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Archived Group Reads 2011 > Madame Bovary Book 2 Chapter 1 - Chapter 8

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Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) For discussion of these chapters


message 2: by Susan Margaret (new)

Susan Margaret (susanmargaretg) While reading chapter 8, part 2, I had several laugh out loud moments. It was quite funny to hear Rodolphe court Emma while at the same time we hear snippets of the orator's speech in the background. My favorite is the part when  Rodolphe says to Emma: "A hundred times I wished to go; and I followed you—I remained." and immediately you hear the word manures spoken by the orator. Another line that gave me a chuckle is when Emma replies to Rodolphe: "Oh, no! I shall be something in your thought, in your life, shall I not?" the orator then says "Porcine race; prizes—equal,". Rodolphe is indeed a swine. 


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) Randolphe is a swine, certainly. He is one of those men who prey on women who are bored and unhappy. He knowingly provides the "thrill" that Emma is missing in her life. In seducing her, he consumes her spirit and all sense of propriety is gone within her character. While Emma surely is a willing participant, Randolphe seizes the opportunity and uses Emma as he claims his undying love for her. She buys it hook, line, and sinker.


message 4: by Jamie (new)

Jamie  (jaymers8413) Yes I agree he is swine. You see this more later in this section.


message 5: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 1290 comments Jamie wrote: "Yes I agree he is swine. You see this more later in this section."

I have wondered why Flaubert portrayed him as such.


message 6: by Jamie (last edited Jul 06, 2011 09:37PM) (new)

Jamie  (jaymers8413) Lily wrote: "Jamie wrote: "Yes I agree he is swine. You see this more later in this section."

I have wondered why Flaubert portrayed him as such."


I think it shows how Emma holds on to her fantasies and dream of a more exciting life and because of this she does not see Randolphe for who he is.


message 7: by Alex (new)

Alex It's sortof inevitable that she'd run into someone like Rodolphe, isn't it? She's hot, she's unhappy in her marriage, she's a romantic...it's only a matter of time before someone preys on her.


message 8: by Linda (last edited Jul 11, 2011 01:50PM) (new)

Linda (lindauhc) | 25 comments You're absolutely right. Rodolphe is a meant-to-be character in Emma's life. The perfect rogue. He is such a wonderful cad. He is just too good (bad) not to use. However, Berthe, (Emma's daughter) has a few tricks up her sleeve as well.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) I wonder if anyone thinks that Emma deserved someone of Rodolphe's character? He is an opportunist for sure, certainly a character one loves to hate.


message 10: by Jamie (new)

Jamie  (jaymers8413) Marialyce wrote: "I wonder if anyone thinks that Emma deserved someone of Rodolphe's character? He is an opportunist for sure, certainly a character one loves to hate."

I wouldn't say Emma deserved to know someone like Rodolphe but that she didn't not deserve him. If she were given opportunities to make her life better or more pleasurable I think she would use someone also.


message 11: by Alex (new)

Alex Ah, well said Jamie. I was struggling with how to answer the word "deserve," because I so want to defend Emma (for some perverse reason). Yeah: she didn't not deserve him.


message 12: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments I like how the story gradually builds to this part though. Because first we have Leon. I have been thinking about the contrasts between Leon and Rodolphe.


message 13: by Bea (new)

Bea | 233 comments It's pretty clear that Emma would have had a love affair with Leon. Leon, in his youth and inexperience, put her on a pedestal and could not believe that anyone so lovely and virtuous could possibly be in love with him.

All this time Emma is burning with desire for Leon and hatred for Charles. By the way, I think Emma's conversation with the curé about her troubles is classic.

So Emma is ripe for the picking when Rodolphe shows up and he reads her like a book within about 10 minutes of meeting her.

"While he [Charles] trots off to his patients, she stays home darning socks. And we're bored! We'd like to live in the city, dance the polka every night! Poor little woman! That one's gasping for love like a carp for water on a kitchen table." (I love that metaphor of the carp.)

Don't get me wrong, I think Rodolphe is an absolute cad.

I've already finished listening to the audiobook and am now reading it at the same pace as the group. I am just now developing some sympathy for Emma despite her shallowness, materialism, and delusions. She is so deeply bored and unhappy. We modern women have our work and our children and homes to look after. Emma, with her servants, has nothing productive to do so she naturally broods and seeks some excitement.


message 14: by Susan Margaret (new)

Susan Margaret (susanmargaretg) There is an old proverb:  Idleness is the beginning of all vices. However in Emma's case, even though she attempted, for a brief period, to busy herself with attentions to the household and Charles, her mind turned toward lust and greed. Apparently,  she wasn't busy enough. 

