"From that moment on, her life was no more than a confection of lies in which she wrapped her love, as though in veils, to hide it" (240).
I have just finished a book about contemptible characters who do and say horrendous things, nevertheless I relished almost every page. I feel as though I paid the characters much more attention than they deserved--my fascination with them was matched only by their own self-absorption. I felt like a voyeur delving into Emma's psyche while witnessing her desperate performances, "playacting" as her mother-in-law describes it. She and other characters seem obsessed with crafting invented images of themselves, with no substance to uphold them, like Dr. Canivet, described as "practicing virtue without believing in it." And yet I was riveted by this dichotomy between their inner motives and outer actions. They're all (with a few exceptions) just a bunch of poseurs, however realistically portrayed. Is it morbid to have been so entertained by the Bovarys' downward spiral and demise? Well, at least I can accuse Flaubert of the same insensitivity in the writing of it.
If this story can be described as a train wreck, then in Part III the train is accelerating at an alarming rate, and I came just short of closing my eyes to avoid seeing the inevitable outcome. This section seems frantic, and as the pace quickens, the irony becomes more frequent and the sarcasm more caustic. Flaubert's beloved hats go on, then off; the colors are electrifying; and almost everything comes in sets of three. I laughed. I cringed. It moved me--to judgment, which the narrator so avidly suspends. I've got a whole collection of one-liners that kept me entertained. Here's a few:
Emma's conversation with Leon before their runaway romp in the carriage:
"It's quite improper, you know."
"In what way?" replied the clerk. "They do it in Paris!"
And that remark, like an irresistible argument, decided her.
Pere Rouault, after Emma's funeral, in so much grief he cannot even bear to sleep in the Bovarys' house or see his granddaughter, says to Charles: "Goodbye! . . . You're a good fellow! And never fear, I'll not forget," he said, slapping his thigh. "You'll still get your turkey."
Of Homais' ambitions: "He followed the great chocolate movement." (I don't even know if this was meant to be humorous, but it tickled me.)
I came to Madame Bovary with a fairly clean slate, and my expectations were all wrong, in a satisfying way. What I thought was going to be a stodgy telling of a dissatisfied French housewife turned out to be an in-depth psychological study in the form of a brilliant tragicomedy. There are so many things that can be discussed (the different power structure in each of Emma's relationships, class distinctions, the significance of the Blind Man, etc., etc., etc.), and I trust that other participants in the group read will cover them expertly. Thanks again to Frances for hosting. It has been wonderful (and humbling) to virtually rub shoulders with some very insightful and educated readers.