A Woman as a Resource: Emma’s Marital Status
Published in 1856, the novel Madame Bovary is one of the first to explore the issue of women’s disempowerment in a pointedly modern fashion. As a woman, the protagonist Emma experiences a number of obstacles that prevent her from reaching what she desires the most. Emma is viewed as a valuable asset, rather than as an individual; her prestige depends on her husband’s social status, which makes her a mere “attachment” to another person. Thus, Emma doesn’t posses the power she needs to reach her ambitions and learns that men cannot help her in obtaining what she wishes, too.
In the novel, Emma stands not as an independent person, but as a valuable commodity to be traded. After realizing Charles’s intentions towards his daughter, old Rouault considers not Emma’s feelings, but possible personal financial gain from a potential marriage, “When, therefore, he perceived that Charles’s cheeks grew red if near his daughter, which meant that he would propose for her one of these days, he chewed the cud of the matter beforehand. He certainly thought him a little meager, and not quite the son-in-law he would have liked, but he was said to be well brought-up, economical, very learned, and no doubt would not make too many difficulties about the dowry”. Emma is no more than a precious asset her father uses to better his financial situation, “Now, as old Rouault would soon be forced to sell twenty-two acres of “his property,” as he owed a good deal to the mason, to the harness-maker, and as the shaft of the cider-press wanted renewing, “If he asks for her,” he said to himself, “I’ll give her to him”. Therefore, this novel explores the idea of a woman, being treated as a profitable commodity, rather than as a person.
After marriage, Emma’s social status becomes higher due to esteemed position her husband takes. This signifies Charles’s superiority over his wife. During wedding, old Rouault condemns one of the traditional wedding games that, on his opinion, don’t suit his future son-in-law status, “…a fishmonger, one of their cousins (who had even brought a pair of soles for his wedding present), began to squirt water from his mouth through the keyhole, when old Rouault came up just in time to stop him, and explain to him that the distinguished position of his son-in-law would not allow of such liberties.” At the same time, Emma’s desire to get married at midnight under the torch light is ignored, “Emma would, on the contrary, have preferred to have a midnight wedding with torches, but old Rouault could not understand such an idea”. From the start of the couple’s relationships, Charles is viewed as the leader of the household. Emma, on the other side, serves as an “attachment” to her husband, whose wishes are not quite as important.
Emma’s submissive position motivates her to use the men as an indirect tool of achieving her goals. This method limits Emma’s power and brings her only disappointment. At first, Leon meets Emma’s romantic ideals. The two become close and Emma seems to have found the sophistication and refined taste in art she always searched for in her lover. As the time goes by, Emma notices Leon’s weak character and limited intelligence, “She accused Leon of her baffled hopes, as if he had betrayed her; and she even longed for some catastrophe that would bring about their separation, since she had not the courage to make up her mind to it herself”. Once again, at the minute of need, when Emma urges Leon to provide her with financial help, he makes up excuses to avoid doing so, “Go, try, try! I will love you so!” He went out, and came back at the end of an hour, saying, with solemn face—“I have been to three people with no success”. Charles’s passivity prevents Emma from entering higher social circles and having elegant life she desires; she falls in love and seeks fulfillment of her wishes in Rodolphe, who loses interest in an “insane” lover and leaves her, “She sighed. “We would go and live elsewhere—somewhere!” “You are really mad!” he said laughing. “How could that be possible?” This way, as a woman, Emma doesn’t have a power she needs to achieve her goals and fails to receive whatever she wants from the men around her.
In a progressive feminist novel Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert depicts the struggles of a representative woman who is viewed as a financial resource, rather than an individual. Emma is defined by her husband’s social status, rather her personal achievements; she becomes disillusioned and bitter by her husband’s and lovers’ failures to fulfill her ambitions.
Conflicts and Struggle of Power Between the Different Social Clases
German philosopher Friedrich Engels once said “All history has been a history of class struggles between dominated classes at various stages of social development”. In all societies, each social class has unique characteristics and distinctions, especially in lifestyles and privileges within their respective cultures; however, when differences between social classes become too great, problems begin to arise. Despite the different settings of Allende’s The House of the Spirits and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, the distinctions between social classes in each novel produce the same problematic results for the characters; the problematic results demonstrate the negative effect of vast distinctions between social classes.
Allende depicts the differences between the social classes in The House of the Spirits well through the interaction between the people of Tres Marias. Tres Marias contains two major social classes: the landowning class and the peasant class. The landowning class consists of the Trueba family, for Esteban Trueba is the patron of the hacienda, while the peasant class consists of the hacienda’s workers, including the Garcia family. Allende presents the two classes as foils of each other. While Allende portrays the wealth of the landowning class through their fancy clothing, she depicts the peasant class as poor through their filthy rags. Relationship-wise, the landowning class has complete control over the peasant class; the Truebas have control over the happenings in the hacienda and the people who work there. While the peasants toil over the land, all of the rewards go towards the Truebas. The distinctions between the two social classes make them too different to live in harmony, causing major problems for the characters. Because of his title as the patron of Tres Marias, Esteban Trueba finds himself superior to the peasants and expects the rest of his family to feel the same. However, the other family members’ involvement with the lower social class causes tensions within the family. To get around her father’s prohibition, Blanca hides her relationship with Pedro Tercero. “Without anyone telling them, they realized that they could not act so freely in front of others… they began to hide when they wanted to play. They stopped walking hand in hand within sight of the adults, and they ignored each other so as not to attract attention” (Allende 147). Once Esteban Trueba discovers Blanca’s secret, he becomes furious with her. Blanca’s brothers Jaime and Nicolas also have interactions with the peasant class. Both feel sympathetic and charitable towards the workers of Tres Marias and other people less fortunate. Their involvement with the peasants causes tension between them and their father because Esteban Trueba does not want them to ruin the family reputation by becoming involved with people below them. Because of the great differences between the two classes, jealousy arises. Esteban Garcia provides a perfect example; Esteban Garcia envies the Truebas’ luxurious life and believes that if Esteban Trueba realizes and accepts that the Trueba blood flows through his veins as well, he too can live that life. However, Esteban Trueba fails to acknowledge Esteban Garcia as his illegitimate grandson, which results in a growing hatred within Esteban Garcia. This hatred fuels Esteban Garcia’s desire for revenge.
In Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, differences between social classes also cause problems for the characters. As a member of the bourgeoisie, protagonist Emma Bovary finds herself bored with the lifestyle of her social class and desires the elegant life of the aristocrats. Emma uses her affairs with Rodolphe and the new, cosmopolitan Leon in order to feel like she belongs in higher society. As the story continues, her desire for acceptance by the aristocrats becomes out of control and her endeavors fail to meet her expectations. Ironically, as Emma tries to force her way into a higher class, she ends up falling down a class. “The men whispered in one corner, probably discussing the expenses. There were a clerk, two medical students, and a shop assistant. What company for her! As for the women, Emma quickly realized from their voices that almost all of them were from the dregs of society. Then she grew frightened, pushed back her chair, and lowered her eyes” (Flaubert 273). Flaubert uses irony to show how Emma realizes that she has failed to live the social lifestyle she originally envisions. The difference and the isolation of the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy cause Emma to concoct ideal visions of the lives of the aristocrats, which does not reflect reality. This results in Emma trying to realize her ideal expectations of the upper class, which eventually leads to her death.
The House of the Spirits and Madame Bovary incorporate the dangers of the vast differences in social class in similar ways. For example, both authors have social class bring about tragedies in their novels’ plots. In The House of the Spirits, Esteban Garcia personifies the struggle involving social class. As a child, Esteban Garcia aspires to become a recognized part of the Trueba family and the landowning class. However, his illegitimate grandfather fails to acknowledge him as part of the family, spurring hate within Esteban Garcia which intensifies as he becomes older. This hate fuels his desire for revenge on the Trueba family, which he releases upon Alba Trueba, who he keeps as a personal prisoner. In Madame Bovary, Emma’s desire to change social classes brings about her ultimate downfall. Desiring to enhance her social class, she buys extravagant gifts for her lovers. Her expenses, however, bring her deeper into debt. Under desperate measures to get herself out of debt, she takes her own life. Also, both Esteban Garcia and Emma Bovary, the characters involved with the social class-caused tragedies, aspire to rise in social classes; in the end Esteban Garcia succeeds while Emma does not.