I think Emma's conscience told her she was heading down the wrong path, as is evidenced by her visit to the cure. Unfortunately the cure was too dense and self absorbed to realize that Emma was seeking a confession. She tried, but once again, not hard enough.




message 15: by Linda (last edited Jul 11, 2011 01:51PM) (new)

Linda (lindauhc) | 25 comments Seeuuder wrote: "There is an old proverb:  Idleness is the beginning of all vices. However in Emma's case, even though she attempted, for a brief period, to busy herself with attentions to the household and Charl..."

Bea wrote: "It's pretty clear that Emma would have had a love affair with Leon. Leon, in his youth and inexperience, put her on a pedestal and could not believe that anyone so lovely and virtuous could possibl..."

Bea, I too felt terribly sorry for Emma. But when I re=read the book years later I thought about poor Berthe, her daughter.


message 16: by Linda (new)

Linda (lindauhc) | 25 comments I actually preferred Rodolphe to Leon. I thought Leon really abandoned Emma in much more cadish way. Also, you always knew Rodolphe was a cad. He didn't pretend otherwise. Where is Leon seemed to be somewhat decent which made his betrayal all the worse.


message 17: by SarahC (last edited Jul 10, 2011 04:31PM) (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments Hi, just two important notes -- a reminder that spoilers for this section only may appear here. Linda, please edit your message #16 to remedy this in regards to Leon.

Additionally, the book discussion threads are not available for self-promotion, I'm very sorry. Congratulations on the publication -- what an achievement! Linda, please feel free to place a separate thread in the general chat folder announcing news about your book. Members can respond to you there if they wish to ask about the book.

We must maintain this thread for Flaubert only.


message 18: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments This first section of Book Two really begins to define Emma for me. Her introduction to the admiring Leon, the birth of a daughter, and the settling in at Yonville seem important marks. Emma admits her wish to have a male child, which would have been "revenge for the powerlessness of the past." She wants more control of her life, and not the life of the middle class woman.

Her relationship with Leon seems to bring her unconventional ideas to the surface. "There is always the desire urging, always the convention restraining." She becomes more bold -- she leans out the window many times not completely dressed. She sends him the carpet to his room - interpreted by M. Hamaise as "favours."

Her lust, rage, and hatred becomes fully realized. Mainly her irrational hatred of Charles for not understanding that these things are going on inside of her -- and so the feelings perpetuate within her.

And the lastly, the physical act of pushing her baby daughter down and telling her to "leave me alone," showing her detachment from motherly feelings amidst all this.


message 19: by Alex (last edited Jul 11, 2011 08:31AM) (new)

Alex Yeah, Emma is not going to win any mother of the year awards.

This is when I start to wonder exactly how much the town knows about her indiscretions, too. Minor spoiler, if anything: (view spoiler)


message 20: by SarahC (last edited Jul 12, 2011 01:29PM) (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments I just think it is interesting how the story makes shifts -- I don't exactly know what to call them. They aren't just shifts of viewpoint, they are shifts of emotion maybe. First Charles marries and betrays Heloise. Then we find Heloise betrays Charles by claiming she had wealth. Then Emma betrays Charles by her affections toward Leon.

Then the story shifts and we see more Leon's vulnerability and his decision to leave Yonville. And by Chap 7, Emma is abandoning Leon -- "the flames were subsiding," and "love was gradually dimmed by absence..." Her only sorrow, instead of being for Leon's departure, is that of how much more unhappy she viewed her life. Not from losing her lover, but just from how stinking her life was to begin with.

And then immediately "Any woman who had imposed such sacrifices on herself could be permitted a few fancies" and then she starts buying things. ugh! I understand that this is a being who leads a claustrophobic life, confined by convention, but does this neverending self-absorption need follow?

Is Flaubert portraying Emma as both the problem and the victim of middle class society at the same time? I can't keep from thinking back on the characters of Henry James in Portrait of a Lady that we just discussed. I felt the same with them -- understanding their pain at one moment and simply being frustrated with them at the next moment.


message 21: by Susan Margaret (new)

Susan Margaret (susanmargaretg) SarahC wrote: "I just think it is interesting how the story makes shifts -- I don't exactly know what to call them. They aren't just shifts of viewpoint, they are shifts of emotion maybe. First Charles marries an..."

