When I saw that there was going to be a read-a-long for Gustave Flaubert's Madama Bovary on Nonsuch Book, I knew I had to participate.
And where most of the participants are reading from the new translation by Lydia Davis (seen at left), I could not justify purchasing a new edition when I already own. I am reading from my Penguin Classic edition and my vintage hardcover will sit lovingly on the shelf with my vintage Austens.
Madame Bovary was one of the first classics I really tried to read to "culture" myself. I can remember purchasing it while knowing hardly anything about it. This was about 3 or 4 years ago when I began to realize that if I wanted my students to read such heavy literature, I needed to read it to. I brought it with me to school during one of my placements to read it during silent reading time.
I loved it in that first reading. I'm not sure why, but perhaps the feelings Emma had about being trapped and wanting more was something that resonated within me at the time.
But I am getting ahead of myself. The first part is short and apparently, forgettable. The beginnings of Emma and Charles relationship seemed overshadowed in my mind. I also forgot the older Madame Bovary, and the manipulation of her own husband. This first part seems to line up the falsities that plague the characters throughout the rest of the novel.
First there is the knowledge that Charles was doing poorly in school. His mother, the elder Madame Bovary, covered this him to his father until he passed his exams. There is also the lie of his first marriage, which was made for fortune. When it turned out that his wife had no fortune, Charles despaired, but of course, things worked out and she passed away.
The set up of Charles meeting Emma also seems false. He only meets her by treating her father, who soon believes he is a far better doctor than he actually is. The lies and deceit seem to pile up after their meeting. I certainly found no romance in their courtship, or in the beginnings of their marriage.
I had forgotten all of these things from my earlier reading, but now I can see how important they are.
Emma, throughout the novel, seems desperate for love, romance, and devotion. The question is whether the reader will sympathize with her, or condemn her for her choices. I'm not sure where I am on that scale, but I am curious to see how I feel on this second read.