Allende and Flaubert use different distinctions between their cultures’ social classes in order to create the conflict in their respective novels. In The House of the Spirits, Allende describes the peasant class as less classy than the landowning class. In fact, Allende describes them in a negative way. “They were a sorry lot. He saw various women of indecipherable age, their skin dry and cracked, some apparently pregnant, all of them barefoot and dressed in faded rags” (49). The landowning class, the Trueba family, owns a large estate, has a lot of power over the other class, and benefits from the peasants’ work. In Madame Bovary, Flaubert uses the protagonist’s influence on the reader to characterize the two classes. Emma finds her bourgeoisie life boring and mediocre. The reader perceives the aristocratic class as superior because Emma believes so. Also, the two novels have different settings. Allende’s novel takes place in a Latin American country whereas Flaubert’s novel takes place in France. The novels, which have similar conflicts that revolve around distinctions between social classes, occur in different settings, but still produce the same, tragic result. This proves that issues caused by the differences in social classes can happen in any culture.
In their respective novels, Allende and Flaubert demonstrate that the differences between social classes can have negative impacts on the lives of the characters. The great differences cause Emma Bovary and Esteban Garcia to strive to become part of the better class. As a result of their efforts, they cause tragedies within their respective novels’ plots. The novels teach its readers that the increase in differences between social classes can have dire results. They also encourage the readers keep these results in mind while they look at our own culture in order to make sure that differences in social classes do not have the same or similar negative impacts.
Gustave Flaubert’s Description of the Fight for Women to Live According to Rules Set by the Community as Indicated in Her Book, Madame Bovary
“Then upon the mouth, which had spoken lies, moaned in pride and cried out in lust”(256). Emma Bovary’s attempts to achieve her unrealistic desires are also an attempt to break free of the restraints society puts on women. Unfortunately, she is not in a position to break through these barriers because of the lack of power women have in this time period. Her actions represent the struggle that women had trying to maintain an image to fit society’s standards.
Emma Bovary talks about giving birth to a child so that he could live the life that she was not able to have. She does not want her son to be hampered by society’s restrictions because it would give her some meaning to her life to have a child that “is free”(23). Their society does not give women the opportunity to live fulfilling lives because they are limited in what they can achieve. Having a son to Emma represents the state of women’s rights in the 19th century and it accurately depicts the struggle that comes with being a woman when you have to hope to have a son to be free. This is why Emma Bovary lacks any financial stability because women during this time period did not have the ability to make almost any money the way that men did. A woman’s role was to be played in the house and more as a subservient to a man rather than their equal. These restrictions led Emma to riddle her marriage with dishonesty and infidelity.
Emma continues to struggle with achieving her unfulfilled desires because Charles does not seem to interest her after a short period of time. She does not have a viable excuse for her infidelity because she knew it was wrong by the restrictions of her marriage and she cannot justify her infidelity. Emma’s actions depict a woman who is selfish enough to violate the laws of marriage for her own needs.
“She thirsted for his lips, she longed for his love and cursed herself for having allowed him to leave. She could not comprehend through what weakness or virtue she had deprived herself of such a happiness”(293).
In this situation, I believed that in the back of her mind she thought about Charles feelings momentarily which is why she did not go through with having intercourse with Leon this time. She understands how unfaithful she is and the image that she is presenting to those she encounters. At the same time, she seems unable to contain herself and her desires because she continues to be dishonest and continues her acts of infidelity. This is not a matter of society restraining her from her actions because she placed herself in this scenario by setting such high expectations for her desires. It is impossible for her to even get a taste of the desires because they are so far out of reach. Emma does what she wants although she knows there may be consequences because she is still longing that happiness that she has yet to find in her life.
Emma portrays herself as a selfish and very needy individual because of her thirstiness for not only her own happiness, but for financial stability as well. I can understand that because she is a woman she does not have the power to make money the way she wants to, but she wants more money than some men have. Her financial instability eventually contributes to her downfall because she ends up in debt not being able to pay off the money she owes. It shows her carelessness and it shows how immoral she is acting considering she puts Charles in such a difficult situation to handle. The only sympathy that I have for her is because she is unable to do anything about her financial status. That is quickly countered by the fact that she continues to grow her debt although she knows that she does not have any financial funds to pull money from. That is what leads her to be reckless and ask various people for money because she digs herself a grave and eventually she has to lie in it.
Emma Bovary is put in a difficult situation in this book due to the fact that she is a woman with limited rights. Her situation only continues to grow worse the more she tries to fulfill her farfetched desires, which never happens. I can only help but wonder if her desires would be fulfilled if women had equal rights to men during this time. At the same time, I am sure it would help her financial status but her dream of finding the perfect man and living the perfect life would still be a dream to her.
Community Service Program Reflection: Malama Loko Ea
Last September 15th, 2018, I went on a community service program together with my friends at the Malama Loko Ea fishpond in North Shore, Hawaii. It was the first community service I have done in that area. We have chosen the place because we just want to go North Shore, especially me who has never been there. The only problem that we had was the mode of transportation, but we discussed it later. We all listened to each other speak about their thoughts about this task and we got to the point of intersection. Since I have never been to North Shore, I was so excited and a bit nervous at the same time. I got to go there by myself and the whole trip on the way there felt so amazing. I woke up early in the morning to catch the bus. It took two hours to get there but those two hours were one of the most magnificent moments of my life. I have got to see a whole new side of Hawaii different from what I have been seeing.
Instead of tall buildings, I saw plantations and mountain ranges. It was my first time seeing a mountain that looked like knuckles and it was explicitly gorgeous. We all met in the area and went together to the fishpond. Before the activity started, we have done some small introductions and one the heads of the area talked about a brief history of the pond. The Loko e‘a is a 400-year old Hawaiian fishpond. I have learned that the pond is self-sustaining and can maintain fish stocks if well managed. This reflects the art of Native Hawaiian resource management practices. The mission of the foundation is to perpetuate the Native Hawaiian culture through education, land stewardship, and community building, while sustainably restoring our precious natural resources. On the other hand, their vision statement is to connect the present to the past. The purpose of this foundation is to restore ea. Ea has many translations including independence, life, air, or breath. It can also be a verb that means “to rise up” or “to smell”. The fishpond serves as a home to numerous aquatic species like Ahole, Ama’ama, ‘O‘opu Naniha which are all indigenous to Hawaii. This is the one of the reasons why the foundation has been working hard to restore and improve the pond.
After the brief talk, we were split into separate groups. We went to the part where there is a lot of weeds. We were given gloves and tools then we started working. I noticed that we all have the same working style which is execute. We just did what we were told and pulled out all the weeds. While were doing the work, we got a chance to talk to Sayo Costantino, the Kupuohi Education Program Director. She has been serving the foundation for over 10 years. She said that the removal of invasive grass species is important in reopening the waterways and allowing the native vegetation to thrive. That is when I realized how important our duty is in restoring the balance in the ecosystem of the area. By pulling out these weeds, we are not just helping the native plants grow, we are helping the marine species of Waialua bay which relies on these natural food sources. To conclude, my experiences in this community service made me realized how important our aina is. The littles things that we did like pulling out the weeds have a significant effect in maintaining the balance in the ecosystem of the fishpond.
Also, I have so much respect to the staff of the foundation who has been working hard to restore and improve the area. Their passion and dedication to their work astonish me. As an aspiring health professional, I would like to have that same amount of passion and dedication. I am looking forward to more community service programs and I hope next time, I would be able to work in a medical type of service.
