Madame Bovary Madame Bovary discussion


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Madame Bovery Mental patient or heroine

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message 1: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael Wonderful book. It puts you into a position to take a stand. There are two visons to take.
1 Bovery is living in an unrealistic romantic idealism without any relationship to everyday reality. She is someone to make fun of or should be dianosised in DSM.
2 Bovery is authentic and cannot accept the bougois justications of life. Maybe she should sit down watch Oprah or be placed on psycho-tropics or join a support group. She makes unwise choices but she has now other way out of the maze.

But if you are caught beween these two views note the other characters in the drama and ask how she rates compared to them.


Scull17 I would compare Emma Bovary to women in our own consumer-driven society who suffer from shopaholism; women who are in a sense digging their own grave because they have lost all self-control over their finances. There is something terribly missing in Emma's life that she's desperately trying to fill by buying stuff she doesn't need; she does this non-stop, which creates a vicious cycle when the useless stuff she buys does not bring her the satisfaction she craves, but instead drives her to keep buying more stuff in order to mask her disappointments. Note of course that she's buying on credit which only exacerbates the problem.


message 3: by Michael (last edited Nov 12, 2010 07:53AM) (new) - added it

Michael You are taking the modern perspective. Note in the text that there are times that Emma attempts to find satisfaction with the world by attempting to accept the bougous justications. She just does not buy into lies she herself cannot come to believe. Should she as Hamias buy into the ideal of progress. Should we hold this against her because she acts out of passion and not out of self interest as say Hommis does. Note how Hommais receives the legion of honor at the end. He represents the ideals of the enlightment and the belief in progress. But look what his idea of progress did for the child's club foot. True her actions are irrational but what rational things should she do. As I said before she has no choice or in modern psycho-babble her answer is: join a support group,take medication, accept her unhappiness by seeking a religous justification by negating herself. Her satisfaction is impossible in a world ruled by the like of Hamais.
People today are objective, they look at others to see how their rationalizations seem to make sense. They put bovery in the mental instutions while patting themselves on the back. One stays safe by taking on this perspective. There may not be any alternatives as any one who acts out of the modern will be put on medication. Compare this to the "great Gatsby".


Scull17 I would argue that acting out of passion and acting out of self-interest are one and the same thing: passion serves the interest of the self; it benefits one's self.


Judy I see Madame Bovary's behavior as a result of her circumstances. If anyone has ever been in a situation where they had little contact with the outside world, they will know how easy it is to become self-absorbed. People who don't have the opportunity to bond with others feel empty and then look for ways to fill that emptiness. Madame Bovary's choice was "things" and affairs. Others make do (at least for a while) by pouring their passion into jobs, hobbies, travel, etc. Ultimately, I believe every person is seeking relationship, the happiest (and sanest) are those who are blessed with finding meaningful relationships.


message 6: by Judith (last edited Apr 09, 2011 12:52PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judith All good thoughts here. I enjoyed reading them.

Bovary was only forced to the extreme of suicide because of her times. In my opinion, in today's world, she would not only not be considered mentally ill but would have other ways out of her difficulties that would allow her to mature and mellow and, possibly, end up living a relatively contented life!

Of course, that was not a course Flaubert wanted to provide for his heroine -- even if he could have constructed a plausible one within the context of the story.


Lily Scull17 wrote: "I would argue that acting out of passion and acting out of self-interest are one and the same thing: passion serves the interest of the self; it benefits one's self."

I


Lily Scull17 wrote: "I would argue that acting out of passion and acting out of self-interest are one and the same thing: passion serves the interest of the self; it benefits one's self."

I would argue, sometimes, but certainly not always. Passion can get oneself into situations that aren't taking very good care of the self, at least in any fairly objective evaluation of self-interest.


