Thursday, March 3, 2011

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Madame Bovary is a novel set in the mid 1800's in France. It focuses on Emma Bovary's unhappy life. The novel begins with Charles Bovary going to school for the first time. He does not fit in with the other children and is not anything special. He blends into the backround and gets his work done but not in an extraordinary way just average. He goes to school to become a doctor at his parent's urging and passes the test late after failing it once and only passes the second time because his mother helps him. He goes on to marry Heloise because she is supposed to have money but she ends up with nothing and he lives a few unhappy years with her. Monsieur Bovary then begins to treat Roualt, an old farmer, and falls in love with his daughter, Emma. He does not act on it beyond visiting often. His wife begins to suspect him and Mrs Bovary Sr then visits with the news that Heloise has no money and Heloise has a stroke and dies.
After the funeral, Charles begins to court Emma and they eventually marry. They have a huge, lavish wedding, and as soon as they are married and settling in to their new lives Emma begins to regret her decision. She soon realizes Charles is only an ordinary middle class frenchman and begins to resent him for it. She ignores her duties as his wife and falls into a depression. Charles decides she needs new surroundings to help her and they decide to move to another small town close by. Soon before they move Emma discovers she is pregnant. She is hoping for a boy because she wants a strong child who can fend for himself unlike her apathetic husband. She has the baby after they move and it ends up being a girl, who they name Berthe. The name is suggested by their neighbor and new friend Homais. Another person they meet in their new home is Leon. The more time they spend with Homais and Leon the more it is apparent that he has feelings for Emma. She sees him as an escape from her average life and begins to fantasize about how happy she would be with him but neither of them act on it. Soon Leon realizes he is being suffocated by being so close to her but not being able to love her and he moves to Paris.
Next Emma meets Rodolphe, who quickly sweeps her off her feet. He takes her riding in the woods and writes her love letters. Charles is completely oblivious to the affair and even buys Emma a horse and encourages her to ride with Rodolphe. Her meetings with him become weekly and soon begin to suffocate Rodolphe. Meanwhile her husband tries to perform a surgery to fix a local's club foot and fails miserably and ends up taking the man's whole leg off. This makes Emma hate him even more and she tries to get Rodolophe to run away with her. The night before they are supposed to leave he writes her a letter explaining why he can't. He claims she would not be happy and he doesn't deserve to take her from her husband when in reality he doesn't love her enough. Throughout this whole time Emma has been decorating the house as if she is royalty and buying clothes to impress Rodolphe and has built up a debt with the shopkeeper. The heartbreak of Rodolphe and stress of living with Charles becomes too much and she lays in bed for a month. Charles spends the whole time taking care of her and believes her to be seriously ill. He decides that she needs a distraction and takes her to the opera in Paris.
While at the opera they run into Leon who takes them out to dinner. He convinces her to stay in Paris one day and let Charles return alone. While she is there alone Leon professes his love for her and they begin their affair. She tells Charles that she is taking weekly piano lessons in the city and goes to meet up with Leon. The frequent trips and hotel push her further into debt. After a few months Leon begins to be suffocated by her consuming love and decides he wants to be married with a legitimate relationship and breaks it off with Emma. Soon after this Emma is required to pay off her debts. If she does not pay them in 24 hours she will be required to give her furniture and all her belongings to her debtors. Emma begs everyone she knows for a loan including Leon and Rodolphe. They both seem to want to help but do not have the money. Emma believes that they are saying no because they do not love her and falls into a delirium and ends up injesting arsenic.
She goes home and lays down to sleep and the poison begins to take affect. Charles begins to panic and calls Homais who gives her a drug to make her vomit. He claims that if she empties her stomach the arsenic will be gone but the drug only makes her worse. She soon dies and Charles becomes a mad man who does nothing but wallow in his grief. He refuses to sell anything of hers and falls into such debt that he cannot clothe his own child and ends up killing himself. This leaves the daughter who lives with a poor aunt and works in a cotton mill.
Discussion Questions:
1. How do you think this could have been prevented?
2. What would make you act the way Emma did?
3. Do you think Emma was selfish or clinically depressed?
4. What is the purpose of this story?


allie s 11-12 said...

Well i think that Emma no matter who she married would fully never be satisfied. But Charles could of prevented it just by not being with her, and leaving her when she was cheating on her. But i think her ending was inevitable. I think She was both selfish and depressed which led her to the life she had. I don't think i would act that way, if i was unhappy in a relationship, i would end it and move on. i wouldn't go through life cheating and sneaking around.

Erika B 13-14 said...

1. I believe all of the events in the story could have been prevented if the main characters had not jumped into marriage. Both also believed the people they were marrying were rich (Charles with his first wife, and later Emma with Charles) and then become disappointed and unloving due to the fact that they actually don't have money. If they actually got to know the people they were engaged to before they got married, none of this would have ever happened.

3. I believe Emma was clinically depressed. No sane person keeps falling in and out of love with multiple people so frequently, or having affairs so often. The fact that she stays in bed for almost a month and injects arsenic into herself also shows that she is suffering from some sort of mental illness.

Julie S. 5-6 said...

I agree with both of you but I do think that to some degree both Emma and Charles' fates were predetermined. Their deaths are reflective of their main flaws. For Emma it was her inability to accept her low social status and for Charles it was his ignorance and blind love.

Mrs. Sherwood said...

Thread closed