Friday, February 03, 2012

Madame Bovary, A Story of Really Miserable People

Yesterday sucked. It actually wasn't the day's fault, but there were meetings with bigwigs and people-stress and daycare WTFery and just ridiculousness. I'm glad yesterday is over and I can enjoy today -- a Friday filled with afternoon and evening time to read and grade papers. Well, it's all good except the paper grading part. I have a class this afternoon, but they're working on a project for the majority of the time in class, so it should work in my favor.

Getting beyond the crapfest that was most of you know, Heather and I did a buddy read of Gustave Flaubert's much-drooled-upon, Madame Bovary. Many of those lists of best books say this is the second best book in the stratosphere right after Anna Karenina. I haven't read Anna K. so I have no idea about the ranking, but I'm also a little curious as to how in the world this became the second best book in history? I wasn't included on that vote.

This was not a bad book. Not bad at all, in fact. Like most Realist novels, it's filled with characters who are annoying and who are tortured (sometimes) to death. In interesting and unique ways. My experience before MB was largely limited to Theodore Dreiser's American realist novel, Sister Carrie, which came WAY after MB. But the basic tenets are the same: characters who have a icky lot in life. Done!

Here's a short synopsis:
Emma marries Charles Bovary who she initially thinks is quite fine enough to save her from living with her father. After she's married she's bored and begins to think Charles is icky. She has an overblown sense of the romantic from reading lots of novels that have filled her head with nonsense (damn reading women!!!). Misery leads to adultery and lots of stupidity and she's miserable and adulterous for a long, long time. And stuff.

First off, I did not hate Emma Bovary as much as the average reader. She was quite a silly woman, bored, needed more manual labor to keep her busy (as is once proposed in the novel). She is certainly the epitome of selfishness by the time it all goes to hell, but I still didn't hate her. This book reminds me of the same themes at work in the short short story, "The Story of an Hour," by Kate Chopin (two pages vs. 400 in this novel). Women had no choice but to marry if they were going to have anything in life, and they often ended up stranded and miserable. Given, her husband loved her but she was not fulfilled in a number of ways. Does it make her actions right? NO. Was she a goober? YES. But I don't hate her. There were a lot of issues of circumstance that set off a chain reaction of gargantuan proportions.

The readability of this novel really surprised me. I downloaded the Eleanor Marx-Aveling translation because it was cheap, and then I discovered that it's largely considered the worst translation of anything ever. BUT, despite that, it was still a quick read. We zipped through in a week. If Lydia Davis's translation is considered the best thing ever, then I want to read it one day to see what all the fuss is about. Note: Marx-Aveling was THAT Marx's daughter. Yep! Daughter of Karl Marx did the first English translation of this novel. High five!

Like any red-blooded 30-something, I was also initially interested in the scandal that went along with this novel. It's supposed to be right up there with Lady Chatterley in the "holy shit this is scandalous" category. But I have news for all of you pervs out there: there are no jiggling loins or heaving bosoms in this novel. I know, I know...I was disappointed, too. There was one very shady foray in an arbor and one bouncing carriage and that's it. That's all I've got. There's a big difference between 1857 and 1928 in the writerly sexuala department. Still, I know why it blew people's hair back in the 1850s. I get it.

 I am glad glad glad this was my first classic of 2012. It was a great reading experience (though I still don't think it's the second best book in the universe). It was even cooler to read it with Heather and gossip about Emma Bovary everyday. That little tart sure does give a reader food for thought.

Snuggle -- Skewer

Pub. Date: 1857
Publisher: No idea
Format: E-book
Source: Purchased by me.

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