Madame Bovary Analysis
In Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, the story predominately follows how Emma Bovary becomes disenchanted with her lifestyle as the wife of Charles Bovary and seeks to find the unobtainable life she so desperately dreams of from the books she reads. However, before all of that, Charles Bovary has a history of his own with a previous marriage and a dreary childhood. In the passage describing a request for his services and his journey to a distance farm, the descriptive imagery and juxtaposition of his thoughts convey how static his character is.
Flaubert chooses to describe Charles Bovary’s demeanor and actions as easy going to illustrate to the audience how his personality is both average and carefree. When a man frantically comes to their home in the middle of the night with a letter requesting Charles to set a broken leg, he “lean[s] his elbow on the pillow to read it” (11). Disregarding the fact that the situation is considered to be an emergency to many, Charles leisurely takes his time in his own comfort.
This goes back to his growing up when chose to not prepare for his examination, resulting in his failure. He does not understand the gravity of circumstances and does everything as he pleases. This is further exemplified when he decides to leave “three hours later,” all “well wrapped” and moving in a “peaceful trot” (11-12).
Rather than trying to get there as fast as he can, he goes at a pace where he can even fall asleep. He has little to no concern for the patient that is urgently waiting for him to put him out of excruciating pain. He has to make an attempt to “recall the broken leg” along with any knowledge he has on how to fix it during the journey (12). His lack of ambition is prevalent in this scene as it brings up his past apathy towards his schoolwork, which is catching up with him now, along with his currently indifference towards his work. He has no desire to excel in his job; he is perfectly content being an average man doing average work. This insight to his character shows how for a good portion of his life already, he has little to no goals in life and will most likely never strive to go above the ordinary. The description of Charles lethargically treating his job reveals his unchanging dispirited outlook on life.
Flaubert’s use of juxtaposition when Charles is confused between his memories from long ago and from now to elucidate the lack of development within his character. He becomes disoriented between his life as a “student and [a] married man” because of his similarities in them, leading back to the idea that he has not changed much within the past years (12). The way he goes about regarding any task, whether it be in school or in his current home, is very calm and passive. He is already a grown man with a job and a wife, yet his personality has remained unchanging. The reflection that he has unveils to us how, due to the stationary nature of his character, time has passed in a continuum such that he cannot distinguish when moments of his life have passed.
Comparing his life in medical school with the “iron rings of the bed curtains running on their rods” to his present life in a home with “his wife sleeping,” though most would think them to be vastly differing, the way he approaches them is the same—laid back to the point where he cannot distinguish between them anymore (12). By placing these two scenarios next to each other, Flaubert signals to the readers that, similar to how Charles has not changed from his childhood to now, he will continue to remain this mediocre man even in the future. Although we do not know why yet, this mindset of his seems to have importance towards the rest of the story. Altogether, the juxtaposition of Charles’ former and current self highlights the importance of his ordinary persona.
Flaubert’s use of language brings out Charles Bovary’s passive behavior, indicating a significance in his sedentary character for later chapters. Charles’ easy going demeanor, not laudable nor detrimental, seems to be a base off which other characters are compared to. Since he does not strive for much nor cause harm, he acts as a norm for people to relate to.
Sympathy for the betrayers and the betrayed
More than would be imagined, it is sometimes more difficult to sympathise with the victims of infidelity; easier than we might have imagined to sympathise with the betrayers themselves.’ To what extent do you agree with this estimation in relation to the three texts chosen?
In none of the three texts can it be said that the adulterers elicit or deserve greater sympathy than the victims of adultery. Despite this imbalance, it would unconsidered and possibly rather supercilious to simply judge the betrayers on their actions without meditating on the reasoning behind the actions and the circumstances in which the adulterers have found themselves.
All the adulterers within the text (apart from Jerry in Betrayal (1978), and Rodolphe in Madame Bovary (1857)) merit a degree of sympathy, yet despite this, their actions cannot be wholly justified, and the characters cannot, therefore, be fully exonerated.
The savage destruction of Emma Bovary by Flaubert, and Cresseid’s gruesome infliction of leprosy are certainly a cause for sympathy in both cases.
Emma Bovary’s death is a painfully drawn out event in which ‘she turned whiter than the sheet at which her fingers kept clawing’ and ‘soon began to vomit blood. Her limbs were contorted, her body covered with brown blotches.’ It is interesting to note the contrast between the description at the beginning of the novel in which Flaubert erotically describes ‘the tip of her tongue poking between her beautiful teeth, delicately licking the bottom of the glass’ and the description post-arsenic in which ‘her entire tongue protruded from her mouth; her rolling eyes dimmed like lamp globes as they fade into darkness.’ Notably, Flaubert focuses on the body and its indignities, which is in contrast to Madame Bovary’s romanticism Similarly, in The Testament of Cresseid, Henryson depicts a disease so realistic and visceral that, as early as 1841, Sir J. A. Y. Simpson was able to diagnose the exact type of disease Cresseid has.
(1) Henryson’s detailed description gave rise to at least one suggestion that he himself was a physician. The Gods marred her, declaring, ‘Your eyes so bright and crystal I make bloodshot / Your voice so clear, unpleasing, grating, hoarse / Your healthy skin I blacken, blotch and spot / With livid lumps I cover your fair face’. Cupid’s declaration of, ‘Your mirth I hereby change to melancholy’ is one of a series of semantically opposite, yet alliterative words, which in this instance, are used to display the unfavourable contrast of Cresseid’s existence before her punishment and afterwards, whilst also augmenting the malicious and sadistic nature of the Gods. In Heaney’s translation he writes, ‘your high estate is in decline and fall’. The is a reference to Edward Gibbon’s work ‘The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,’ (1776) the literary allusion conveying the suddenness and inexplicability of Cresseid’s physical decline. The bleakness of her situation is summarised in the description of her having to ‘make do with a cup and clapper. They remain’ – Her whole life has been reduced to this alliterative phrase, whilst the caesura indicates the sudden nature of her loss.
Not only does Cresseid receive a gruesome affliction, the reader is also left with the feeling that her punishment is undeserved. The reason for her sentence is blasphemy, since ‘whoever blasphemes… all Gods offer insults.’ Betrayal is heavily frequented with profanities such as ‘Good God’, yet nothing results. In Madame Bovary, Charles ‘addressed curses to the heavens, but not so much as a leaf quivered.’ The triviality of Cresseid’s offence in contrast to the magnitude of her chastisement displays an injustice in the name of justice, and this is borne true in the lack of consequence fastened to blasphemy in the other two texts. When Cupid retorts indignantly of Cresseid’s claim that ‘I was the cause of her misfortune,’ one notes an irony given that all the Gods share an overwhelming involvement in all her actions and hence her misfortune. Cresseid is a puppet of the pagan God’s whims, and her lack of volition means that she should not be blamed.
Fate is recurrently referred to, in for example, the lines, ‘Cresseid’s most miserable and fated death’ (‘fatall destenie’), ‘Of Troy and Greece, how it could be your fate’, and ‘Fate is fickle when she plies the shears.’ This predestination is not a problem with which the adulterers in the other two texts must face. Further, the scornfully humorous description of the Gods, particularly Saturn who ‘behaved in a churlish, rough, thick-witted manner,’ and had a ‘rucked and wrinkled face, a lyre like lead’ and a ‘steady nose run’ creates a further sympathy for Emma, since those that condemn her are rendered in an absurd, grotesque and humorous light. Henryson goes further when he describes Cupid as ‘a boar that whets its tusks, he grinds and fumes,’ since it goes beyond anthromorphism to zoomorphism; and the description of Gods that ‘raged, grimaced, rampaged and bawled and scoffed’ is a display of Gods that have unlimited power and limited judgement.
