by Gustave Flaubert
A Norton Critical Edition Trans. Paul De Man New York 1965
I can tell I read this book long ago because my reading note style has changed significantly since then. There were no end-of-chapter summaries which I incorporate now. The best bits were marked in highlighter which I find fades over the years. I caught up with plot twists by writing in pencil in very small lettering in the margins. Now I write in pen as long as the ink doesn’t seep through to the other side. I didn’t even write my name inside the front cover which I do now along with the season and year in which I completed the read. I wasn’t sure there would be enough material to share, but some of these lines are wonderful. I know I read this during the time before I’d read the intro or preface thinking it unnecessary and boring; it is not. I also did not read any of the critical reflections on the work afterward. If I were doing a serious college paper on Madame Bovary I would read all the critical works provided in the back of the book. Madame Bovary was first printed in 1857 and was originally written in French. At the time it was seen as scandalous and in need of censors.
“He grew thin, his figure became taller, his face took a saddened look that made it almost interesting” (7).
“For him the universe did not extend beyond the silky circumference of her petticoat” (24).
“This nature, positive in the midst of its enthusiasms, that had loved the church for the sake of the flowers, and music for the words of the songs, and literature for the passions it excites, rebelled against the mysteries of faith as it had rebelled against discipline, as something alien to her constitution” (28).
“Perhaps she would have liked to confide all these things to some one. But how tell an undefinable uneasiness, changing as the clouds, unstable as the winds? Words failed her and, by the same token, the opportunity, the courage” (29).
About the baby: “Thus she did not amuse herself with those preparations that stimulate the tenderness of mothers, and so her affection was perhaps impaired from the start” (63).
Because he is not the jealous type, Charles thinks nothing of Leon spending time with Emma. “Wasn’t the husband also a part of her after all” (71)?
Emma is praising Charles to Leon…out of nervousness? Charles is late and is due any minute. This irritates Leon.
Charles becomes the representation of her unfulfilled dreams: “What exasperated her was that Charles did not seem to be aware of her torment. His conviction that he was making her happy looked to her a stupid insult, and his self-assurance of this point sheer ingratitude. For whom, then, was she being virtuous? Was it not for him, the obstacle to all happiness, the cause of all misery, and, as it were, the sharp clasp of that complex strap that buckled her in all sides” (77)?
Emma meets Monsieur Rodolphe Boulanger who wants her, but only for an affair: “‘I think he is very stupid. She must be tired of him, no doubt. He has dirty nails, and hasn’t shaven for three days. While he is trotting after his patients, she sits there mending socks. How bored she gets! How she’d want to be in the city and go dancing every night! Poor little woman! She is gaping after love like a carp on the kitchen table after water. Three gallant words and she’d adore me, I’m sure of it. She’d be tender, charming. Yes; but how get rid of her afterwards’ (93)? He plans his strategy to use her.
By page 117, Emma and Rodolphe do the nasty.
The first thing Rodolphe does to slow things down: “‘What is wrong?’ she said. ‘Are you ill? Tell me!’
“He ended up declaring earnestly that her visits were too dangerous and that she was compromising herself” (118).
There is regret and more regret.
When Charles was at his lowest Emma rejected him. She hates his existence.
Uh-oh! Now the shop man knows Emma is having an affair! Emma begins to change and become more bold.
The shop man now knows she is planning to run away. The closer they get to their escape, the more Rodolphe understands this will be a mistake.
Although he was a womanizer, Emma regrets not being a man.
Another regret: “All her attempts at critical detachment were swept away by the poetic power of the acting, and, drawn to the man by the illusion of the part, she tried to imagine his life–extraordinary, magnificent, notorious, the life that could have been hers if fate had willed it. If only they had met! He would have loved her, they would have travelled together through all the kingdoms of Europe from capital to capital, sharing in his success and in his hardships, picking up the flowers thrown to him, mending his clothes” (163).
They see Leon at the opera. She is so easily swayed by the moment that it is pathetic!
Charles is absolutely oblivious to the motives of other men.
Charles puts even his grief for his own father’s death behind him for Emma.
Emma wants power of attorney in order to manage Charles’s inheritance.
Emma stays out all night…BRAZEN!
“One must not touch one’s idols, a little of the gilt always comes off on one’s fingers” (205).
“Besides, nothing was worth the trouble of seeking it; everything was a lie. Every smile concealed a yawn of boredom, every joy a curse, every pleasure its own disgust, and the sweetest kisses left upon your lips only the unattainable desire for a greater delight” (206).
Since Leon does not show with the money, Emma, at the last minute, thinks of Rodolphe.
You will have to read the novel to find how it ends!
The Norton Edition includes:
Earlier Versions of Madame Bovary
“Structures of Imagery in Madame Bovary” by D. L. Demorest
“On Rereading Madame Bovary” by Albert Beguin
“The Real Source of Madame Bovary” by Rene Dumesnil
“Flaubert and Madame Bovary: Outline of a New Method” by Jean-Paul Sartre
“Letters about Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert
Essays in Criticism:
By Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve
By Charles Baudelaire
“Style and Morality in Madame Bovary” by Henry James
“The Craft of Fiction in Madame Bovary” by Percy Lubbock
“Flaubert’s Language” by W. Von Wartburg
“On the ‘Inner Environment’ in the Work of Flaubert” by Charles Du Bos
“Madame Bovary” by Albert Thibaudet
“The Realism of Flaubert” by Erich Auerback
“The Circle and the Center: Reality and Madame Bovary” by Georges Poulet
“Madame Bovary: the Cathedral and the Hospital” by Harry Levin
“Love and Memory in Madame Bovary” by Jean Pierre Richard
“Madame Bovary: Flaubert’s Anti-Novel” by Jean Rousset