“But life for her was cold as an attic whose window faces north, and boredom, a silent spider, spun its webs in the shadow of every corner of her heart.”
The location for which you read this book is critical. Place yourself in a garden–preferably a quiet one with no mosquitoes and a cool breeze–for the first half of this book. Make sure you’re resting against a big, soft, fluffy pillow cushion for the last half. Honestly, this was my first read of Madame Bovary (I know, I know), and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Let’s just jump right in, shall we?
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
I don’t often find myself being emotionally wrecked by a book–instead tending to associate “tearing up” with watching an emotional scene in a film–but by the end of this work I could barely stop gulping, and tears were abruptly streaming down my face like random Texas rain showers (except my tears weren’t followed by bursts of sunlight through the clouds). Treasured for centuries, this was my first reading of Madame Bovary, and my initial thought was, “why the hell has everyone been talking about this book like it’s juicy ripe tomatoes on a summer day?” Actually, I didn’t think about tomatoes, but damn, summer tomatoes are great. I digress. It’s not as though I didn’t generally appreciate the book, but I felt then, and still feel now, as though I’m not sure what I should take away from Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, but perhaps that’s the point.
“How she yearned for those ineffable sentiments of love which she had tried, in imitation of books, to envision for herself.”
Not muddled in figurative language, Gustave Flaubert wrote this book in a way that’s structurally approachable by any reader. His syntax, dialogue and plot movements were all right on target. The work never dragged and I grasped each of the main characters, except the book’s namesake herself, Madame Bovary. I don’t mean to say that Flaubert’s movement and character traits were not intimate and well thought out, but his ability to truly connect the reader to Emma Bovary’s life within those pages, felt lost for me. From the moment we’re introduced to her, Emma is generally in anguish or in a fretful state of self-hatred. Her beauty– inflated by what she sees as the inadequacies of her husband–her insecurities and vulnerability–tarnished by her greed and shallow spirit. Madame Bovary suffered ceaselessly, but for what? What is clear to me is that the purpose of this story was to wander aimlessly, the way life can. That’s the true beauty of this work.
Without ranting, I must comment on one particular aspect of this book–a big one–that is unsettling to me. Emma takes to reading novels to ward off her boredom with the world she’s living in and to educate herself. However, after Emma’s homemaking abilities plateau, the elder Madame Bovary suggests that books be prohibited. The overt denouncement of Emma’s want for literacy, as a driving force for her deranged and calamitous behavior, is an obvious commentary on societal expectations of women and the roles that both men and women play therein. Though obviously purposeful, I have to wonder what Flaubert’s intention was by accelerating and perpetuating Emma’s constant state of torment and tension. All the while, Flaubert seems to understand the repression that was–and in many ways still is–woman’s plight.
Some quotes that stood out to me for you all to contemplate.
“Perhaps she might have wished to confide all these things in someone. But how to express an unanalyzable disquiet which changed aspect as clouds do, tormented by the wind? She lacked words, opportunity, courage.”
“Self-assurance depends upon the environment in which it is placed: one does not use the same manner of speech on the drawing-room floor as in the servant’s quarters, and a wealthy woman seems to have about her, to defend her virture, all her banknotes, like a coat of mail, within the lining of her bodice.”
“But vilifying those we love always alienates us from them to a certain extent. Idols should not be touched: the gilding comes off on the hands.”
“She was so melancholy and so calm, at once so gentle and so remote, that in her presence one felt overcome by a glacial charm, as one shudders in churches under the touch of flower scents mingled with the chill of marble.”
As for edibles, I decided to make something wherein I could utilize some of the vibrant and cooling summer produce we’ve started to get in our CSA box (you all know me, I love to take advantage of my box goodies). The ending of this book made me feel stuffy, confused and irritable. My mind was trying to parse together the connection between the beginning and the end. I needed something to refresh me. That’s why I decided make a chunky summer salad.
Refreshing Summer Cucumber Salad
- 4 medium cucumbers (rinsed and cut into 1/2 quarter pieces)
- 2 small red onions and 1 small yellow onion (cut into small pieces)
- 2 medium ripe tomatoes (rinsed and cut into chunks)
- 1 tbsp dried parsley (or handful of leaves if fresh-rinsed)
- 1 tbsp garlic granules
- coarsely ground black pepper (about 4 turns)
- 1 tsp fleur de sel (or to taste)
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- After all veggies are rinsed and cut, place them in a medium-sized bowl along with the remaining ingredients
- Toss with clean hands until well mixed
- Serve immediately or chilled
- If serving immediately, try adding some avocado chunks!
My edition of this book is very old, as it was my great aunt’s and then my grandmother’s after her. It has been through a lot, and probably shouldn’t have been read, but I couldn’t resist being a part of this literary artifact. Slowly, the binding came off in pieces and, forgive me for being impractical, but it felt well-timed with the arc of the storyline. What are your thoughts on Madame Bovary? Find more Noshed in a Book posts here and share some of your #noshedinabook pics with me. I can’t wait to see what you’ve been reading and preparing! Join me in my next reading selection, Ghost World by Daniel Clowes. And remember…bite responsibly!