Saturday, October 30, 2010

Life in Yonville: small-minded hypocrisy

For this third and final part of Madame Bovary, I'm liking Emma significantly less.

Her expenditures really are over the top. But she is being blackmailed. He's seen them together and "she was afraid, imagining that he would talk. He was not so stupid" (p 241). It's hard to tell how much control she has. I mean, she's never been one to exert much self-control, but now her weaknesses are clearly being played to Monsieur Lheureux's financial advantage.

Favourite sentence: "The most halfhearted libertine has dreamed of sultans' wives; every notary carries within him the remains of a poet." (p 257)

Here it is again in French: Le plus médiocre libertin a rêvé des sultanes; chaque notaire porte en soi les débris d'un poête. Beautiful, no?

[I have it on good authority, based on thousands of transactions with hundreds of notaries, that this is bullshit. Not a shred of poetry in (most of) them. Yet somehow I suspect many of us wish it were true. A romantic notion to believe romantic souls are buried in clerks, yes? Flaubert certainly wished it of the notary he never was.]

I am disappointed in Emma. Happy for her in one way, but also wanting to slap her — she needs to get a grip on reality. She's pulled off her affair with Léon for almost a year! I almost wish she could pull it off for a lifetime, though it seems Léon would have none of that.

Léon is weak. He is just like Emma. This love has begun to bore him, tire him; he'll move on.

This business with the notary is fairly unpleasant (not the notary to whom Léon compares himself in my favourite sentence, above). Maître Guillaumin. Or maybe this is how his poetic debris materializes? It's just so infuriating a that a woman should fall from lover to slut as soon as another man lays eyes on her. Whatever choices she's made, Emma doesn't deserve this.

Monsieur Homais (he has his own website!) finally shows himself to be thoroughly despicable. (In my head I call him M Homard, and I picture him red and blustery and lobster-like.) It's Homais who set the whole ugly Hyppolyte incident in motion. But it's his treatment of the blind man where he is most cruel, in that moment where he makes him dance. For Homais he is a scientific curiosity, and a potential means of renown; for Homais the blind man has ceased to be a human being. For all his forward-thinking, as much as I admired his spirit and wit, he is a hypocrite, and perhaps the biggest villain of them all.

Emma goes to see Rodolphe. Is she prostituting herself? Objective description, moral ambiguity, difficult choices, blah, blah, blah; with this choice of words, Flaubert clearly condemns her.

I'm surprised the novel goes on so long after Emma's death. Poor Charles! He really did love her. And Berthe, the innocent, has a humble start in life. By addressing her as Mademoiselle Bovary, I think Flaubert intends us to glimpse what she might become.

Thanks, Frances, for hosting this readalong. I'm glad to have read Madame Bovary this second time and as a woman of a certain age. I think I got it this time.


Anthony said...

"The most halfhearted libertine has dreamed of sultans' wives; every notary carries within him the remains of a poet." A fantastic sentence, that I can't say made an impact on this reading, but it is beautiful, false but superbly constructed.

How typical of Homais to have his own web site. In the final chapter he moves from loveable rogue to, as you say, thoroughly despicable.

Richard said...

I loved Madame Bovary, Isabella, and much more than I would have as a youngster, I'm sure! That being said, I half-suspected Homais would turn out to be one of the bigger louts in the story both because of his status as apothecary (supplier of drugs to the stars in a modern telling of the story) and because he seemed so harmless and amusing in the beginning (knew that couldn't last for long). Like what you say about Emma and Léon being equally mediocre (if I can apply that term to somebody other than poor, abused Charles for a change) and about Berthe and Mademoiselle Bovary. Great post w/extra bonus points for pointing out that Homais has his own web presence--too, too funny that!!!

Shelley (Book Clutter) said...

Homais did come out the most evil and deserving of scorn in the end. The relationship between Emma and Leon was so interesting to me because at one point she held more power--it mentioned that it was like he was the mistress, and she would call him child, and he would be kneeling while she looked down on him. It's almost like he becomes to her what she was to Rodolphe.
I checked out the website--loved it!

Marie said...

Emma is a tough woman to like. I feel sorry for those around her, even the men, but she makes her own mess and then passes it on to her husband and daughter to clean up.