Madame Bovary: Brief Thoughts on Reread

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When I first read it, I pitied Emma Bovary. How stuck she was in her world! What a victim of circumstance! True, she made wrong decisions. But she was trapped in a relationship that bored her.

On this read, I hated her. She made stupid decision after stupid decision. She did not have the ability to love, either her husband, her child, or her lovers. She thought she loved Rudolphe, but from my perspective she lusted, not loved. It was a selfish escape from her boredom. She was naïve and selfish beyond measure. Her husband was doting and kind, and she saw only the negative aspects of his personality. Her husband was, of course, imperfect: that was all she saw.

I wonder if this different perspective is related to my own situation a little. Tomorrow is my fifth wedding anniversary; I realize a little better now than I did two and a half years ago that marriage is always a give situation. You must give of yourself to find joy. A marriage is not each partner giving 50%: it is each person giving 100%, and loving unconditionally. I saw as I read Madame Bovary this time that she gave nothing back. She expected everything and as a result felt she got nothing. Her selfish stupidity meant I felt no pity for her.

Regardless of Emma Bovary’s stupidity, I still greatly enjoyed Gustave Flaubert’s wonderfully written book. Lydia Davis’ new translation was marvelous. Reading Madame Bovary reminded me how grateful I am for my loving husband and for our relationship.

And happy anniversary to Mr. Reid! (He doesn’t read my blog, but I can still say it here.)

Reviewed on May 19, 2011

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I really liked this book too — I haven’t read the most recent translation, but I read it a few years ago and was riveted by Emma’s story. I think it shows a masterful writer if they can create such an unlikable character and make me still want to read the book. Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence was another.

  • “A marriage is not each partner giving 50%: it is each person giving 100%, and loving unconditionally. ”

    I love that! How true it is!

    Even if you hated Emma this time round (I don’t blame you), I’m glad to hear you found the translation so good. I have a copy of this version and look forward to it. My first encounter with Mme Bovary had a rather awkward translation so I’m looking for one that captures the grace and ease of Flaubert’s prose.

  • Congrats on your anniversary. I’ve often found when I’ve gone back for a re-read that each story shows me something different from the first read.

  • The “I hate her” reaction was the reaction I had on my first read. Now (still on my second read) I do not like her, but I do pity her at times. I wonder what my final thoughts will be after I finish it.

  • I read Madame Bovary for the first time just last year and I hated her. I really wish that I had read it years ago though to see if I would have liked her then. I had a Presbyterian upbringing so I suspect that I still wouldn’t have liked her. Congrats. on your 5th anniversary!

  • I also have a really low opinion of Mrs Bovary-I have read the book twice but not yet in the new translation-i enjoyed your post a lot

  • Oh wow, I haven’t read this since, gosh, I think freshman year? I don’t know if I truly even remember most of it as it was about 14 years ago. That’s a pretty scary thought. I’ll have to take another spin through.

  • That’s how I felt about Emma the first time I read this book, except that I cant’ say I enjoyed it at all. Perhaps it’s the translation I read, which was old and very dry…

  • Happy birthday, Mr. Reid! And happy anniversary, to you both. 🙂

    I’m going to finish Madame Bovary this week. I’m about a third through. I’m curious to see how I’ll feel, when it’s over. 🙂

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