It’s not surprising that “Madame Bovary” caused an outrage when it first came out. Nor is it shocking that this book made the rounds and became a classic. Not only was it relevant then, but it remains relevant now.
If you are looking for a happy ending, this is not the book for you. Slowly, we watch Madame Bovary, a young Catholic girl who was raised in a convent, get married to the first man who ever pays her any attention. Call it naivete, youth, whatever, she quickly realizes that she has made a mistake. But being a good Christian wife, she attempts to live with that mistake by being the ultimate good housewife and do her “duty”. However, she becomes bored with her situation, and seeks to fulfill her more romanticized yearnings. She turns to adultery.
You would think that is where her debauchery ends, but no. Her character further declines from lying and deceitful to greedy and vain. She longs for the finer things in life and goes so far as to steal from her husband to get it, making flamboyant purchases, racking up IOUs and paying for her adulterous escapades. Or as we like to say in modern times, keeping up with the Joneses.
It is inevitable that this will all culminate to her ruin. How can it not?
Readers of the 1800s must have been shocked, damn near outraged, that Gustave Flaubert had the audacity to write about the insights of women. How dare he write about a woman who doesn’t love her husband. How dare he assume that bored housewives will inevitably cheat on their husbands. The outrage! The fact that the French government unsuccessfully tried Flaubert for obscenity is quite laughable.
Methinks thou dost protest too much.
Aren’t all stories somewhat based on truth? They were probably mad that someone actually had the chops to actually publicize what everyone already knew. They can no longer put on airs. Flaubert alludes to this as some of the villagers end up blackmailing Bovary to keep her secret. At least Flaubert wrote a fictional story about it, but it must struck a little too close to home for some.
I am pretty sure that this book made the rounds among the populace very quickly and for good reason. Moving away from the plot, Flaubert is known for his writing style, one that he perfected over a grueling number of years and pushed him to be known for ushering in the age of realism in literature.
Although this book was written in 1856, it is notably different from works of the same era. For one thing it was very easy to read as it lacked the dense language that often bog down similar books of the time. Flaubert focuses on telling the story in the most simplest of terms and in a way that everyone can understand. He doesn’t hold punches. And while he has the decorum not to go into intimate detail about Madame’s affairs, he doesn’t allow the reader to interpret it any other way. His descriptive writing doesn’t leave anything to the imagination and you can follow Bovary as if you were her accomplice.
If you didn’t know when this book was written, you would have thought it was written today. Which is why this book stands the test of time. Unfit marriages continue to happen today, and more often than not, the couple realizes they made a mistake and go on their separate ways. Unfortunately some of them don’t end before someone does something hurtful to the other. It is just sad that Bovary’s ending was a bit more tragic.