As to whether Emma is a victim and/or part of the problem with middle class society, that is a tough question! I definitely see Emma as a victim. She lives in a male dominated society, resides in the province, and to make matters worse she belongs to the bourgeois. Her life was destined to be dull if she behaved in a manner that was expected of her.  Emma's options in life were very limited. I know Flaubert had a strong dislike for the bourgeois and he thought they were stupid and boring.  Emma thought the same of Charles, so  if she believed herself above the ignorant and mundane of the middle class, she became the problem. The bourgeois created Emma because Emma could not conform to the bourgeois. 

Once again, good question Sarah, I am interested to see what others think. 


message 22: by Anna (new)

Anna | 30 comments When I got to the end of Part 1 I felt very ambivalent about this book and wondered if I'd stay the course. Now I'm at the end of Part 2 and completely hooked.

Emmas's character is fleshed out alot more and we get to see the real Emma. Of course, she's not all bad but the part in the book where she pushes over her daughter does alot to tell us what Emma is like. However, I feel sorry for her up to a point and I wonder if Flaubert intended us to 'like' Emma? There are so many occasions when she fairly unlikeable.

I feel very sorry for Charles but then he does seem a bit oblivious to all that is going on around him. I wonder how much he wants to see? He wouldn't be the first person to turn a blind eye in the name of a quiet life.


message 23: by Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) (last edited Jul 13, 2011 05:59AM) (new)

Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) I read that Flaubert said when asked about who was Emma, he replied "Madame Bovary, c'est moi." I think this famous quote fits in ever so welll with what you said about Flaubert expressing his contempt for the bourgeois, Seeunder.

The change of tone I think comes with the narrators. We first meet in Chapter 1, a first person narrator who we never know about really other than that he was a classmate of Charles. He is like a nameless, faceless entity who we never get to meet really. After that, we get a third person omniscient narrator who again seems to know everything about Charles and Emma. It seems as if both narrators are living and seeing their interactions daily and at all moments.(somewhat like a fly on the wall) Flaubert explores Emma's character with a psychological flair, and opens her up to us the reader so that we can be both knowing that she is faulted and yet feeling her pain and anguish.

There are many of us like Emma in the fact that we always seem to be looking for things we can never attain. Perhaps that is where the sympathetic part comes in, while our realistic natures tell us that she deserves everything she gets.


message 24: by Alex (last edited Jul 13, 2011 06:28AM) (new)

Alex I read essays about Bovary by Jack Murnighan and the far-superior Jane Smiley last night, and it struck me - especially when combined with comments from y'all - that there's no consensus whatsoever on what Madame Bovary is. Whether it's possible to feel sympathy for Emma; whether Flaubert meant for us to; whether he did himself; whether the book itself is brilliant or intolerable: no one can agree. Maybe that's part of why it's had such enduring appeal?


message 25: by Linda (new)

Linda (lindauhc) | 25 comments Having just finished Portrait of a Lady I can't help but compare Emma with Isabel. Talk about absence of loyalty in one (Emma) and excess of it in another (Isabel). But back to Emma and "buying things". No one loved "things" more than Emma. Clearly they were meant to fill a large hole in her sense of well-being. Unfortunately, her need to acquire the materialistic went beyond just a minor character flaw. Her spendthrift ways destroyed the entire family. Compulsive shopping takes on a new meaning. I also think Flaubert himself was enamoured of elegant items.


message 26: by [deleted user] (new)

I can't help drawing modern parallels with this book! If anything, society has only gotten more materialistic and very hard to satisfy. More and more things are invented to help us do less work and be "happier" - but somehow the hole grows bigger and bigger.

I'm going crazy for Flaubert's use of metaphor. It still is fresh here in 2011! Bea mentioned the one like the carp on the table - isn't that fantastic?! I can barely catch my breath from the vivid, desperate picture it paints in my head.

Marialyce asks "I wonder if anyone thinks that Emma deserved someone of Rodolphe's character?

I too don't know if deserved is the right word, but it does seem that the Madame Bovary type is the exact perfect victim for such a villain! She seems blinded by her wants and vanity and rage to his character. But as I said last time - aren't we all? Don't we all have our wants, vanity and rage? Isn't that part of the human condition? I still refuse to damn any of the characters, and not feel like a hypocrite. I can't believe that Flaubert, a man that had his own vices, did not feel that we are imperfect.

