Madame Bovary, Part One


Charles Bovary – the monsieur to the madame, can be summed up in seven pages. That’s the length Flaubert devotes to Charles Bovary’s life, from childhood to adulthood. The young boy is nothing of note; neither is the man, though a doctor, until he meets Mademoiselle Emma. Flaubert gives the distinct impression that nothing has ever really interested Charles. His mother has orchestrated his life, and he has allowed her machinations. However, when he goes to set a well-to-do farmer’s broken leg, he certainly notices the farmer’s young, pretty daughter Emma.

As the book is named after the second Madame Bovary, I thought it curious she is not mentioned sooner. She begins her life as a character almost as an aside in this novel. It seems appropriate as (at least my prediction) is that she will never come to the glory the reader sees she seeks in her quiet moments. Emma seems quiet and subdued, but we get glimpses of her true character; she’s utterly bored with her life.

It seemed to her that certain places on earth must produce happiness, like a plant that was peculiar to that soil and grew poorly in any other spot….Perhaps she would have liked to confide in someone about all these things. But how does one express an uneasiness so intangible, one that changes shape like a cloud, that changes direction like the wind? She lacked the words, the occasion, the courage.

Her naiveté here is very apparent, as it is wholly unlikely a change of scenery is the true problem with the young Madame Bovary. Charles, on the other hand, thrives with Emma by his side. He came, in fact, to

respect himself more because he possessed such a wife. In the parlor, he would proudly show off two small sketches of hers, done in graphite, which he had had framed in very wide frames and hung against the wallpaper with long green cords.

But his behavior only grates against Emma’s already-thin nerves, particularly after she has a small but delectable taste of the life she has read of and dreamed about in sensational novels. Attending a ball with its requisite excitement and glamour, Madame Bovary is bereft at its close. She comes home and

reverently she put away in the chest of drawers her beautiful dress and even her satin shoes, whose soles had been yellowed by the slippery wax of the dance floor. Her heart was like them: contact with wealth had laid something over it that would not be wiped away.

She bought herself a map of Paris, and, with the tip of her finger on the map, she would take walks in the capital. She would go along the boulevards, stopping at each corner, between the lines of the streets, in front of the white squares that represented the houses. Her eyes tired at last, she would close her lids…

The more I read (and I read much farther than Part One), the more I felt conflicted. Charles is, as mentioned, a bit of a bore, but he’s just a simple man who takes pleasure in simple things. Emma, though, is not simple. She may be the daughter of a farmer, but novels or something much more basic has placed wanderlust in her heart. As irritating as I found her at times, I could also relate to that. She feels trapped, and I can almost guarantee as I keep reading, she will find a way around that – whether it ends well or not.

*Sincere thanks to Frances at Nonsuch Book. Without her fabulous giveaway, I would not own such a gorgeous copy of this novel. Check out her site for other initial views of Madame Bovary.

Other posts:

Dolce Belleza

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19 responses to “Madame Bovary, Part One

  • Iris

    I recognise your conflictedness, I remember it from the last time I read this book and by the end of the book I was still conflicted about Charles, not so much about Emma. I do wonder what I’ll feel about them this time around. I am going to hazard a guess and say I’ll be even more conflicted, because knowing a bit more of what to expect, I might have more attention for the details.

    • pickygirlfoodfilmfiction

      I’m glad I’m not the only one. I haven’t read it, but of course I’ve read The Awakening, which was inspired by MB. I always love re-reading a book and finding slightly new details I’d missed in the past. Thanks for the comment!

  • Jessica

    I agree, Emma is not as simple a character as you are first lead to believe whereas her husband is more so. I am hoping that more other rounded characters are introduced soon.

  • Frances

    I just commented elsewhere that Emma’s boredom is a completely natural reaction to her circumstances, but her response to that boredom is what makes her a less sympathetic character.

    Also curious to re-read further to examine if Emma is in fact a good reader herself. What has she read into the romantic novels she is so fond of, and what is just another means of manipulating expectations of femininity through male produced novels. The mention of The Awakening makes me think in this direction. I think only one of these female protagonists opts out of life as a rejection of male patterned discourse. Much to think about.

    Thanks for reading along!

  • Emily

    I finished the book still feeling conflicted about both characters. Actually identified with Emma to an uncomfortable extent at times (which, judging from Davis’s introduction, was definitely part of Flaubert’s intent). Everyone in the book is extremely irritating at times, but I don’t think anyone is completely unsympathetic…

  • Shelley

    Having conflicted feelings about the characters seems to fit into the realism of the book. If I felt that Emma was entirely good or bad, I don’t the the book would be as meaningfull. Of course, this is my first time reading, so maybe by the end I will greatly dislike her. Charles just doesn’t posses the intelligence to be evil.

  • JoAnn

    I had very conflicted feelings about the characters the first time I read the book…. am curious to see if those feelings will be stronger this time. On to part 2.

  • BuriedInPrint

    “Emma, though, is not simple.” That’s so true.

    I jotted down this quote which echoes your thoughts on Charles too.

    “So he was happy, without a care in the world. A meal together, a walk along the high road, in the evening, the way she had of putting her hand to her hair, the sight of her straw hat hangng on the window latch, and a great many things besides in which Charles had never thought to find pleasure, now made up the even tenor of his happiness.”

  • Isabella

    About Charles respecting himself more for possessing such a wife — I noted that while reading too, but today I came across a similar sentiment in a contemporary French novel. I wonder how prevalent that feeling really is in real realtionships, the woman behind the man and all that. To this point I find Charles totally sympathetic. (But Emma too.)

  • Carin B.

    Oh, I’m definitely going to be following your posts on this. I told you today at the book festival that I was a Madame Bovary hater. Such a beautifully written book, but I just really didn’t like any of the people at all! I definitely want to read some other perspectives on the book so I’m very interested in seeing what you have to say! It was so nice meeting you today and so great to find new (to me) blogs!

  • Richard

    I shared your conflicted feelings re: the characters, Jenn, at least in part one where Flaubert was setting the table for what would follow. Midway through part two, I’m starting to really savor the writing–although I still have moments where I appreciate Flaubert’s technique more than his story itself. It’s a strange work in a way, don’t you think? P.S. Nice to discover your blog!

    • pickygirlfoodfilmfiction

      It is an odd work, and I am definitely more conscious of the language and the style than I normally am. Aren’t you reading it in French? Do you find that to be true in the original language?

      Thanks so much for stopping by. I am definitely looking forward to this week’s posts.

      Sent from my iPhone

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