Bovary are
- Jean Renoir ( 1934) – a commercial failure. Renoir underestimated the complexities of filming this classic novel.
- Vincente Minnelli ( 1949) – a cinematic triumph, its ball sequence at La Vaubyessard considered one of the best set pieces in film history!
- Claude Chabrol ( 1991) – best version of the film. Chabrol was obsessed with this classic novel and only decided to film it when Isabelle Huppert agreed to play Emma. Chabrol once remarked that stupidity is infinitely more fascinating than intelligence because it has no limits. This cruelly ironic view of human nature expressed in many of his films is well suited to Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary.
Facts about satire in the book:
All the medical treatments in the novel actually fall into this category: Flaubert
quietly satirizes medicine, and his father and older brother, who were doctors.
I was surprised to find this reaction to Mme Bovary in the form of a cartoon!
Madame Bovary recalls Achille Lemot’s famous 1869 cartoon of Flaubert himself, in hospital scrubs, dissecting Emma’s corpse. Magnifying glass in his right hand, with his left he holds aloft her bleeding heart impaled on his scalpel.
Facts about my reading challenge: Mme Bovary ( In French)
I took me 12 weeks to do it and I had to push myself at certain points along the way.
A summer heat wave, exhaustion after a long day at work, intricate sentences and pages full of descriptions of houses, rooms, gardens, carriages, trees, horses, flowers, clothing etc. At times it made my head spin.
In the first few days progress was slow: looked up 55 verbs in 4 pages of reading.
Sometimes there were exhausting reading sessions. I felt I was taking 2 steps forward and 1 step back. After all my efforts… words I don’t understand just keep coming. Flaubert is testing my determination every step of the way.
It took me 2 hours to read about the marriage proposal. It took Charles Bovary 2 minutes to ask for Emma’s hand .Reading great works of literature in their original form can be as demanding as it is rewarding.
Almost reached the point of no return….., toss the book away! But no, I will persevere. I guess it is a combination of intricate descriptions (les boucles molles = damp curls)or (dans les ténèbres se tordre au vent des becs de gaz = gaslight flames flicker in the darkness) and it being the hottest day of the year, 31.5 C! I feel just as exasperated as Emma but for different reasons
At times I regretted not reading 6 books in English in the same time that I read 9 chapters in Mme Bovary. Other readers were going through books like a hot knife through butter…I, on the other hand, was trudging through molasses!
Thoughts during my journey reading Mme Bovary:
Act II Scene II Hamlet:
“Lord Polonius: What do you read, my lord?
Hamlet: Words, words, words. “”
It took Flaubert 5 years to write this book and 5 months to write chapter 8, the longest chapter.
Emotions are running high in chapters 8-9-10. We’re doing a lot of ( trembler, grelotter, frissonner, ratatiner) quiver, shiver and tremble – ( bégayer, marmotter, balbutier) stammer, mutter and babble – (chatouiller, passer les bras de sa taille, s’essouffler, crier, defaillir) tickle, embrace, become breathless, squeal and faint. Emma is on an emotional rollercoaster and I’m in the back seat hanging on for dear life!
Here is a note I wrote to myself on the18th September 2012 to keep me going…..
The biggest reason people fail at creating and sticking to new habits is that they don’t keep doing it. I have been reading French for 57 days, average 3-4 hrs a day. It takes time but I have reached a point where I can read French newspapers with ease. If you can read Flaubert, everything else is easy!
Champagne lifestyle on a lemonade budget, Emma is drowning in debt. She’s desperate. Who can she turn to, who will help her from sliding downwards….36 pages to read!
At this point, and I am ashamed to admit it, I wished Emma would take the poison as soon as possible….I have been in this book too long!
Emma is sitting next to me tonight, 01 October 2012. . She sees me underline each French word. She whispers in my ear: “..it never really gets any easier. It’s just that you are going to get so much better. ( ..so don’t give up)…il faut s’ y tenir !
J’avais tout tenté…. Emma has tried everything to no avail. She visits the town lawyer but he wants more from Emma…”Je suis à plaindre, mais pas à vendre!” ( I am to be pitied, but not for sale!). Ex lover Ródolphe is her only chance. Perhaps…”il est disposé à lui secourir!”( ..is willing to help her). Final countdown begins…19 pages to read!”
I have been waiting so long for this day! I read 23 pages ( personal best…) 0800-2230 hrs. It was a marathon but I reached the finish line. Flaubert has written a book I shall never forget. It is a masterpiece and I put so much effort into reading it in French. Good night…I’m still exhausted but have such a feeling of accomplishment.
…and now the fun begins….which book to read now!