Every so often the Gables Book Group decides that it is time to read a classic. For most of us we are rereading books from our high school days. However, for this month, the book that was chosen was one that I had not read as a teen. Madame Bovary has been translated numerous times and, as evidenced by our discussion, that can influence the reaction to the book.
Emma Bovary, much like Anna Karenina, is a tragic heroine from another time and another culture. However, Emma is not the heroine that with whom reader can empathize. She is superficial, materialistic and for the most part uncaring. She marries Charles Bovary at a time when he is still mourning his first wife. She goes to a very fancy party and gets a taste of what life among the "rich and famous" can be like. When she becomes sickly, the two move to a small market town. Charles gives up his successful medical practice for her, but she is not grateful at all. She dreams of being in Paris and the rich life. In reality, she spends most of her life in a dream world.
Upon arrival in their new home, Emma discovers she is pregnant. In perhaps the most tragic part of the novel, she is in contention for the world's worst mother. She will have nothing to do with her daughter and sends her to a wet nurse and neighbor to raise her. Only when it is convenient does she spend any time with Berthe. Emma, in search for a better lot in life, has an affair that ends with her eventual rejection. The end of the novel is tragic for all the characters involved. Death does not come without its far reaching fingers.
I am glad that we read this novel. Its impact would be lost on youth and it's understandable why Madame Bovary is considered the first modern realistic piece of fiction in the realm of world literature.