Whilst Madame Bovary does not have to contend with predestination, her actions are still restricted by society’s ambits and the limitations placed on women in the mid-nineteenth century. In societal terms, she has to live in the mediocrity of her provincial surroundings. It is important to note that the novel’s sub-title is ‘Provincial Manners’ – they frustrated Flaubert, and he used Emma Bovary’s disgust with her class as a way of conveying his own hatred for the banality of the middle-classes. Madame Bovary shows how ridiculous the attitudes of the bourgeoisie can be. Homais’s haughtily flamboyant speeches are used by Flaubert to display the pretensions of the bourgeois. The less grandiose act by a woman who received a 25 franc award for 54 years of service giving ‘it to our curï¿½ so he can say some masses for me’ leads the reader not to see this as remarkable, rather to see it as a sign of fanaticism, thus challenging fidelity as a certain good. Madame Bovary longs to be more refined and sophisticated than her environment allows her.
Flaubert’s depiction of ‘a black chalk drawing of the head of Minerva … in the middle of a wall whose green paint was flaking from the damp’ is a visual metaphor for Emma Bovary, a Roman goddess amongst the banalities of life. A recurring leitmotif in the novel is that of Emma Bovary looking ‘with her head against the window pane, gazing into the garden’; it is a poignant allusion to her aspirations for a more interesting existence and also her locomotive desires, in which the garden has both a metaphorical and physically restrictive quality. Her affairs represent her both breaking out of an ‘existence as humdrum and circumscribed as that of their hens and their dogs’ (2) and that she had no ‘qualms about mistaking ‘cul’ for ‘coeur.'(2)
The Emma of Betrayal has a greater degree of freedom than the other two protagonists, she, after all is ‘running a gallery.’ Nevertheless, it could be argued that she is a player in amongst Jerry and Robert’s game of one-upmanship; their self-absorbed competitiveness being encapsulated in their games of squash (note the punning effect with the verb ‘squash’ and Rodolphe’s remark that he will ‘squash him (Charles) like a fly in Madame Bovary). This remark of Rodolphe’s shows that he also gets enjoyment from stamping on other men’s power, which is backed up in the imagery of Rodolphe’s ‘Mounted stags heads’ in his study – he gets a thrill from male conquest as well as female conquest. Harold Pinter himself commented that Betrayal is ‘a play about two close friends’ – perhaps Emma is simply within Jerry and Robert’s story, a victim of psychological determinism, rather than Madame Bovary’s societal determinism and Cresseid’s cosmic determinism.
Both Emma Bovary and Cresseid share an existence in a patriarchal world, which Emma from Betrayal is not a part of. Madame Bovary, for example, is blessed with artistic gifts that cause Charles to proudly display her work to whoever chooses to visit his abode. However, given the restrictions placed on women during the period, the Bovary household’s wall would be the only dwelling for any art she may happen to create; this can be contrasted to Betrayal’s Emma who actually owns her own art gallery and who also has the benefit of the possibility of travelling anywhere she wants (the film notes her possession of a car: making her an agent of mobility), and is not confined to the ennui of a rustic Rouen. Madame Bovary’s gender-founded restrictions are expressed in the structure of the novel.
The novel initiates with a depiction of Charles’ schooldays, and indeed, starts with the ‘nous’ form, thus centralising Charles’s character. At the end of the novel, Homais becomes the centre of attention, as his mounting successes are described by Flaubert, finally climaxing in ‘Il vient de recevoir la croix d’honneur’ (‘he has been given the Legion of Honour’). Emma’s story is therefore trapped between Charles’ and Homais’; the structure of the novel is mimetic of her entrapment in a male-dominated world, and these restrictions should evoke sympathy in the reader.
Similarly, Cresseid is subject to male authority, which is made clear in the line ‘Yet whatever men may think or say contemptuously,’ and the traditionally accepted belief of her as being merely a lustfully encumbered individual is challenged by the way in which her punishment is portrayed as having resulted from blasphemy. The popular portrayal of Cresseid in both Chaucer’s Troilus and Cresseid (C. 1380) and Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida is challenged by the Testament of Cresseid (1475) and evoke sympathy in the reader.
Madame Bovary and Emma are mutually unique from Cresseid in that their adulterous other halves are base to a level which subtracts from the potential criticism of the primary adulterers themselves. Jerry is emotionally detached from Emma, yet still has a vulgar, sexual interest in her, as indicated in the final (yet chronologically foremost) scene in which he declares, ‘I should have had you, in your white, before the wedding, I should have blackened you, in your white wedding dress.’ He later articulates, ‘you’re banishing me to, a state of catatonia,’ and frequently proclaims ‘you’re beautiful,’ ‘you’re incredible’ etc. However, earlier in the play, he makes short remarks and responses to Emma’s questions – an indication that he has no real emotional interest in her. Jerry also fails to recall with accuracy certain events relating to their relationship.
For example when Jerry recalls throwing Emma’s daughter in the air he believed it to be in Emma’s kitchen, to which she replied, ‘it was your kitchen’. When Jerry calls her ‘darling’ she responds, ‘don’t say that,’ because she knows that this term of endearment is not meant by Jerry. Emma puts in a lot of effort into the affair, as indicated by her yearning for a continuation of their romantic escapades: ‘you see, in the past, we were inventive, we were determined,’ Jerry’s disinterested response is, ‘It would not matter how much we wanted it if you’re not free in the afternoons and I’m in America.’ This is extremely similar to Rodolphe’s remark ‘You’re mad, you really are! … How could we do that?,’ when Emma puts forward the idea of a sojourn in Paris, and is indicative of the contrasting levels of commitment between the adulterer and the adulteress.
When they finally decide on their trip to Paris, Madame Bovary asks, ‘I am counting the days. Aren’t you?’ There is also a link between that and Emma’s question ‘will we ever go to Venice?’ She answers her own question in Betrayal – in Madame Bovary, nothing is said at all. Emma’s desire for something more in their relationship is indicated in her wish for a shared home with Jerry. She is saddened by the fact that ‘the crockery and the curtains and the bedspread’ have been left for so long. She later says to Jerry ‘you didn’t ever see it as a home in any sense did you?,’ to which Jerry replied, ‘no, I saw it as a flat… you know.’ Emma correctly acknowledges Jerry’s desires when she finishes off his sentence with the words ‘for fucking,’ despite Jerry’s protestation of ‘for loving’.
Emma’s inability to let go of the relationship is indicated in the scene where she struggles to take her ring from her keyring and ends up throwing it to Jerry to take it off – Jerry would be happy to end the relationship. Rodolphe is an even more heinous character, as indicated in his objectification of Emma: ‘This one had seemed pretty to him,’ the word ‘one’ rather than ‘she’ makes her merely one of his many inamoratas.
Even more striking is when he says, ‘how to get rid of it afterwards’ (admittedly, the French ‘elle’ can mean both ‘she’ and ‘it,’ but Margaret Mauldon’s Oxford translation, unlike that of the Penguin edition uses the wholly unkind ‘it,’ which is much more effective in making Rodolphe appear objectionable). In both cases, the deplorable adulterers create sympathy when scrutinising the adulteresses and this is not a factor that exists in The Testament of Cresseid. If one were to be overtly cynical, it could be argued that Jerry and Rodolphe are partly correct in their views on the affair. Is an affair really all that romantic, after all? Vargas Llosa would be quick to point out the dangers of equating lust with love. Perhaps the two Emmas are looking for too much in the relationship, and are making it out to be more than it really is.
Emma’s amorous adventures activate an abundance of lies, yet Stephen Heath empathizes with her fabrications. He states that ‘Emma lies, but everything lies'(3), he talks of how ‘the narrating voice enters to state a distance from her, but Flaubert also cuts such statements, reduces their number(3).’ At times, the narration drifts into sympathy with Emma, at other times it condemns her. The use of a style indirect libre causes the narration to be ambiguous, and the truth of description becomes indistinguishable from the subjectivity of opinion.
A characteristic example of this is when Flaubert talks about Rodolphe in the 3rd person ‘Rodolphe had heard these things so many times that they had nothing original for him.’ He then reverts into Rodolphe’s mind: ‘one has to make allowances, he thought, exaggerated declarations masking mediocre affection.’ One gets the impression that Flaubert reverts back to the narrative in the ending lines ‘human language is like a cracked cauldron on which we beat out tunes to make a bear dance when we would move the stars to pity’, however, this is just an assumption – the non-use of quotation marks means the reader can never know when a character’s thoughts have ended, and one gets the impression that the narrator imparts some of his own reflections into the character’s thoughts.