Maggie Madame Bovary was a shallow romantic. She imagined her relationships would all be like in a cheap romantic novel. Her ideal world is the world of Harlequin. She is bound to be disappointed when she confronts reality, but then she is disappointed in life. The men she becomes involved with will find it easy to use her by complying with the romantic roleplaying she enacts with them, and then they will find it easy to throw her away.
Even Bovary"s suicide is an indictment of her silly romanticism. She sees suicide as a romantic gesture. The irony is in the absolutely unromantic reality. It feels like hell and it is gross and hideous. She doesn't just fall decorously to sleep. I think that Flaubert had no pity on her. To him she was trivial, unintelligent woman.


message 10: by Eric (new) - rated it 4 stars

Eric Jay Sonnenschein Of course, every word of your indictment is correct. But there is a bigger question here: why does Emma Bovary need to escape into her romantic fantasies? We often hear people say, "Get real!" or "Face reality!" and it often sounds like a slap in the face or a kick in the pants. Reality sounds harsh, like prison or death. It is rarely used in a warm and inviting context. What makes reality for Emma and for most people such a hard story to tell, listen to or participate in?

Maybe Flaubert was not as judgmental of Emma as you think. He probably identified with her to a large extent. After all, he was a grown man without professional standing or family obligations, compiling so much living data about ordinary people leading banal lives in a provincial town.

Yet, he could not help himself...writing was his escape. By imbuing this unheroic subject matter with meaning and detail and insight somehow he convinced himself that his own existence was worthwhile and interesting.

Isn't this the objective more or less of all writers and readers: to escape reality at least to the degree that we give it a meaning and nobility that it might not truly possess?


Judith I didn't find Flaubert sympathetic to any of his characters in this book. Doesn't that tell us that he was not judgmental of Madame Bovary....just presenting her realistically and objectively?


message 12: by Eric (last edited Apr 19, 2011 10:57AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Eric Jay Sonnenschein Flaubert may not have been sympathetic to the character but he was sympathetic to her condition. After all, Emma had a real problem. She was not reacting to nothing. Her husband was a dolt, the people around her were one-dimensional. How different was she, after all, than Anna Karenina?

For all we know, Gustave met a pretty woman at a party and asked himself hypothetically, "How does such a woman survive the tedium of life in this backwater and the imbescility of her husband?" Then he thought, "What would such a woman do if she emulated the heroines of dime store romances?" And he took it from there.

I will tell you this first-hand: as a writer, it is impossible to spend so much time and energy on a subject, or in this case a character, without having a passion for it/her/him. You invest so much of yourself and even if you don't "like" your character, you come to appreciate his/her problem because in it is your problem, as well. Otherwise, why would a writer write--simply to pass the time?

Perhaps this passion I am referring to differs from empathy with a character. As a reader, one tends to fall into the trap of considering a character as a person and the writer as someone who knows that person and is gossiping about him/her. No doubt, Flaubert was obsessed with the problem of Madame Bovary, ie. how to transcend the banality of everyday life such as he knew it, whether he cared about the character or not.

He found his own ticket out of the banality: to write about it in such a way that he did not fall into the trap of self-titillation. He convinced himself that by assuming an ironic distance he was somehow elevating his activity and transcending his environment in a way that Emma could not.


Judith I'm sure you are right!


message 14: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy Interesting viewpoint, Eric. Personally, I think Flaubert saw lots of "Emmas" in society and was trying to address the issue of a woman's banal life in general.


message 15: by Eric (new) - rated it 4 stars

Eric Jay Sonnenschein Can't argue with you there, Judith. As a bachelor living in a provincial town, he probably got invited to many dinner parties...a principal form of entertainment for the French. He probably met so many Emmas that he wrote Emma Bovary out of revenge against their class!


message 16: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy You might have something there, Eric, LOL!


message 17: by Eric (new) - rated it 4 stars

Eric Jay Sonnenschein Thanks. I was having fun. Not as much as Flaubert, perhaps, but I do the best I can. Fortunately, there are probably fewer Emma Bovarys around--no time, too much work and responsibility. That is what a room of one's own can do.


