Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (Part 3)

Everything, even herself, was now unbearable to her. She wished that, taking wing like a bird, she could fly somewhere, far away to regions of purity, and there grow young again.

Neither Charles nor the Viscount, Leon nor Rodolphe, her daughter, Berthe, nor the things she bought from Monsieur Lhereux, could bring joy to Madame Bovary. To the bitter end happiness eluded her. How tragic that Emma could not escape her discontent. She could not turn her choices around once made, and even those men who claimed to love her (Leon and Rodolphe) in the end did not.

Which in my mind, gives some redeeming grace to Charles. He may have been incompetent, he may have been foolishly deceived, but he always loved her. Always. Even though it was not reciprocated. No, Emma had to fall for idols, for unattainable wishes and dreams, for fulfillment which she never could quite grasp. How ironic that all the while Charles stood by worshipping her.

But the disparaging of those we love always alienates us from them to some extent. We must not touch our idols; the gilt sticks to our fingers.

A big thank you to Frances, who gathered us together to read this novel. For some of us, it may have been the first time. For others, it was a third or fourth reread. But, for all of us it was a joy to share in the experience together. I learned so much from all your posts, fellow read-along participants.

14 thoughts on “Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (Part 3)”

  1. I have to put my post up later but I have very mixed feelings about all the characters and what happened, its certainly a book that I could talk about for a long time.


  2. I like what you said about Charles very much. I was thinking that (except for Emma's father, with his turkeys) there isn't a likeable character in the book…but Charles, foolish as he is, is honorable. (I meant to come by sooner and say thank you for your kind comments on my blog…much appreciated!)


  3. I have really gotten into Charles; I never disliked him, but the more I read the more sympathy I had for him. His mediocrity seems more to be pitied than despised.


  4. You're much kinder to Charles than I was – I think what he loved was not Emma but the image of her he had built in his mind without ever bothering to get to know the woman herself…which makes him quite similar to her, actually. It's not like he acknowledged her failings and loved her despite them; incredibly, he believed she was some kind of angel until presented with undeniable proof.


  5. Madame Bovary has lingered in my mind since my initial reading years ago. Her character demonstrates the confirmation of small fantasies. All women can understand these small beginnings, because they are small, they are very dangerous, because they can so easily be overlooked in their infancy. We see the romantized fantasies hardening into disasterous choices. While Charles my be faulted for his fantasies (re: his wife) he remains true and consistent to them. Marriage often represents vastly different personalities; understanding the differences does not always help (as our 20C pop psych would have us believe) Some retention of fantasy may actually help a married committed couple. M2


  6. I'm somewhere between you and Emily on Charles, Bellezza. He clearly did love Emma, and yet I think he was just as clearly guilty of pie-in-the-sky hero(ine) worship of somebody who didn't deserve it or reciprocate–just like Emma but on a less destructive scale. Loved the novel, loved the readalong experience and group Frances assembled around her (another validation of the group read concept), and was fascinated by how Flaubert portrayed seriously troubled characters without demonizing them. Found this a very contemporary reading experience, in fact!


  7. I also think that as Emma fell for idols, Charles fell for one too in his wife. But I still felt for him and his core decency, and the way he mourns her in the end, ready to idealize his love for her until met with undeniable opposition to that path.Just loved the book and reading along with all of you!


  8. Jessica, it's so true. One could talk about this book for hours, and each person would give a fresh insight. I wish we could be together in the same room instead of confined to the limitations of 'on-line discussion'. Of course, we may all be interrupting each other from time to time, then. ;)Audrey, to me, Charles is honorable in his own way. At least compared to the bunch of other men, other than Emma's father.Nicole, what a great line: "his mediocrity is more to be pitied than despised." True enough, there is a blend of pity in with my sympathy for him.Emily, your comment intrigued me immediately. I've been stewing on it a couple of days now, turning it over in my mind. While I don't disagree with you, my response is this: How many of us truly know the person we love? Isn't what we love always either an embellishment, or an ignorance, of the true person? I don't think we can see one another clearly, or at least out of our own perspectives, and to me that's how Charles saw Emma. With his own limitations.


  9. Deslily, this isn't even one of my favorite covers, appealing as it is! It's great to have the newest translation, and especially one by Lydia Davis, in my hands, though. The edition I read was Barnes and Noble's, and fine as it may be, I anticipate a reread with Davis' work in a few months with joy. (Somehow, Emma never looked like the girl on the cover to me.)Anonymous, 'some retention of fantasy' may be helpful to marriage. It may also be destructive. At what point does one draw boundaries around the fantasy? At what point does acting on one's fantasies become detrimental to one's marriage? This is a hard line for me to draw; I'm almost of the opinion one must be focused on one's marriage to the exclusion of all else as it's so easy to become distracted by our inner desires.


  10. Richard, it's interesting to look at Charles with the same lens one examines Emma. In a way, they did have the same faults: they couldn't see each other clearly. As I responded to Emily, I wonder if any of us see anyone outside of ourselves, let alone someone we love, very clearly. Certainly, one could talk about these characters for ages and continually come up with new perspectives or insights. I'm so glad that you loved this novel as much as I did.Frances, you really picked a great novel for us to read and discuss. The posts have so enriched my reread of this novel. The Lydia Davis translation came yesterday (I'm so excited!) so thank you very much for getting that to me. Now I'm eagerly anticipating Dr. Zhivago…this is great fun.


  11. Yeah, Isabella, a blogger friend sympatico for Charles. ;)Frances, no need to be sorry one bit; it's a treasure to have, and I appreciate your gift as well as your hosting of this read.


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