This free and indirect style not only creates a sympathy with regards to her fallaciousness, it is also creates a benignancy by virtue of the way the narration supports her own views. An example of this is when the narration wafts from ‘she wondered if by some other workings of chance it might not have been possible for her to meet another man’ to a sort of agreement from the narrator in the line ‘he might have been handsome, witty, distinguished, attractive.’ Heath describes this free and indirect style as a way in which the ‘the writer and the reader become Emma, are taken up in her reverie, her imaginings.’ The novel, therefore, often cultivates its own sympathy by virtue of its style, which causes the writer and reader to become one with the protagonist and to experience Madame Bovary’s own feelings. This can be paralleled to Henryson’s voice of sympathy The Testament of Cresseid. Henryson is so derisory of the unreasonable nature of the Gods’ ruling that he impulsively breaks into the second person when he declares: ‘Your doom is hard and too malicious,’ thus interrupting the sentencing and displaying contempt of court
Cresseid and Madame Bovary are dissimilar to Emma in so far as they experience a development as a result of their infidelity, the former explicitly and the latter implicitly. Cresseid talks about herself in the second person when she says, ‘Where is your chamber’s cushioned chair and screen / And handsome bed and hand-embroidered linen? The wine and spice, the supper that you supped on.’ The use of the second person is suggestive of self-derision rather than self-lamentation. She understands her situation and she profoundly remarks, ‘All wealth on earth is wind that flits and veers.’ She also criticised herself: ‘I myself will be my own accuser.’
This development from Cresseid makes her worthy of not so much sympathy but respect. Madame Bovary’s development happens in a moment, which makes it more like an epiphany, thus lacking the cognitively prolonged nature of Cresseid’s development. It is also a very implicit moment in which she ‘began to laugh, a ghastly, frenzied, despairing laugh’ after hearing the voice of the blind beggar. At this point, she realises the meaning of the beggar’s words – love is unseeing (thus rendering the beggar as an representation of Cupid. Whilst Cresseid and Madame Bovary cannot be justified in their actions, their realisations do rouse respect from the reader. The Emma of Betrayal experiences no such development.
An aspect of the equation still wants, namely the victims. It is certainly true that the adulterers garner a notable degree of sympathy, yet it would be very mean-spirited to identify more with them than the victims. In the Testament of Cresseid, the affected person is Troilus. Although there are only 2 paragraphs focusing on Cresseid’s betrayal of Troilus, they themselves being sped along by the use of enjambment, this is done more out a desire not to repeat a story successfully written by Chaucer, but also to alleviate the reader’s judgment of Cresseid. Later in the poem, Henryson writes of Troilus in glowing terms, describing him as having ‘beaten down, by war and jeopardy, / The Grecian knights,’ and in a moment of great largesse ‘past where Cresseid with lepers made abode’ and ‘A girdle he took out, / A purse of gold and many shining gemstones / and threw them down into Cresseid’s dress.’ Troilus certainly elicits a huge amount of sympathy from the reader, especially after he ‘for grief almost fell down’ when recalling Cresseid’s physical deformations.
In both Madame Bovary and Betrayal, the victims of adultery are children. Jerry’s lack of concern over his children is encapsulated in his gnomic description of his son Sam: ‘He’s tall. Quite tall. Does a lot of running. He’s a long distance runner. Wants to be a zoologist.’ The waiter in the restaurant scene is similarly an innocent bystander who is subjected to Robert’s frustrations: ‘where’s our lunch. This place is going to pot.’ ‘Same glass. Where’s our lunch?’ Richard Martin, in his letter to The Times Literary Supplement argued that he sees ‘not just ‘displaced emotion’ in Robert’s aggression towards the waiter but the waiter himself as a displaced version of Judith: for she is the hapless, indeed dumb, ‘waiter” (4). Judith, the children, and the waiter, are all correlated because they are all affected onlookers, but they know not what by. It is interesting to note that the children do not feature physically in the play, but in the 1983 film (by David Jones), the children feature in negative-consequences of the character’s adultery-borne vented frustrations; for example, when Jerry hollers at his son for playing music too loudly.
This is paralleled in Madame Bovary, where her daughter is a victim of her infidelity. This is evidenced in the scene where Madame Bovary says to Berthe ”Oh, for heaven’s sake, leave me alone’, shoving her away with her elbow.’ As a result, ‘Berthe fell against the foot of the chest of draws, cutting her cheek on the brass fitting.’ At the end of the novel, Berthe makes her ‘keep at a cotton mill.’ The chief victim of infidelity in the three texts is Charles Bovary. Despite being unsophisticated, dim-witted and a frighteningly bad doctor (his operation on Hippolyte’s club foot, resulting in amputation, as an example), he is still one of the novel’s most moral and sincere characters and he genuinely loved Emma whilst she was having licentious liaisons.
Emma is often very unkind to Charles, for example, when she says; ‘he carries a knife in his pocket like a peasant.’ I cannot help but parallel this to the narrator in Robert Frost’s poem ‘Mending Wall’ who describes his neighbour as ‘Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top / In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.’ It is a particularly significant line, since Rodolphe wields a knife at one point, and this fails to elicit the same response from Emma. One strikingly poignant scene is when Charles finally sees all the letters from Emma’s lovers: ‘his deep despondency caused general amazement. He no longer went out, he saw no one, he even refused to visit his patients. People began saying that he ‘shut himself off to drink.” The final description of him is as a ‘long-bearded, wild-looking man in filthy clothes who paced up and down noisily.’ For all Charles’ faults, it seems unthinkable to sympathise more with Emma than Charles. In all three cases, the victims garner more sympathy than the betrayers.
One should not nonchalantly accept the three primary adulterers’ actions as morally reprehensible; but we should acknowledge that their actions are borne out of something more complex than it would at first appear. The greatest sympathy should be given to Cresseid because her life was subject to fate; she lacked all volition owing to Henryson’s depiction of the all-encompassing control of the Gods. I say ‘Henryson’s depiction’ because Chaucer’s original has been manipulated by Henryson such that it rapidly avoids the issue of her affair whilst also removing all her volition.
Madame Bovary represents the repressed sensuality within us, and the reader can certainly feel for her more than the prudish and monotonous environment she inhabits (ironically, it was a puritanical society that condemned Flaubert’s novel for being too sympathetic to an adulteress). It is difficult to sympathise with Betrayal’s Emma. It is true that she longed for a more meaningful relationship with Jerry, but her dedication to Jerry is severely questioned given the initiation of her additional affair with Casey. One would have to question the disposition of any individual who sympathises with the adulterers more than the victims of adultery, as any reader of Madame Bovary would attest to.
2. ‘The Perpetual Orgy’ (Vargas Llosa)
3. ‘Madame Bovary’ (Stephen Heath)
4. Letter from the Times Literary Supplement
Word count with quotes: 3720
Word Count without quotes: 2895
In the novel Madame Bovary the author portrays flaws that are driven
In the novel, Madame Bovary, the author portrays flaws that are driven by passion and the need to find love as it is described in the books that the character reads from a young age. Emma lacks pride and satisfaction due to a trapped marriage. Through this tragic heroines attempt to discover the best version of herself and what she believes she deserves, readers are able to leaven a more serious subject.
In the beginning of the novel Emma is an educated young girl with a newly found passion for reading due to an encounter at the convent.
This drives her idealistic thoughts and causes many problems throughout her life. As a young teenager she always pictured her life as a novel and would often daydream. Eventually, Emma goes on to marry Charles Bovary, by doing so she has faith that he will be the answer to all her problems. “ Before she had married she thought she was in love. But the happiness that should have resulted from this love had not come; she must have deceived herself, she thought”(Flaubert pdf).