Maggie I'm getting back on Madame Bovary. I'm going to explain how I came to my conclusions. I took a class on Women in Literature, and we read Madame Bovary. The professor said that Flaubert was a pioneer in realism. He thought it was the only way to write. He said something to the effect that he could write a great book on a subject that was totally uninteresting. Something totally unimportant. And that was Madame Bovary. I'm sure you all noticed the cow imagery in the description of the townspeople, and that Bovary is close to the word bovine. To me that expresses contempt, although its very clever. I am not saying that Flaubert was not a great writer.
I personally see no sympathy in the book. He does not sympathize With Emma Bovary. And I don't think he thought about the plight of an intelligent and sensitive woman married to a dolt in hicksville. I don't think he had an ounce of feminism in his body. And I don't think he thought of realism in terms of "she can't face reality" Would he even know what that means? I don't know. I honestly don't know!


message 19: by Eric (last edited Apr 21, 2011 06:43PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Eric Jay Sonnenschein Who can say you're wrong? You make a very compelling case: Flaubert came along at a time when realism was the fashion: it was the 19th century version of reality TV. "Let's see how much of society we can put under our microscope," the writers thought. But unlike Zola, who really did have sympathy for his downtrodden characters and had some sort of political agenda, Flaubert may have simply used the characters who came to hand, in the same way that EO Wilson chose to study ants. Your remark about cows reminds me of a humorous painting I like that hangs in the MET: it's "The Innocent Eye Test" by Mark Tansey.


Diane Dooley Emma had a dull and boring life. No wonder she escaped into silly romantic fantasies. I find her fascinating, but I don't like her at all. She was rotten to her daughter.


TrumanCoyote I'm not a big fan of that scalpel approach to writing. It isn't being very honest, especially when you claim to be writing realism.


message 22: by Julie (last edited May 18, 2011 03:33AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Julie Wake Madame is one of the greatest novels ever written,and it is incredible that it was written so long ago.
I think the fact that there is so much discussion about the kind of person Emma Bovary was is a sign of how well written it is.
The style of writing is of its time - another author who writes in the same realistic style is Emile Zola. He also refuses to romanticise characters.
I can't make up my mind about her character, but in some respects she is a bit like Anna Karenina, trying to live life outstaide the constraints of their time.
(There see - something for people to discuss!)


message 23: by Eric (new) - rated it 4 stars

Eric Jay Sonnenschein Your first statement is dubious. We discuss Madame bovary because it is a topic of discussion and we are all on Good Reads, a social network dedicated to this sort of thing. There are also discussions about many other books.


Julie Wake I don't understand your comment. Why is my comment dubious?
What I meant was that in a lot of respects the style and the content is modern


message 25: by Eric (new) - rated it 4 stars

Eric Jay Sonnenschein Oh, I'm sorry. I just disagreed with your statement that the amount of discussion about the character of Emma indicates the quality of the writing. People can talk endlessly about any number of things, whether they're well written or not. And in the case of Madame Bovary, many people have been forced to read it in school. What you did was argue backward, eg. It is good because we talk about it. This makes even less sense than "We talk about it because it is good." I didn't mean to offend you, I just didn't agree with your reasoning.


Julie Wake Eric wrote: "Oh, I'm sorry. I just disagreed with your statement that the amount of discussion about the character of Emma indicates the quality of the writing. People can talk endlessly about any number of t..."

Oh I see. That isn't actually what I meant. What I meant was the book seemed somewhat in some respects because of the way it was written. The language seemed very modern and some of the themes were also more contemporary with this day and age.


message 27: by Eric (last edited May 19, 2011 09:55AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Eric Jay Sonnenschein Oh, that's okay.

I guess I get impatient sometimes with the kind of discussion that goes, "I don't like the book."
"Oh? Well, it's a great book because people are still talking about it." "I still don't like the book. I think it's boring..."

My point is that what we like in literature is often due to a subtle form of brainwashing. Teachers we look up to tell us that a book is great. So we give it our attention. We try to like it because we want to please our teacher and seem smart.

There is a good short personal essay by Langston Hughes titled "Salvation." It deals with the theme of peer pressure in a funny and poignant way, although the subject is not a literature class but a religous revival meeting.

Cheers,

Eric


message 28: by Eric (new) - rated it 4 stars

Eric Jay Sonnenschein The limitations of life on a free spirit is one of literature's essential conflicts. In a sense, Emma Bovary is a distant relative of Don Quixote. He, too, attempts to transfigure his banal surroundings into a glittering romance. She has love trysts in a coach; he tilts with a windmill. In the end, neither can transcend their mortal fate.


message 29: by Carol (new)

Carol I feel Madame Bovary is a new bride, continually let down by men. Men can be a great disappointment in life.
One grows up with dreams of feeling wanted, respected and part of a relationship and then marry and are truly disappointed.


Chris NOPE I DISAGREE with carol: I see Emma Bovary is a hopeless romantic she dreams about her prince charming and getaway etc... but what she doesn't know is what happens in books doesn't happen in real life and here is the irony of Flaubert! To critique her vision of life by describing her life as opposite to her dreams. ( The irony is seen also in the society and Charles and the education in the convent...)


message 31: by Christos (last edited May 26, 2011 12:45AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Christos Tsotsos Judith wrote: "I didn't find Flaubert sympathetic to any of his characters in this book."

You really think so? Yeah i agree with you there.

I found Flaubert to be frustrated with human stupidity and somehow his characters display attributes of ...idiocy.


message 32: by Christos (last edited May 26, 2011 12:51AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Christos Tsotsos Carol wrote: "I feel Madame Bovary is a new bride, continually let down by men. Men can be a great disappointment in life.
One grows up with dreams of feeling wanted, respected and part of a relationship and th..."


I am not so certain. She was let down by her own expectations. She married her first fling just to get out of boring life and walked into another boring life. It was not men who were a great disspointment in life but life itself, men were included in the package.

I think Flaubert was sympathetic to one thing, how terrible the life of women were in these days, they were expected to be something and no one really paid attention to their needs.


message 33: by Manugw (last edited Jun 04, 2011 02:00PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Manugw Madame Bovary openly expresses woman sexual desires and needs at a time when they were supposed to repress and conceal them.


Richard Palmer To me, it was pretty straightforward. It was a rich, well-told story with deep characterization. Charles and Emma were both tragic in their own ways. Each had an ideal image of life and marriage. Neither found that ideal and in the end, both were destroyed. What I enjoyed was simply that the writing drew me in and aroused my sympathies for both characters. I must admit that I kept looking for some later connection to the opening scene. I was also a bit let down by the ending. The drama just trailed off into the dust and the family's history was no more.

Was Emma a heroine or a mental patient? Neither, simply a complex and human character whose motivations and reactions many people might identify with, at least in part.


message 35: by Carol (new)

Carol Well put, Richard.


Manugw Yes, in fact Charles was a good husband and thought that he was making her happy. Maybe she could not find a way to express her emotional and sexual needs to him. None of the characters are good or evil

Richard wrote: "To me, it was pretty straightforward. It was a rich, well-told story with deep characterization. Charles and Emma were both tragic in their own ways. Each had an ideal image of life and marriage..."


Ellen Emma Bovery is the most self-absorbed narcissist living in a pretend world I have ever encountered. She cared only about herself, her feelings, and what everybody should be doing for her. She is completely unempathic to other's problems. I applauded her demise. And she was a compulsive liar. He husband adored her but she never appreciated how well she had it. She ruined the lives of many while still wondering why her dreams weren't realized. I wanted to slap her face too may times!

There I feel better now :-)


message 38: by Marija (last edited Jul 05, 2011 01:26PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marija I always felt deeply sorry for Emma for being born into a world that didn't have much options for women in general and she had the bad luck of being a little bit spoiled and having a whole lot of imagination. So who doesn't want to have a happy romantic life full of riches and fun. She did take it to an extreme though I do admit. But I can't blame her for her actions, she must have been bored to the bone. Married to a man who was unattractive to her, his personality didn't appeal to her in any way, she just couldn't love him. And as sure as hell she couldn't have divorced him. It is no wonder she didn't love her daughter (that doesn't excuse the way she treated her but it does provide a good insight), she wanted to have some crazy fun and she ended up with a kid, a boring husband and no perspective whatsoever. I'd cheat on him like crazy too, truth be told. Heck, I'd find a rich lover and leave Charles forever. Yes she was shallow in many many ways, spoiled and so on but still I pity her because her expectations and what she got in reality were so painfully different from each other. If she were a bit smarter and chose her cards differently and allowed herself to mentally mature a bit she might have ended up completely different. And I have to point out that all throughout the book she is alone. She has no one close to understand and comfort her, to help her achieve her goal and to guide her in any way, little wonder she roamed around her whole life like a fly without a head.


message 39: by Çili (new) - added it

Çili         Ema Bovari is a victim of herself,a victim of her dreams.She lived in a world that did not belong.
We shouldn't dive in our dreams and forget the reality.
Ema Bovari was not a heroine.


Maggie Bravo, Cili. I agree with you completely.


Robin She was caught up in the outer appearances of things. She elaborated everything, and she couldn't see that she was just suffering from lack of excitement in her life. She had a husband and a daughter, but that was never enough for her. From her meagre existence she thought being a doctor's wife would afford her esteem and the finer things in life.


Scott I think Emma was somewhat delusional, somewhat like Don Quixote, taking too literally the fantasies presented in the novels she read. She had an emptiness inside her that she tried to fill with fancy things and secret affairs.

I agree with Mario Vargas Llosa: "In 'Madame Bovary,' we see the first signs of alienation that a century later will take hold of men and women in industrial societies (the women above all, owing to the life they are obliged to live): consumption as an outlet for anxiety, the attempt to people with objects the emptiness that modern life has made a permanent feature of the existence of the individual. Emma's drama is the gap between illusion and reality, the distance between desire and its fulfillment. On two occasions she is persuaded that adultery can give her the splendid life that her imagination strains toward, and both times she is left feeling 'bitterly disappointed.'"


message 43: by Ruth (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ruth I really think that Emma was caught in the social restraints she was living in, in particular to the expectations placed on women at that time.

Essentially, she was the property of her father who was fairly keen to marry her off. She married a guy that seemed to be ok at the time but ultimately dissatisfying in the end. He loves her but doesn't seem to engage with her and holds her up as some sort of angel on a pedestal.

She had no real outlet or opportunity to find what her passion other than the men she gets involved with and the shopping for pretty things that she does.

This not to say that what she did was just justified and she does act horribly throughout the book. I wonder if she had been born in a more liberated time, whether or not she would have become the same self-involved and materialistic person?


message 44: by Dinah (new) - rated it 1 star

Dinah "Emma Bovery is the most self-absorbed narcissist living in a pretend world I have ever encountered. She cared only about herself, her feelings, and what everybody should be doing for her. She is completely unempathic to other's problems."
I agree with this completely. Nothing could satisfy her needs. The men in her life could not satisfy her. Some used her, some were used by her. Her husband genuinely cared for her and wanted to give her what she wanted which is why he moved his practice. But she always wanted more than he was capable of delivering.
Her death was probably for the best of all those around her, especially her daughter.
I was left with the impression that the author was saying all women can be compared to her. It was like he was saying women are silly and frivolous.
I ended up not liking this book at all.


message 45: by Dinah (new) - rated it 1 star

Dinah Actually, I have known women in today's time that have been just as narcissistic. They make themselves and all around them miserable.
I do not see Emma as a woman who is trapped by the confines of her era. I see her as a woman who manipulates all around her for the sake of manipulating them.


