Clearly the only way I can get myself to read one of the books in my continually growing to-be-read pile is for there to be a movie coming out. Get on it Hollywood, there are about 60 books I still need to get through.
Disclaimers: I read a translation due to my French being nonexistent, but the original is supposed to be exquisite. I don’t have to warn about spoilers in a review about something published in 1856, do I?
Madame Bovary is one of those classics in which the elements that were once fresh and shocking are now cliched. Emma Bovary is unhappily married to a devoted but dull country doctor, Charles. Bored with her duties as a wife and mother, she fantasizes about a life full of romance and pleasure, similar to what she’s read about in popular novels. Emma futilely chases these dreams by having love affairs and buying expensive items on credit. Both her lovers grow tired of her, and her debts bring about her husband’s ruin. Emma swallows arsenic and dies an excruciating death.
It’s said that Gustave Flaubert does not judge Emma, and in fact that’s partially why the book was banned and he landed in an obscenity trial. But I don’t think I agree with that. Isn’t making your character a silly, shallow woman and then having her downfall stem from being silly and shallow pretty judgy in of itself? I’ve read a lot of books about doomed women and unlike most of them, Emma has no redeeming features. In Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy seemed to actually like his heroine. I did not not get that feeling in Madame Bovary.