Due to having an idealistic vision about romance from the novels she reads, Charles does not live up to her expectations and she becomes bored and starts to distance herself from their relationship. Due to becoming miserable and suffering from boredom with her husband she even begins to despise meals with him, and her health declines due to her depression. Charles, with good intentions in mind, only wants the best for his wife and believes moving to the town of Yonville will make her happy, and overall improve her health. Little does he know, the move begins a story of lies and deceit as Emma begins to indulge in her sexual temptations with other men. The end of part one concludes with Emma rediscovering her flower bouquet from her wedding, instead of reminiscing about happy memories she decides to burn the flowers in order to represent the unhappiness she has in her marriage. “ The little pasteboard buries burst, the wire twisted, the gold lace melted; and the shriveled paper corollas, fluttering like black butterflies at the back of the stove, at lest flew up the chimney. The burning of her flowers foreshadows the young wife’s life that will be cut short at the hands of her own self. Although Charles has great love for his wife, Emma can not confirm that she feels the same.
The main characters downfall of corruption both financially and morally begins as the newly weded couple moves to Yonville, Emma’s lack of lust and love for Charles makes it easier for her to commit the multiple acts of adultery she engages in.
Flaubert presents recurring themes throughout the novel Emma Bovary’s lust for wealth and true love caused her to become a tragic heroine stuck in a plummet of tragedy which ultimately lead her to her own demise. Flaubert creates this young girl to be a tragic heroine with pitiful traits, her recurring motives to find what she believes she truly wants not only makes her a slave for love, but also a victim.
Class Conflict in The House of the Spirits and Madame Bovary
German philosopher Friedrich Engels once said “All history has been a history of class struggles between dominated classes at various stages of social development”. In all societies, each social class has unique characteristics and distinctions, especially in lifestyles and privileges within their respective cultures; however, when differences between social classes become too great, problems begin to arise. Despite the different settings of Allende’s The House of the Spirits and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, the distinctions between social classes in each novel produce the same problematic results for the characters; the problematic results demonstrate the negative effect of vast distinctions between social classes.Allende depicts the differences between the social classes in The House of the Spirits well through the interaction between the people of Tres Marías. Tres Marías contains two major social classes: the landowning class and the peasant class. The landowning class consists of the Trueba family, for Esteban Trueba is the patron of the hacienda, while the peasant class consists of the hacienda’s workers, including the García family. Allende presents the two classes as foils of each other. While Allende portrays the wealth of the landowning class through their fancy clothing, she depicts the peasant class as poor through their filthy rags. Relationship-wise, the landowning class has complete control over the peasant class; the Truebas have control over the happenings in the hacienda and the people who work there. While the peasants toil over the land, all of the rewards go towards the Truebas. The distinctions between the two social classes make them too different to live in harmony, causing major problems for the characters. Because of his title as the patron of Tres Marías, Esteban Trueba finds himself superior to the peasants and expects the rest of his family to feel the same. However, the other family members’ involvement with the lower social class causes tensions within the family. To get around her father’s prohibition, Blanca hides her relationship with Pedro Tercero. “Without anyone telling them, they realized that they could not act so freely in front of others… they began to hide when they wanted to play. They stopped walking hand in hand within sight of the adults, and they ignored each other so as not to attract attention” (Allende 147). Once Esteban Trueba discovers Blanca’s secret, he becomes furious with her. Blanca’s brothers Jaime and Nicolas also have interactions with the peasant class. Both feel sympathetic and charitable towards the workers of Tres Marias and other people less fortunate. Their involvement with the peasants causes tension between them and their father because Esteban Trueba does not want them to ruin the family reputation by becoming involved with people below them. Because of the great differences between the two classes, jealousy arises. Esteban García provides a perfect example; Esteban García envies the Truebas’ luxurious life and believes that if Esteban Trueba realizes and accepts that the Trueba blood flows through his veins as well, he too can live that life. However, Esteban Trueba fails to acknowledge Esteban García as his illegitimate grandson, which results in a growing hatred within Esteban García. This hatred fuels Esteban García’s desire for revenge.In Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, differences between social classes also cause problems for the characters. As a member of the bourgeoisie, protagonist Emma Bovary finds herself bored with the lifestyle of her social class and desires the elegant life of the aristocrats. Emma uses her affairs with Rodolphe and the new, cosmopolitan Leon in order to feel like she belongs in higher society. As the story continues, her desire for acceptance by the aristocrats becomes out of control and her endeavors fail to meet her expectations. Ironically, as Emma tries to force her way into a higher class, she ends up falling down a class. “The men whispered in one corner, probably discussing the expenses. There were a clerk, two medical students, and a shop assistant. What company for her! As for the women, Emma quickly realized from their voices that almost all of them were from the dregs of society. Then she grew frightened, pushed back her chair, and lowered her eyes” (Flaubert 273). Flaubert uses irony to show how Emma realizes that she has failed to live the social lifestyle she originally envisions. The difference and the isolation of the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy cause Emma to concoct ideal visions of the lives of the aristocrats, which does not reflect reality. This results in Emma trying to realize her ideal expectations of the upper class, which eventually leads to her death. The House of the Spirits and Madame Bovary incorporate the dangers of the vast differences in social class in similar ways. For example, both authors have social class bring about tragedies in their novels’ plots. In The House of the Spirits, Esteban García personifies the struggle involving social class. As a child, Esteban García aspires to become a recognized part of the Trueba family and the landowning class. However, his illegitimate grandfather fails to acknowledge him as part of the family, spurring hate within Esteban García which intensifies as he becomes older. This hate fuels his desire for revenge on the Trueba family, which he releases upon Alba Trueba, who he keeps as a personal prisoner. In Madame Bovary, Emma’s desire to change social classes brings about her ultimate downfall. Desiring to enhance her social class, she buys extravagant gifts for her lovers. Her expenses, however, bring her deeper into debt. Under desperate measures to get herself out of debt, she takes her own life. Also, both Esteban García and Emma Bovary, the characters involved with the social class-caused tragedies, aspire to rise in social classes; in the end Esteban García succeeds while Emma does not. Allende and Flaubert use different distinctions between their cultures’ social classes in order to create the conflict in their respective novels. In The House of the Spirits, Allende describes the peasant class as less classy than the landowning class. In fact, Allende describes them in a negative way. “They were a sorry lot. He saw various women of indecipherable age, their skin dry and cracked, some apparently pregnant, all of them barefoot and dressed in faded rags” (49). The landowning class, the Trueba family, owns a large estate, has a lot of power over the other class, and benefits from the peasants’ work. In Madame Bovary, Flaubert uses the protagonist’s influence on the reader to characterize the two classes. Emma finds her bourgeoisie life boring and mediocre. The reader perceives the aristocratic class as superior because Emma believes so. Also, the two novels have different settings. Allende’s novel takes place in a Latin American country whereas Flaubert’s novel takes place in France. The novels, which have similar conflicts that revolve around distinctions between social classes, occur in different settings, but still produce the same, tragic result. This proves that issues caused by the differences in social classes can happen in any culture.In their respective novels, Allende and Flaubert demonstrate that the differences between social classes can have negative impacts on the lives of the characters. The great differences cause Emma Bovary and Esteban García to strive to become part of the better class. As a result of their efforts, they cause tragedies within their respective novels’ plots. The novels teach its readers that the increase in differences between social classes can have dire results. They also encourage the readers keep these results in mind while they look at our own culture in order to make sure that differences in social classes do not have the same or similar negative impacts.
