|"Everything that immediately surrounded her |
- the tiresome countryside, the mediocrity of life -
seemed to her an exception in the world,
while beyond extended the immense land of felicity and passion."
For some reason the title made think this book is about French high society. On the contrary, it is actually about provincial life.
It recounts the life Emma Bovary who grows up in a farm and marries a country health practitioner. Soon after her wedding she realizes the 'passion' she was expecting never comes. Motherhood does not bring her happiness either. Bored and longing for fine things, expensive clothes and high society, she gets intimately involved with a few of the men in her town. Soon she finds herself deeply in debt and resorts to drastic measures with tragic consequences for her husband and daughter.
I got frustrated following Emma from one mishap to another so much that all I could think of was if she didn't love her husband why did she marry him in the first place?! Of course if she didn't then we wouldn't have a story but it would've saved everyone a lot of trouble and heart ache! I guess its a good story about unfaithfulness, how ridiculous it can be, the chain of lies that follow and the serious consequences it can lead to.
|Rouen, France ca. 1890 and ca. 1900, where Emma would have lived|
The character of her husband Charles Bovary was rather remarkable I think. He had a saintly selflessness bordering on naive stupidity that I didn't know whether to love him or hate him! I mean all those long absences by Emma right under his nose and he still didn't have a clue! Maybe he is the true romantic because despite Emma's beauty and elegance he didn't see any of her numerous faults. Here is a perfect example of his cluelessness after Emma arranged for "piano lessons" every Thursday to secretly meet with her lover. Incredible!
She was more charming than ever to her husband...So he believed he was the most fortunate of mortals...when one evening, "It is Madamoiselle Lempereur, isn't it, who's giving you lessons?"
"Well I just saw her...I mentioned you to her; she doesn't know you."
It was like a thunderbolt. But she replied with a natural air:
"Oh! She's probably forgotten my name."
"But perhaps in Rouen," said the doctor, "there are several Demoiselles Lempereur who teach piano!"
Flaubert abhorred superficiality and material wealth. Maybe that's why Emma's longing for it came to nothing. This was a passage that I really liked:
"Ah! In fact there are two moralities," he replied. "The petty one, the conventional one, the one devised by men, that keeps changing and bellows so loudly, making a commotion down here among us, in a perfectly pedestrian way, like that gathering of imbeciles you see out there. But the other one, the eternal one, is all around us, above us, like the landscape that surrounds us and the blue sky that gives us light."The book also touches on medicine, religion, the role of agriculture in society, and of course, marriage.
On the translation, this is the only version that I have read so I can't compare it with other translations but I found it smooth and easy to read. It is said to be very modern, making this long-time classic very approachable by today's readers. The translator Lydia Davis, who also translated Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time. She tried her best to stay true to Flaubert's style considering how particular he was about it. Her research revealed at least 19 other translators who simply recounted the story without adhering to the original style, or rewrote it altogether as they pleased. Davis also included an extensive glossary at the back of the book for readers to better appreciate various terms, practices, names and objects that were customary at that time.
Here is the movie adaptation: