Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert is surely one of the master works of French literature and one of the best novels coming out of the nineteenth century, a rich time in world literature.
Charles Bovary, a modest rural doctor, is wed to Emma, a beautiful girl from a wealthy family. Emma has been educated as a lady, and her head is filled with romantic notions. Charles Bovary is a calm and good-natured, though narrow-minded fellow. The couple lead a mundane sort of life, which often frustrates Emma’s grander notions. The blandness of their relationship leaves Emma unsatisfied, and even the birth of her first daughter cannot placate her uneasiness. After some time Rodolphe, a more dandified and refined gentleman than her husband, appears in Madame Bovary’s life. He easily seduces her and leads her to believe that in her, he has found the passion, the true love that he had so long longed for. Emma is torn between the bland reality of her marriage, and the promise of a world full of love and wealth, which has so far eluded her.
Madame Bovary defines that lowness in spirits, that depression, which remains so prevalent in our day, and which is still little understood. It speaks about a person’s (in this case Madame Bovary’s) nonconformity with the humdrum of everyday life. And the extreme allure a life of luxury and consumerism represent for someone trying to fill that type of existential void. A situation which often keeps us chasing after some sort of “ideal life”. One with a perfect partner, where one is doing perfect work and living in a perfect house. Certainly a precarious way of looking at life, since an ideal is often just that.
Gustave Flaubert masterfully narrates the tragedy of Madame Bovary. In terms of form, Monsieur Flaubert is a true innovator of style, a passionate man of words who coined the phrase “le mot juste” (French for “the right word”) as he was rumored to sometimes spend weeks looking for just the right word, only one, which would fit perfectly within his prose. Of course, unless we know French and can read it in the original language, chances are a lot of Monsieur Flaubert’s hard work was done in vain. But the beauty of the language throughout the book (even in some bad English translations), the careful description of artefacts, circumstances and feelings; as well as the pin point accuracy of his words, makes poetry out of prose.