My list of to-reads is rather long and consists of world classics mostly. As much as I appreciate contemporary literature, I have decided to prioritize reading classics. I am slowly progressing on the endless list of wonderful books that are out there. My goal is to read a classic each month. This sounds like a piece-of-cake goal, but when you have a family to take care of and a demanding full-time job, it turns out to be rather ambitious.
The choice of this month, which I have been looking forward to reading for some time, is Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. I picked it up at a bookstore at a London airport and started reading it on the plane to Copenhagen. I could not drop the book again. Only a domestic accident due to a broken water pipe in the house kept me from finishing the book in one day. With carpenters, painters and other handymen around, working to fix the damage done by the water, it was somewhat difficult to concentrate on Madame Bovary’s romantic escapades.
Although written almost two centuries ago, Madame Bovary is still utterly relevant and resonates with us. The female pursuit of excitement in romantic experiences and material objects, the tension between the male and female sexes are the themes of many modern sex and shopping novels. The tragic heroine and the main character of the novel, Emma Bovary, is desperately seeking fulfillment in retail therapy and adultery, indulges in luxury to escape her unhappy marriage to the dull country doctor Charles Bovary. Her reckless appetite for passion and excitement lead her and her family to a devastating end.
Emma’s character flaws may compel us to dislike her, nevertheless we must remember that she is the product of the society she was part of, where women had no power. She was brought up to believe in romantic dreams. She is part of a 19th century French petit -bourgeois world, living a stifling provincial life, but her tastes and desires aspire for something bigger.
While reading, I was equally fascinated and revolted by Emma. Fascinated, because she has the courage to go against the norms of the society and to pursue her dreams. She is brave and very passionate. She has good taste in material things.
Revolted because she is very manipulative, passive-aggressive and unkind to her family. She does not live up to the female ideal of a charming and devoted wife and a loving, compassionate mother. She does so, only on the surface, beneath she is extremely deceptive.
In a more modern context, I believe there is an Emma Bovary in every married man and woman. Don’t we all, time to time, yearn for excitement and change, or a little romantic adventure? We are only held accountable by our own personal sense of morality. The modern woman has the choice and means to remove herself from an unhappy marriage and search for happiness elsewhere. This was, unfortunately, not an option for Emma Bovary.
I recommend this book highly. Take a glass of wine, find a comfortable spot and let Madame Bovary seduce you.