Ellen Dinah wrote: "Actually, I have known women in today's time that have been just as narcissistic. They make themselves and all around them miserable.
I do not see Emma as a woman who is trapped by the confines..."


Here! Here!


Julie Wake Ellen wrote: "Dinah wrote: "Actually, I have known women in today's time that have been just as narcissistic. They make themselves and all around them miserable.
I do not see Emma as a woman who is trapped by..."


Ellen wrote: "Dinah wrote: "Actually, I have known women in today's time that have been just as narcissistic. They make themselves and all around them miserable.
I do not see Emma as a woman who is trapped by..."


Ellen wrote: "Dinah wrote: "Actually, I have known women in today's time that have been just as narcissistic. They make themselves and all around them miserable.
I do not see Emma as a woman who is trapped by..."


Judith wrote: "I didn't find Flaubert sympathetic to any of his characters in this book. Doesn't that tell us that he was not judgmental of Madame Bovary....just presenting her realistically and objectively?"

Judith wrote: "I didn't find Flaubert sympathetic to any of his characters in this book. Doesn't that tell us that he was not judgmental of Madame Bovary....just presenting her realistically and objectively?"


Julie Wake Ellen wrote: "Dinah wrote: "Actually, I have known women in today's time that have been just as narcissistic. They make themselves and all around them miserable.
I do not see Emma as a woman who is trapped by..."


Of course Flaubert showed little sympathy for Madame Bovary, but he was typical of the writers in France of that time. Zola was also very "realistic" in his portrayal of the mores of the times.

Also, I think we have to bear in mind that Emma was not born in today's times. Yes she was a silly romantic and extremely unfair to her husband, who was, although quite a boring man, a good man, but she had very few options in her life, unlike today's women.


message 49: by Agneta (last edited Aug 11, 2011 10:55AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Agneta Jakab Madame Bovary is not a heroine, but neither is she a mental patient.
She's just a young, smart woman trapped into a marriage that doesn't satisfies her unrealistic expectations.

Stubborn, she refuses to adapt the provincial life she was given to live and lives into her own fantasy world, which of course brings unhappiness.

We could see her as a heroine, because she tries to fulfill her dreams, she's strong and indifferent until the end when she crahses into pieces and joins the dead.

If we really want to see her as a mental patient we would say she suffered from a bipolar disorder, being a saint and a sinner at the same time. She was also really focused on herself, not being able to love anyone else

It's almost like there were two souls living in her body.In the body of a beautiful and misterious woman, which remains one of my heroes despite her flaws.


message 50: by Scott (last edited Aug 11, 2011 07:29PM) (new) - added it

Scott Smithson I find Emma Bovary to be about as sympathetic as any vapid, self absorbed woman bored with life. Actually, I found the novel to be uninentionally funny. Maybe I just have a nose for camp, but I actually laughed out loud when she, in a fit of spoiled rage decides to buy herself a blue cashmere gown, a silk scarf, and pull the shades while wearing them. Pouting. This is not behavior to be pitied.

I also think comparisons to Anna K are inevtiable. Here, for me, the superficial ones are obvious... woman has affair with man, it doesn't work out, death occurs. It's the differences that count.

Flaubert accomplished in sparkly clear prose a lovely illusion of disinterest. Tolstoy accomplished in many words endless descriptions of work in a field. Tolstoy fell in love with Anna. He was also obsessively concerned with the moral judgment of the situation of a fallen woman, emphasis on the 'fallen', emphasis on the preachy condemnation, emphasis on Tolstoy's ideals.

Anna was bad, even though she was far less ditsy than Emma. Tolstoy wanted you to learn the lesson he specifically was trying to teach.

Flaubert had a moral imperative too, but leaves it up to the reader to decide. He at least makes an effort to be impartial, something that really isn't possibly, but the effort is there.

And, besides, the next time someone asks you to ride around a carriage in Rouen... try, try just a little to protest 'too much'. I still think Madame Bovary should be performed only by drag queens.


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