I did feel very sad when she pushed away her daughter. She seems such an unconnected mother. The society encouraged that, too, though, didn't it? Mothers of a certain means did not feed their children themselves, but put them out to nurse. How could that encourage a bond? I think there are parallels in our own culture with breastfeeding vs. bottle, work vs. stay at home, etc.

Loving this book!


message 27: by SarahC (last edited Jul 14, 2011 09:01AM) (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments Linda wrote: "Having just finished Portrait of a Lady I can't help but compare Emma with Isabel. Talk about absence of loyalty in one (Emma) and excess of it in another (Isabel). But back to Emma and "buying th..."

I can see that Flaubert probably was writing about things that were his own temptations -- that is a very good point. And maybe that is why the story seems hard to pin down to me (as Alex says, there is no consensus). That is a good thing to think about as I continue through the reading.

I am really impacted by reading about Emma's materialism. We can so largely identify with that today. And even when we can fight against this urge within ourselves, we live in such an age where materialism is promoted, and has been for decades. That is very identifiable in Emma -- trying to purchase happiness. I agree Jacqueline!


message 28: by SarahC (last edited Jul 14, 2011 09:09AM) (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments Jacqueline wrote: "I can't help drawing modern parallels with this book! If anything, society has only gotten more materialistic and very hard to satisfy. More and more things are invented to help us do less work an..."

Also, Jacqueline, I make more comments in the next discussion section as to why I am not really seeing Rodolphe as a villain either :)

The system of leaving the infant in another household had gone on for a long time in Europe I think, had it not? Yes, think how unusual for us today. I wonder if that was status-oriented. Were they simulating a more upper class who would have brought a wet-nurse into the household to tend to the infant?

Jacqueline, that is another mixed picture of Emma we must work out maybe? -- was her detachment from the baby due to her own inner nature and character, or had Emma not been able to form an emotional bond due to her middle class confines?


message 29: by [deleted user] (new)

Linda wrote: "Having just finished Portrait of a Lady I can't help but compare Emma with Isabel.

Linda, that's interesting! - I'm reading this at the same time as To the Lighthouse, and I can't help but compare Emma Bovary and Mrs. Ramsay. Two very different women, two very different... lifestyles shall we say, two very different sorts of "holes" in their lives, but holes nevertheless. It's neat to be reading books around the same time with two iconic women at their center, and I bet you were feeling a bit similarly!


message 30: by [deleted user] (new)

SarahC wrote: Jacqueline, that is another mixed picture of Emma we must work out maybe? -- was her detachment from the baby due to her own inner nature and character, or had Emma not been able to form an emotional bond due to her middle class confines?

I think it's both :) I remember my mother telling me that she did not breastfeed me because the doctor said that the bottle was better, and all of her friends did not breastfeed. It was looked down upon as ruining your figure. This was in 1969, the height of the counterculture where people were giving birth at home with midwives and breastfeeding for years! My mom is a vain one, and also fearful. I could totally see her buying into what the doctors (authority figure!) and friends (vanity!) were telling her instead of exploring what was going on in the counterculture because of her nature.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) I thought her detachment hinged on the fact that the baby was Charles child and when she saw the child, she saw Charles who she has come to despise.

She was very vain as well, so the fact that the child made her look differently and ruined her figure does play into that as well. She does remind me here a bit of Scarlett in Gone With the Wind, always looking for the things she can't have.


message 32: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments I think she did have some of those feelings, Marialyce: baby=Charles -- but she waffles in the next section of the reading to some extent, so it seems like she has a lot more going on mentally about the child too. I love that you brought in another famous lit figure -- Scarlett -- and she seems another who is a confusing mix of things -- childish, spoiled, brave, conflicted in her love life -- good comparison I think.

Jacqueline, when I had a child, I did some research on the history of infant care, if I can call it that. Through a large middle era of the 20th century our poor mothers bought a lot of nonsense from medical authorities on how babies should be cared for, and yes, mainly, fed. I am glad we are so much more in a "mother's choice" mode now. My mother and mother-in-law were both fascinated by breastfeeding my child, because they had been told in their day that it wrong to do it. I know my MIL kept being concerned because, doing it the natural way, you couldn't measure it. Apparently measuring had been a big part of her doctor's instructions back then.