The Spiritual Doldrums of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary
The Spiritual Doldrums of Flaubert’s Madame BovaryThe narrative of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary cannot be completely separated from the commentary on religion and spiritual deficiency in the novel. Segments of Flaubert’s masterpiece are clearly satirical—and if they are not bitingly so, they subtly stir up a criticism of the institution of the church. Specifically, Madame Bovary deals with the ineptitude of the church, and sometimes religion itself, to provide spiritual succor and hope in the face of fear. Emma Bovary is the embodiment of the hopeless, spiritually depraved sinner whom religion has failed to comfort—whom the church has failed to aide. The novel catalogues the journey by which she sets toward salvation and achieves only the self-induced doom of suicide.One of the earliest instances of a turn from faith occurs not with Emma but with her father, Rouault. Rouault’s memory is momentarily piqued as he recalls the small delights his now-deceased wife’s presence had once afforded him. The bittersweet is evoked as he watches the wheels of Emma’s bridal buggy cart her off into the world, just as his wife’s bridal cart had drawn her indelibly into his own world. Seeking solace, Rouault contemplates a visit to the church; yet the church, with its ghosts of bliss (marriage) and woe (death) offers no salve for his wounded sense of spirituality. Of Rouault, Flaubert intimates:“He felt dismal…and as memories and black thoughts mingled in his brain, dulled by the vapors of the past, he considered for a moment turning his steps toward the church. But he was afraid that the sight of it might make him even sadder, so he went straight home.” (Flaubert, pg. 870)In the very upbringing of the immoral, even amoral, Emma Rouault, Flaubert infuses commentary on the superficial nature of the church as a vehicle for salvation. The churchly concerns pressed upon Emma’s soul only cause her spirit to rebel:“The good nuns, who had been taking her vocation quite for granted, were greatly surprised to find that Mademoiselle Rouault was apparently slipping out of their control. And indeed they had so deluged her with prayers, retreats, novenas and sermons, preached so constantly the respect due to saints and the martyrs, and given her so much good advice about modest behavior and the saving of her soul, that she reacted like a horse too tightly reined: she balked, and the bit fell from her teeth.” (Flaubert, pg. 873)As Flaubert later describes, Emma succumbs to fleshly desires and with animal abandon engages in adulterous affairs. Her extramarital escapades and her eventual suicide make a mockery of an institution so bent on spiritual salvation and so confident in its moral enforcement. Afflicted with boredom, Emma flouts her religious rearing and blames God for her sober, stagnant position in life: “It was God’s will. The future was a pitch-black tunnel ending in a locked door.”(Flaubert, pg. 887) Emma’s listlessness causes her to shed any feigned exterior interest in those hobbies in which she once appeared to delight. With hopeless rhetoric she questions, “Who was there to listen…What was the use of anything?” (Flaubert, pg. 887) Emma has nowhere to turn but inward—gnawing deeper into her own despair. Religion offers her no comfort, only greater gloom: “How depressed she was on Sundays, when the churchbell tolled for vespers! With a dull awareness she listened to the cracked sound as it rang out again and again…the bell would keep on giving its regular, monotonous peals.” There is nothing spiritually transforming—nothing spiritually uplifting—about the church in Emma’s dull world. The sound of the bells tolling excites nothing romantic within her, but instead serves as a metaphor for her own life, which drones on tediously.“Part Deux” of Madame Bovary opens with the seemingly arbitrary notation on the Yonville-l’Abbaye—the town to which Charles Bovary and his restless wife Emma move. Is it random that Flaubert—slave to meticulous detail—would include a mention that “even the ruins of the ancient Capuchin friary from which it derives its name are no longer there”? Viewed in the light of Flaubert’s notions of an inexorable fate, this scene of a church-less church town elucidates the grim progression of time—not even this friary could escape decay and ultimate disintegration. A small, remodeled church does stand in the town—but is located across the street from the finest house in Yonville-l’Abbaye. The church’s rotting wooden vaulting and black cavities present a stark contrast to the luxurious and flourishing home across the way. The church and its shambles are left to ruin; the wealthy lack the gratitude to repair it, and the poor lack the means. Small wonder then that it is here in this decrepit town that Emma’s own character will moulder and putrefy into nothingness.Emma undergoes a sort of spiritual resurrection, but quickly her insincere contrition dissipates with the prospect of a new lover. Just as her moral character has departed from the church, so too does Emma depart from the cathedral in the scene of her fever-pitch affair with her second lover, Leon. With little hesitation, the demoralized Emma accepts the pleas of the eager Leon and climbs into the Parisian cab that will host the first of their sexual episodes. Her flight from the Church is so clearly a flight from her already debased moral standing that one can read a hint of foreshadowed doom when the verger cries to Emma and Leon: “Drive past the north door, at least!…Take a look at the Resurrection, the Last Judgment, Paradise, King David, and the souls of the damned in the flames of hell!” (Flaubert, pg. 997) It is as though Flaubert were painting Emma into the history of salvation: hers will be among the souls of the damned in the flames of hell.Having gone to Monsieur Bournisien, the parish priest, in search of spiritual guidance, Emma Bovary encounters only greater despair. With an air of indifference the priest brushes aside her very real, very severe spiritual malaise. When Emma responds to his question—“How are you?”—with a plea—“Poorly”—the uncomprehending Bournisien asks why her husband has yet to prescribe a treatment. “Ah!” Emma replies. “It isn’t earthly remedies that I need” The apathetic priest simply keeps “looking away, into the church, where the boys were kneeling side by side.” (Flaubert, pg. 917) Emma reveals a need for salvation, for a source of happiness in her turbulent woe, and Bournisien offers a paltry, “But what can we do? We’re born to suffer.” (Flaubert, pg. 917)As she lies in bed—a wretch of arsenic and misery—Emma is almost brought to comfort by religion. Upon recognizing the purple stole of the priest who has come to administer her final rites, her mind attaches itself to the “lost ecstasy of her first mystical flights and the first visions of eternal bliss.” (Flaubert, pg. 1047) All is a show, however, and even as she pants closer and closer toward death, Emma kisses the crucifix with overly ecstatic manner—still trying to seize the passion and romantic melancholy that she was so sure life contained. Consider in particular the manner in which Monsieur Bournisien anoints the dying Emma. To exorcise the vice from her corrupted soul, the priest performs chrisms: “He anointed her eyes, once so covetous of all earthly luxuries; then her nostrils, so gluttonous of caressing breezes and amorous scents; then her mouth, so prompt to lie, so defiant in pride, so loud in lust; then her hands, that had thrilled to voluptuous contacts; and finally the soles of her feet, once so swift when she had hastened to slake her desires.” (Flaubert, pg. 1047)To the expiring Emma, the priest is cool and uncomforting—religion offers scarcely any cushion to death’s approach—and the priest’s routine style reflects little personal care for the plight of the self-damning woman. Having performed the rituals, Monsieur Bournisien stoically “wiped his fingers, threw the oil-soaked bits of cotton into the fire, and returned to the dying woman, sitting beside her and telling her that now she must unite her sufferings with Christ’s and throw herself on the divine mercy.” (Flaubert, pg. 1047) In a profound display of symbolic mastery, Flaubert describes the priest’s attempt to have the failing Emma grasp a candle—the symbol of the “celestial glories” which characterize heaven. At the point of death, Emma is too weak to grasp the candle and its religious implications, just as her moral character had been too weak to grasp virtue and battle worldly temptation. As Emma’s convulsions come to a climax, and death finally besets her, the lackluster image of the tolling bells winds its way back into her tale: “everything seemed drowned by the monotonous flow of Latin syllables that sounded like the tolling of a bell.” (Flaubert, pg. 1048)Madame Bovary’s banal existence has fallen far short of her romantic ideals, and the Catholic mysticism with which she had once been enamored proves to be a charade. Her shallow devotion to religion cannot endure the depths of her dejection—and it is without real peace of mind that Emma passes from this anguished life into the next. The novel lilts to a finale of despair, and closes like Emma’s life, with the melancholy song of the blind beggar who captures in his notes of woe the hapless misery of the human condition.
