Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary

I really had no idea what to expect -- Madame Bovary is the latest entry on my "novels I meant to read at least a decade ago." A person with a PhD in English really ought to have read some of the classics, so I've been embarrassed to find out much about this novel. I knew only what I learned from Woody Allen's "Kugelmass Episode" in English 121 (shout-out to Mel Faber), and we didn't study it in class: I read it because the title sounded cool in the Norton anthology. Geek.

Anyway, the power of this novel took me by surprise. The narrative logic, once it got going, was much more intense than that of any other book I've read in years. It went on longer than I needed it to -- apparently Victorian novels weren't written only in English -- but the thoroughness of the destruction needed every word, even the ones I wouldn't have written myself.

(Who am I kidding, "the ones I wouldn't have written myself" -- I started this blog when I had the freeing, but also kind of crippling, revelation that I'm a reader first, not a writer.)

I'm not going to say much, because what am I going to do for Flaubert's reputation? Hell of a read, with memorable characters and tangible details and powerful themes. It made me question my own life, no exaggeration, and I'm not entirely happy with what I saw.

But I do have to say one thing: the shift to the present tense in the final paragraphs is utterly devastating, especially how it implies permanent punishment for young Berthe Bovary. So simple, so powerful. I'm not sure about ending with Homais the chemist, because Berthe's fate really did rip at me just thirty or so words from the end, but the return to Homais does draw the focus outward to social forces, away from the individuals.

It's been a while since a novel forced me to keep reading until midnight. This one did, more than one night, so I might yet start on those nineteenth-century Russian novels....

Comments

fiona said…
I love the descriptions of Mme B's boredom - watching the rain, staring into the grate...
richard said…
Oh, I love those too -- so many of them, such weight. You can't help feeling how she feels the monotony of it all. It doesn't matter that quiet and uneventful lives are what most of us live, that her desires seem illogical and her actions capricious, because her perspective is so potent and alive.

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