Book Review: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Madmae Bovary

Earlier in the year I set myself the task of reading 5 classics I really should have read before.  It’s now June, we are half way through the year, and Madame Bovary is just the second of my chosen 5.  Madame Bovary always features on those ‘best novels to read’ lists featured in the media from time to time,  and I wanted to see why!

When Emma Roualt marries Charles Bovary and becomes Madame Bovary she imagines a life of luxury, passion and excitement.   The kind of life she had read about and dreamed of for many years.  For some reason she hadn’t taken into account Charles occupation as a rural doctor living a provinical and to all intents and purposes quiet life.  In frustration with the life she has married into she chooses to take a lover and so begins her journey in to deceit, distress and total despair.  When the novel was written in 1857 it was deemed scandalous and shocking.  In today’s world where anything goes and readers are not so easily shocked, the more passionate scenes perhaps seem quite tame  It is however,  Madame Bovary’s selfishness and eventual self-destruction which retain an element of shock (for me anyway).  Her continual single minded quest for pleasure and material gratification is beyond compare in its  lack of regard for others.

It cannot be denied that whatever Emma Bovary does she does with commitment and dedication, whether it be shopping or chasing her lovers.  Her impulsiveness and histrionics know no end especially when she is perhaps cruelly rejected by her lover.  In her rejection she throws herself in to religion with the same fervour and abandonment that she had thrown herself in to love.

“When she knelt at her gothic prie-dieu, she would address her Lord with the same caressing words, that in the rapturous transports of adultery, she had murmured to her lover.  She did this to summon up her faith, but heaven never touched her soul with bliss….”

As for Charles, poor Charles so long deceived and yet so foolish it was hard to feel sympathy for him.  Maybe he was naive or maybe just blinded by love seeing only what he wanted to see.  Emma has such a hold over him that even at her demise when the whole sorry mess of her life was bared for all to see she continued to have a hold over him.

“To please her, as if she were still alive, he adopted her preferences, he bought himself patent leather boots and began wearing white cravats.  He waxed his moustaches, and, like her, signed his name to promissory notes.  She was corrupting him from beyond the grave”.

So this is the story of a woman who is never satisfied, always wants what she cannot have and consequently brings endless misery to herself and others.    Theres a lesson to learn there somewhere!

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  1. October 15, 2017 / 6:00 pm

    This is a lovely, concise review that gets to the heart of the story. Yet you do not reveal so much as to discourage a potential reader with spoilers. “Madame Bovary” was one of my late mother’s favorite stories. Mom saw in it a lesson about the weakness of human vanity.

      October 15, 2017 / 8:33 pm

      Thank you for reading and for the kind comment. Your Mom was absolutely right, a lesson about vanity and the consequences of that when left unchecked.

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