So I think that is a good example, Jac., because some of us say during that 20th century era, childbirth was made less a natural process and more a medical procedure. So during Emma Bovary's day, maybe infant care was made more into a social decision rather than a parental/nuturing decision.


message 33: by Susan Margaret (new)

Susan Margaret (susanmargaretg) I recently purchased a book titled English society in the 18th Century by Roy Porter. Here is an interesting passage about childcare: "Having brought an infant into the world, the early-eighteenth-century lady's duty to it was largely discharged, for affluent families hired attendants, wet-nurses and nurse-maids, and later governesses, tutors, singing teachers and dancing masters. Women of quality traditionally had little to do with day-to-day childrearing, for adults were not meant to be interested in childish things. Relations between parents and children were expected to be formal - we would find them distant. Even in happy families respect was more visible than affection. With child mortality high, avoiding excessive attachment to one's offspring may have served as an emotional defense mechanism." However, I still think Emma pushing her child was downright mean!


message 34: by Alex (last edited Jul 14, 2011 09:10PM) (new)

Alex Great quote and point, Seeuuder. And I agree: even in that context - and especially since she was upper-middle-class at best anyway - Emma was a crap mom.


message 35: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1424 comments Thanks for that info, Seeuuder. Yes, you'd think even the indifferent parent would know that the very young child would not understand "leave me alone" or "go away" -- gosh, little kids always want to be in the room with you -- and would not have pushed her. Emma is operating in her own special bubble of decision-making!


message 36: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 1290 comments Jacqueline wrote: "I think there are parallels in our own culture with breastfeeding vs. bottle, work vs. stay at home, etc...."

LOL or at least a deep smile! I happen to belong to that camp of women who believe dear Emma might have been able to have been a better mother if she had also been permitted a useful role in society through work.


message 37: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments One thing those who know French culture of the time could perhaps explain to me (and maybe one or two others don't understand it, either). What exactly was the role of the notary? In this country, all the notary does is to certify signatures. But obviously for Flaubert, the notary is a fairly significant figure in the town. But why, and what is his role?


message 38: by Susan Margaret (last edited Jul 18, 2011 10:23PM) (new)

Susan Margaret (susanmargaretg) Notary: The equivalent, in France, of a British solicitor: an attorney who deals in contracts, transactions, wills, property, legal issues, and the like, but who is not licensed to plead in court in criminal cases.


message 39: by Andreea (new)

Andreea (andyyy) | 58 comments Has anyone noticed that Emma's standard response to facing problems is losing weight?

From that moment she drank vinegar to lose weight, contracted a sharp little cough, and completely lost her appetite. (Dès lors, elle but du vinaigre pour se faire maigrir, contracta une petite toux sèche et perdit complètement l’appétit.) [chapter 9 part I, during the harsh winter after the ball]

Emma grew thinner, her cheeks paler, her face longer. With her black hair, her large eyes, her aquiline nose, her birdlike walk, and always silent now, did she not seem to be passing through life scarcely touching it, and to bear on her brow the vague impress of some divine destiny? She was so sad and so calm, at once so gentle and so reserved, that near her one felt oneself seized by an icy charm

or in French (view spoiler) [chapter 5 part II, after she pushes her daughter away]

If you add to that the loss of interest in activities she previously enjoyed (she gives up playing the piano), the melancholy and crying, it sounds a lot like an eating disorder, or at the very least depression. Needless to say, mental health for women was absolutely terrible in the 19th century and the standard treatment was marriage or sex if the woman was married (and this, I think, is allured to at the end of chapter 5). There are a lot of interesting implications that food and eating had in 19th century French society and literature (and you can find some of it in Madame Bovary: a Psychoanalytical Reading - although I must warn you that the book give away the ending of MB so you might not want to read it now), but I feel like we might lose sight of Emma if we go too deep in them. I also feel like Flaubert - who experienced depressive episodes after the death of his father and sister and strongly identified with Emma - wanted us to regard Emma's depression/eating disorder as a lot more than a literary convention or the sign of sexual deprivation.


message 40: by Lily (last edited Jul 19, 2011 11:18AM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 1290 comments Andreea -- page 28 of the book you cite (the last page I can access) suggests that food is the means to which Charles resorts when he expresses love. If that is true, the discrepancy in translation which you identified seems all the more significant, but for slightly different reasons than simply "he tried, without success." (It was affection, not food, that was desired/needed by his wife?)


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