Madame Bovary Readalong

 

Alas, I didn’t get a chance until now to post about this Madame Bovary readalong that I’ve joined. The readalong started April 1 and it’s being hosted by CJ at ebookclassics (whom I’ve had the pleasure of “meeting” through Carolyn at Rosemary and Reading Glasses) and Juliana at Cedar Station. I’d had this book hovering near the top of my to-read list for about a year, so this readalong is perfect.

As many of you know, Madame Bovary is French writer Gustave Flaubert’s 1856 novel about a young woman seeking happiness and fulfillment in her mundane life as the wife of an ordinary and devoted husband. She ends up having a number of affairs until her various choices lead to her downfall.

A couple of things have surprised me about the book so far. One: it is extremely readable, even easy to read, and two: it feels timeless. If you disregard the various references to transportation and dress, this book can easily feel as though it was written in and about the 21st century. Here’s an excerpt:

Before her marriage she had believed herself to be in love; but since the happiness which should have resulted from this love had not come to her, she felt that she must have been mistaken. And she tried to find out exactly what was meant in life by the words “bliss,” “passion” and “rapture,” which had seemed so beautiful to her in books. (page 34)

The quote made me think of a 43-year-old woman I worked with once who had left her husband despite her own description of him as “perfect” – kind, gentle, loyal, etc. She told me she had wanted more in the way of excitement. (Yes, I can hear the sad sighs of nice guys around the world…)

If you’d like to join the readalong, please check out the master post here at ebookclassics. It lists the reading/discussion dates and you can link up there as well.

For those of you who are following, I’ve put on hold my Grapes of Wrath readalong, which I had announced last month I would be doing (face cast downward in shame…). Madame Bovary is just more fun for me right now.

 

14 comments on “Madame Bovary Readalong

  1. Naomi says:

    I agree with you that this book is both very readable and timeless. It’s interesting that a man in the 1850s could get so accurately into the head of a discontented wife. I wonder if he did any research.

    • Cecilia says:

      I think on my back cover it says that when asked who Emma Bovary is, Flaubert responded, “C’est moi.” I was surprised by that answer!

      • Naomi says:

        After reading your comment, I ran and got my book, and I found the same thing in the middle of the introduction. I never read the introductions to novels- maybe I should! That is a surprising answer, and just leads me to wonder why he decided to write himself as a woman, and not a man? Maybe that’s in the intro, too. I should just read it. :)

        • Cecilia says:

          Haha, I skipped the intro too ;-) But I will likely read it at some point. I agree that maybe the answers are in there. I do think it’s interesting he can write from a woman’s point of view with such nuance. I was also struck by that small passage about how Charles’ mother felt knowing that Charles now had his eye on Emma.

  2. whatmeread says:

    Hmmm, Madame Bovary, not my favorite, but I imagine if I re-read it I would have some different insights than when I was in my 20′s in graduate school! Emma Bovary just never seemed very bright to me.

    • Cecilia says:

      I am just 50 or so pages in but my impression already is that she is rather self-absorbed and frivolous, concerned with grandeur and excitement. Poor Charles.

  3. Hmm I was skeptical about this book – it has a rather mixed status, doesn’t it? But your initial impressions make me think I would enjoy it! I did like Anna Karenina, after all.

    • Cecilia says:

      I have only heard really superlative things about it – similar to what I’ve heard about Anna Karenina in terms of it being a “perfect” novel and an important one. We’ll see! And yes, you may like it!

  4. How interesting! I didn’t know about the “C’est moi!” response by Flaubert. I am irritated by Emma’s self-absorbed behaviour, but at the same I feel for her because of the limit of opportunities available to her. I would probably go a bit mad too being stuck at home day in and day out. I think having no social life also exacerbates how plain Charles is in her eyes.

    • Cecilia says:

      Yes – I finally got to the detailed descriptions about the monotony of her life toward the end of chapter 9. I can definitely see how everything became magnified and how a woman can easily target all her frustrations and resentment toward her husband. Women really did choose their lives by choosing their husbands back then. This is quite fascinating.

  5. rudrip says:

    Cecilia, I am a fan of the classics, but never thought to add this book to my list. The readability factor compels me to visit Flaubert’s work. Thanks.

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