The Dynamics of Fantasy and Reality in Madame Bovary
I.Artist M.C. Escher, famous for his deceptive manipulations of vignettes, once asserted that “Reality cannot exist without illusion, and illusion not without reality.” There is no telling why Escher or countless others are preoccupied with the absurd, with the gray matter of the world; it is difficult to understand how reality can become so stale and trite as to force one to escape from it altogether. After all, there are so many paradigms left to break, so many conceptual questions left unanswered. Perhaps there are some who are innately lacking this recognition of the beauty and paradox of actuality, some who choose to ignore the authenticity of self and escape into some misapprehension, some dream. In few works is this persona better epitomized than in Gustave Flaubert’s classic 1857 publication Madame Bovary. Though the novel is often considered to be a commentary on the corruptible French Bourgeois, the story centers around the selfish machinations of Emma Bovary, a stifled housewife unsatisfied with the life she is leading. Emma, perhaps inadvertently, falls into a parallel world of wining and dining, balls, and other opulent misgivings that eventually lead her to a feeling of disgust for her true vitality, consequently ending her life in suicide. Emma is never able to see the magnificence in relationships and love; she is swept away by the pretentious ideas of Romanticism and luxury. Her husband, Charles, is sadly also in an imaginary world of his own. He cannot detect the indiscrete schemes of his plotting wife. Charles believes he is living a fairy tale with a loving and obedient wife, when in fact it couldn’t be farther from the truth. Ironically enough, those the couple encounter in the treacherous society encroaching on them are the ones closest to reality. In Madame Bovary and in civilization today, both the beauty and danger of illusion is that it removes one from reality in such a way that the latter then loses some splendor of its own. II Lawrence Thornton, in his 1978 criticism of the piece, proposes that Emma Bovary exists in a fantasy world fabricated by “Three visual modes…descriptive, hallucinatory, and autoscopic.” He asserts the descriptive manner of vision explains Madame Bovary’s internal condition and conveys why she reacts to external stimuli in the way she does. Thornton believes Flaubert uses imagery of Emma’s surroundings to parallel her innermost emotions. In her hallucinatory state, Madame Bovary loses all sense of time and becomes engulfed in her latest whim – be it a man or some other object of her ephemeral affection. Temporarily, she forgets she is married and forgets she is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Thornton seems to condone her behavior because of this delusional mode, blaming it and not the person upon whom it manifests. The autoscopic vision seems to combine the former two, explaining the merging of past and present and how it prevents Emma from ever differentiating between fantasy and reality. Flaubert’s style seems to fade out behind Emma’s own articulations, making this mode the most revealing of Emma Bovary’s psyche. Thornton’s ideas on Flaubert’s use of imagery to parallel Emma’s feelings are brilliant, but his analysis of three different modes of vision seems far-fetched and overreaching. Emma Bovary’s notions and emotions seem to almost always be paired with a similar vignette, be it quixotic, desolate or even promising. Flaubert is indeed revealing in this technique how easily Emma is affected by the most subtle of subtleties around her. Thornton claims that Emma no longer understands the concept of time, when in fact it is quite the opposite. Emma is existing in her plight precisely because she is so aware of time. Madame Bovary knows she cannot waste time as an obedient housewife and must expel her desires somehow. Thornton mistakes Emma’s desires for fleeting wants indifferent to time. Though Emma may long to stay young forever, she knows exactly where and how she is, and is doing what she can to inject excitement into her life. If Emma were to have no concept of time, she would not be so desperate and willing to fall into illusion. Her perception of time is why her illusions are so dangerous. III If ever there were evidence of Emma Bovary’s false sense of what is ideal and what is just, it lies in the style of Flaubert’s writing. Emma persistently scrutinizes her situation and has not the appreciation of the most self-absorbed and pompous in society. The journeys into Emma’s thoughts express Flaubert’s style flawlessly, manipulating the reader into detecting the detrimental effects of a false reality. Madame Bovary ponders: “Would this misery last forever? Would she never be out of it? She certainly deserved as much as all those women who were living happily. She had seen duchesses at Vaubyessard who had clumsier figures and more common manners than she, and she cursed God’s injustice; she would lean her head against the wall and cry; she envied tumultuous lives, masked balls, and insolent pleasures with all the mad distractions they probably offered and that she had never known.” (83) This self-inquiry conveys Emma’s insight that probes no further than the material level, the outer surface of things. She continues to create a chasm between her own life and that which she desires, evident in Flaubert’s sentence structure. To begin the passage, Madame Bovary uses two simple, segregating sentences referencing the life she currently leads. As the segment progresses and Emma draws into the life she yearns for, however, her thoughts are materialized into freight-train sentences, displaying her boredom with the present circumstances and a garnished, romantic idea of what she thinks she deserves. Flaubert employs this concealed technique throughout the novel, slowly increasing the breach between whim and actuality. The tone is melancholic, but in being so it is also latently manipulative. Emma is so distraught, so desperate for a new existence, she almost provokes empathy from the reader. This is precisely Flaubert’s strategy – he wants the audience to feel compassion for Emma. The reader soon realizes he should not be feeling sympathy for such an ungrateful adulteress, and has encountered the hazards of illusion. Emma is so out of touch with reality she invokes the audience to side with her, proving the power of fantasy. Emma is already too justified in her mind to revert back to reality, as evident in the phrase “She certainly deserved as much…” She is convinced that what could be should be, and Flaubert exquisitely portrays this through his style. IV Society is a corruptible entity; it is flawed and responsible for the perils in the world today. There are many reasons for this imperfection in civilization, and, as exemplified in Madame Bovary, misapprehension is among the most paramount. It is not to say goals or ambitions are among these terrible misgivings, rather it is the arbitrary and lustful desires or impressions that weave the flaws into the fabric of mankind. Illusion is a chief catalyst behind ignorance, sin, and disgrace. Emma Bovary possesses the most frivolous desires in the story, and, fittingly, she carries the most ignominy. Her wants stem from readings of quixotic tales filled with lacy imagery of swoon and fancy possessions, leading her to an idea of what her vitality should be. Despite the lack of money flowing into the household, Emma sinks herself into debt purchasing needless item after needless item, killing her sense of moderation and modesty. After the ball in Vaubyessard, she then begins to conjure up an idea of the perfect man, not appreciating the loving one she actually has. With each day, Emma comes to loathe the true possessions and the genuine man in her life, leaving her perpetually yearning for something more. Spawned from this cycle is Madame Bovary’s eventual committals of adultery and deceit, displaying the ease with which fantasy may cause transgression and dishonor. A spurious idea of reality is also responsible for temporal blindness and denial. Charles never suspects any wrongdoing on Emma’s behalf, despite the mounting evidence against her. He believes from day one he is living out the typical bourgeois lifestyle, loving Emma as a trustworthy wife. His fantasy, though more innocent and respectable than Emma’s, is just as thoughtless and contributing to the faults in society. Because he believes the marriage is perfect, Charles never attempts to change his monotonous and predictable ways. The two have no idea what the other wants because they are blinded by two unrealistic fantasies. A fantasy can only go as far as one wants it to, but, sadly, society is plagued by those who cannot distinguish it from actuality. Emma Bovary’s illusions produce sin and ignominy while her husband’s create an impermeable ignorance and blindness. Illusion, as shown in these examples, is the cause of the many defects of the human condition. V Reality indeed cannot exist without illusion, because without the latter there is nothing to compare what is real to what is not. Likewise, illusion will never stand alone because there must exist an entity from which to escape. Few recognize that this subtle relationship is a beautiful one – it has led to innovation, discovery, and love. But it is also treacherous, as some will polarize to total fantasy and may never fall back into a healthy balance of both it and reality. This is so in the disastrously exquisite tale of Madame Bovary. Charles and Emma Bovary are a tragic couple, doomed from the start, and impeded by a lack of genuine vitality. It frustrates the reader that the two can never escape from their fantasies of opulence, excitement, or true love and companionship. The story presents beauty as well, however – Charles and Emma salvage some joy out of lives they were unfortunately thrown into. As the saying goes, ignorance is bliss, and indubitably, both Charles and Emma find pleasure only in their fantasies. People will always find ways to achieve happiness, be it in illusion, actuality, or a combination of the two. Of course, there are perils in escaping into a fantasy world, but who is anyone to say what one should or shouldn’t do? It is the wonderful complexity of the human will that will dictate where our lives will lead us. When I look at another M.C. Escher drawing, perhaps I will divert into illusion for one moment – for that may be where satisfaction lies.