Gustave Flaubert - Madame Bovary

2023-12-11 @Literature

Up to now, MB makes for the most challenging French prose that I’ve actually finished. After the initial read a capella, I then returned to each chapter accompanied by a YouTube reading of the novel to further reinforce the material and sonority. Select portions further reread. It’s of that caliber.

About a five to six week project. Fairly tractable prose, with only occasional segments frustrating the cadence and demanding unusually dense dictionary aid. Very peculiar vocabulary throughout the novel, although not a constant burden by any means.

[Irrelevant, but curious] Concerning the physical copy, I ended up with a fairly devastated binding, insofar that most of the pages loosened and detached from the spine once disturbed from their slumber. By the end, I was left with a stack of sheets superficially held together by a pretty cover.

This cost me nil, yet eased my experience: rather than wield the heavy paperback, I would extract only a handful of pages per session, which greatly facilitated the overall management, including the simultaneous note taking, the tablet interaction (for the subsequent YouTube session); beyond the lightweight factor.

Perhaps the above shall inspire some of you to tear out pages for your next heavy reading project. Moving on.

I see now the Don Quixote parallel: the romanticism, the disillusion, the ennui, the book obsession, the yearning for adventure, and more which I’ll spare, for I loathe the really lucid spoiler-esque commentary, however proverbial.

Homais, the apothecary, makes for the most interesting personage, straight out. I see him as the embodiment of facets comic, tragic, ambitious, political, hypocrite, opportunistic and cathartic. Certainly the funniest of the lot, and through which we also gain a lens into much of the 19th century development. There isn’t a domain unspotted by Homais.

Homais' war with the clergy makes for great humour. As well as his battery with the blind.

Speaking of hypocrisy, it’s not merely Homais, but among the predominant themes appertaining to nearly all characters.

Some of my favourite passages involve heavy polyphony and satire, ie the town livestock fair, the theatre chapter; or any of the Homais-heavy episodes, including his very introduction in II.1.

Like similarly picturesque novels, this one is not without ‘catalogues’: of authors, books, music, theatre … Although, no remote comparison to the extent surveyed within Don Quixote.

Madame Bovary is considered one of the key exponents of French 19th century realism. Flaubert, similar to Gogol in a way, seeks, although not without poetic decorum, to convey the ugly and the mundane in their severe minutiae.

But it makes for beautiful, poetic prose. And that considered that I can’t yet fully appreciate what I read, being the language a relatively recent development.

Though I can see how it can appear cliché under particular reading parameters. This is a very 19th-century Bourgeois reflection. These days, I wouldn’t entertain the same category of prose in English; save for, say, Dickens, in whose prose I also detect occasional commonality (imagery, atmosphere, varied third person narration). But as a French language development exercise, MB more than fits.

Some elements of the novel, if sufficiently scrupled, will invariably appear hyperbolic if not plain inverosimile. Ex: Charles' docility, Emma’s fatalité, Leureux’s ambition. I guess I encounter the such too often to seriously consider a flaw.

I think this is the first time I mention Emma Bovary, the novel’s protagonist, if you will (and that’s a big If). Considering the fairly transparent access to Emma’s thought, I can’t reconcile the total void with regard to her marriage acquiescence, or any subsequent meditation regarding potential redress. That is, I can’t imagine certain critical train of thought to not cross Emma’s mind.

Perhaps Flaubert made a conscious choice to leave certain 19th century implications of marriage, tradition, women of that class in general, purposely presupposed. Or perhaps it’s a premeditated semi transparent, semi opaque approach to narration. Anyway, that’s as far as I care to proceed.

Madame Bovary, abundant in social expression, imagery and triviality: not life altering by any means, juxtaposed next to some other of my readings, but of remarkably high quality.

Questions, comments? Connect.