Sunday, July 17, 2016

Don't tell me. Does M. Bovary take cyanide at the end?

Another book that I've come to late in life--Madame Bovary. Half the time as I'm reading it, I'm thinking about what my high school self would've thought about the experience, like how I would've had to read it in certain chunks for class, chapters one through three, and then answer three discussion questions or be on the look-out for obvious symbolism. The only book I remember somewhat well from high school is Silas Marner and the gold of Eppie's hair being a symbol that ties back to Silas' love of money. So as an adult, I can enjoy Madame Bovary and her sighing and longing without trying to figure out if the references to cherries means more than they first seem.


Here's what I think about Madame Bovary, the character: she's sad and lonely and bored and has no purpose in life. She wants parties and she instead gets a new sash to wear for only her buffoonish but well-intentioned husband, who can't believe how lucky he is to have gotten such a hot piece of ass. Having read no scholarship around this book, I can't help but wonder if Flaubert isn't sympathetic to Emma's life. I mean, she's like the pretty objects she buys--she's meant to be admired and looked at, but has very little use (hey, look, I found a deeper meaning in the objects). Whereas her husband is out in the world, riding horses and bleeding the local farmers (he's a doctor of sorts), Emma stays home and reads books about places she'll never visit. She wants excitement and romance and she gets a greyhound who runs away and a snoring groom whose head droops over the soup in the evenings.

Isn't that the plight of every human--believing that there must be something more to life than house and home; craving adventure but also stuck in routine? For Emma, you have to add into the fact that she has this social pressure to behave as she did in the convent. She spends most of her time avoiding the object of her desire (a desire conjured out of loneliness more than out of real attraction) and the rest of the time day-dreaming about said object. Here's the problem though--she's just met her match in a scoundrel who is delighting in seducing her. He's totally one-dimensional but maybe he too is bored by life--his sport is to take down vulnerable women, much like the guy in Dangerous Liaisons. What I thought would be tedious isn't really--though I confess I may be skimming a bit over the descriptions of the geography. I don't hate Emma--she's got this little daughter that she doesn't want, and then you wonder what will become of that female child or what may Emma's mom have been like?

No comments: