Oh, Madame Bovary – you and your ennui. I could not care less… but still I cannot help but admire this book.
Madame Bovary is the kind of story that is not up my street at all. I find most romance quite dull, and stories about unhappy marriage and the escapism from it seem even more boring to me. But I decided since I had read Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina as well as Theodor Fontane’s Effi Briest, I might just as well complete the canon of the greatest 19th century adultery novels for sake of comparison.
Now, Gustave Flaubert – what can I say, this man does understand the beauty of language. This fortunately also clearly shines through in translation. The writing is what I enjoyed most about the read.
But oh, the plot! And the characters! They are so frustrating for me to read about. A part of me truly despises the ungrateful Emma Bovary, constantly bored because of her unreasonable lack of realism, her frankly not only mediocre but quite pathetic husband Charles, Emma’s opportunist lovers and all those proud yet uninteresting villagers surrounding them. Same with the plot: why should I care about the kind of story that I normally could not care less about? Why should I enjoy following characters I do not even like? Is language and writing style, however beautiful, really enough to save this work for me?
Yes, it is. The reason I did not throw this is the corner is because of Flaubert’s ability to be humorous about and at the same time antagonizing you to all these incredibly ridiculous characters he creates. He leaves you standing with no one’s side to be on, no one can be taken truly serious. Are the ‘immoral’ fallen characters who stray from the norm not better than the boring and passive conventionalists (those who also attacked this novel when it was first published)? But can you really side with people like that? Also, can you blame them for being the way they are? Who are you to judge?
It is hard or even impossible for me to see through Flaubert’s intentions even though he himself said: “Madame Bovary, c’est moi”. This is far more complex than an idealization of a female literary self. This is realism and the romantic in an inconclusive battle, exalting the ideal while still criticising it. A novel so wonderfully and cleverly written is one I cannot completely dismiss because of its choice of subject. It is truly worthy of being called a classic and a masterpiece.