I am participating in my first read-along, hosted by Juliana @ Cedar Station and C.J. @ ebookclassics. We are reading Madame Bovary in three parts, Part One to be discussed today. Part Two will be discussed on April 20, and Part Three on April 30. If you head over to the master post, you can check out what everyone else has to say about it, too!
This is just a sampling of the covers for Madame Bovary. There are so many! The one I am reading is the first one.
I had no trouble at all getting into this book. It started by telling the story of young Charles, who is destined to grow up and marry Madame Bovary. He is not a striking boy; he’s quiet, follows the rules, and does what his mother tells him. Even when it came to his first marriage.
It was not enough, however, to have brought up a son, given him a medical training and then discovered Tostes for his practice. He must have a wife as well. She found him one: a bailiff’s widow from Dieppe, forty-five years of age, fifty pounds of income.
Charles had seen in marriage the promise of a happier lot, fancying that he would be free, free to do what he liked with himself and his money. But his wife was master.
The first Madame Bovary decided what they ate, what they wore, how they spoke in company, she opened his letters, listened in on his consultations, complained of her nerves, and required a lot of attention. She may not have been what Charles had in mind, but, luckily for him, she dies quite suddenly one day, and he was free to try again.
It wasn’t long before he fell in love with the daughter of one of his patients, and she, believing herself to be in love, agreed to marry him. I think, for her at the time, he represented a way out of her isolated farm life and into a bigger, more interesting one. From the very beginning, Charles was very happy and believed his wife to be equally so. But it wasn’t long before Emma (the new Madame Bovary) began to have her doubts.
Before the wedding, she had believed herself in love. But not having obtained the happiness that should have resulted from that love, she now fancied that she must have been mistaken. And Emma wondered exactly what was meant in life by the words ‘bliss’, ‘passion’, ‘ecstasy’, which had looked so beautiful in books.
I wonder how many of us are fooled by what we read in books? How do we translate all the happily-ever-afters and Cinderella stories into our real lives? Do they govern our choices, or are we aware that they are just stories that cannot be confused for the way life really works?
To make matters worse for Emma, Charles really was not a very interesting person. He was kind, patient, a good man, but he was boring. As well, her expectations of a man and his role in her life may have been a bit overblown, to say the least. And, once she made up her mind about how she felt about him, his own belief of her happiness made her hate him even more.
Charles’ conversation was as flat as a street pavement, on which everybody’s ideas trudged past, in their workaday dress, provoking no emotion, no laughter, no dreams.
Whereas a man, surely, should know everything; excel in a multitude of activities, introduce you to a passion in all its force, to life in all its grace, initiate you into all mysteries! But this one had nothing to teach; knew nothing, wanted nothing. He thought she was happy; and she hated him for that placid immobility, that stolid serenity of his, for that very happiness which she herself brought him.
And so began married life for Madame Bovary. Fallen out of love and bored with her life already. She wonders what life might have been like had she waited longer for a different man. She imagines the lovely lives her friends may be living. A recipe for disaster.
Whereas for her, life was cold as an attic facing north, and the silent spider boredom wove its web in all the shadowed corners of her heart.
And all the time, deep within her, she was waiting for something to happen.
To be fair to her, it would have been hard to be a woman back then, relying on men to make our lives more interesting. No wonder she is disappointed.
April 20: Madame Bovary, Part 2