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She is enchanting, she is infuriating. Coquette, materialistic, living life as if it were romantic fiction. Emma Bovary leaves a lasting impression wherever she goes. This being a French novel, there is a lot of predatory male behaviour in the background, but Emma Bovary takes the centre stage.
Anyone who encounters this classic of French realist literature will be struck by the intimate portrait of the main character. She is the nineteenth century equivalent of a trophy wife. Little but air in her head and lots of expensive trinkets to keep her acquisitive lifestyle going.
And yet, and yet, somehow Flaubert makes this woman attractive. We even feel sympathy for her when she finds her husband boring and her lovers fickle. The book tiptoes between comedy, irony and ultimately horror when Emma's planned dramatic exit turns into a gruesome deathbed agony.
Most fascinating of all is the fact that the book is written by a man. Is this how men see women? This book is a fantastic exploration of the woman inside his head. Some one hundred and fifty years later the book still attracts and repels the reader in equal measure. A masterpiece of world literature and a reminder to us all that too much fiction is a dangerous thing!
Madame Bovary is regarded as one of the most influential and important French Books ever written. The conundrum in the book is working out what actually happens. However, you have to realise that the book is definitely not about telling a nice story:
Flaubert wrote Madame Bovary at the age of twenty-nine and it was published in the columns of "Revue de Rouen" and "Nouvelliste de Rouen". He had written previous novels, however there was a scandal over this particular novel's publication and the "Nouvelliste de Rouen" was prosecuted due to the novel stretching "Limits which even the lightest literature should not transgress" . At the time of publication in 1857 it was not customary to write about adultery with such realistic boldness. This portrayal of a non-noble woman behaving adulterously was difficult to justify in the 19th century and so was seen to be disreputable. Madame Bovary has prompted a huge amount of literary criticism and analysis. Saint-Beuve declared that Flaubert "wielded the pen as others wielded the scalpel", which, as I will show later epitomises Flaubert's style. However many others were less complimentary, such as Le Figaro, which stated that Flaubert had "first class talents" but was "not a writer". It seems that the impact, originality and innovation of Madame Bovary can be seen through the bitterness of the criticisms directed at it.
One of Flaubert's strengths is the depth beyond the narrative itself. He said himself that he was always trying to find "Le mot juste", and in fact he took three years to finish the second part of the novel due to the criticism of his friend Louis Bouillet . Bouillet challenged Flaubert to write a book with no relevance to himself and with a plot of no grandiosity. This book is a primary example of realism, where Flaubert, as much as he is interested in conceptual thought, is more concerned with actual behaviours and the social identities of his characters. In this respect he was innovative and was part of a change in the way French novels were written in the 19th Century . Here is an extract from the first chapter of the book:
« Il avait les cheveux coupés droit sur le front, comme un chanter de village, l'air raisonnable et fort embarrassé. Quoiqu'il ne fût pas large des épaules, son habit-veste de drap vert à boutons noirs devait le gêner aux entournures et laissait voir, par la fente des parements, des poignets rouges habitués à être nus. Ses jambes, en bas bleus, sortaient d'un pantalon jaunâtre très tiré par les bretelles. Il était chaussé de souliers forts, mal cirés, garnis de clous. »
This small passage tells us a vast amount about Charles Bovary. Rarely does Flaubert use description that sets the scene or provides an intermission. In this case, Charles is depicted as a rather pathetic and ludicrously dressed boy with a multiplicity of details and diversity of colours (Flaubert refers to five different colours in this passage alone). Flaubert could also be writing prophetically of Charles Bovary's fate: the tight jacket may represent limitations and the un-shined shoes could signify his dullness of character. It is this meticulous style that forces me to agree with Saint-Beuve: it seems that Flaubert did not write spontaneously, perhaps partly due to his great ambition of producing a faultless 'work of art' with minutely refined details.
The themes used in the novel are very intricate indeed. . Flaubert uses eating as a method of uncovering Madame Bovary's declining attitude, as well as a means of adding detail to social situations.
Son mari, au dîner, lui trouva bonne mine; mais elle eut l'air de ne pas l'entendre lorsqu'il s'informa de sa promenade; et elle restait le coude au bord de son assiette, entre les deux bougies qui brûlaient.
« Emma ! » dit-il.
« Quoi ? »
[...]Et, dès qu'elle fut débarrassée de Charles, elle monta s'enfermer dans sa chambre. »
Throughout the novel, Emma's relationship with eating deteriorates in parallel with the declining relationship with her husband. Meal times become the crux of not only her displeasure with Charles but also her dissatisfaction with the fabric of her life. It is almost as if Emma is taking control of not only her body, but also her destiny through both the denial of food and then ultimately the eating of a toxic substance. This is encapsulated by the phrase, « ...toute l'amertume de l'existence lui semble servie sur son assiette... » , which is both visually specific, whilst carrying symbolic weight. Later on in the novel, as Emma's outlook on life deteriorates, so does her desire for food: « Monsieur vous attend, madame ; la soupe est servie. » Et il fallut descendre ! Il fallut se mettre à table ! Elle essaya de manger. Les morceaux l'étouffaient. This clearly shows her despondency. The repeated 'il fallut' conveys desperation, whilst her reluctance to eat (here shown by choking) represents her frantic efforts to control her eating, and in so doing, her life. Despite these attempts, Emma remains indulgent and lacks self control throughout the novel, which Flaubert illustrates through her numerous hedonistic sexual escapades and capricious use of money.
In Madame Bovary, we rarely hear what the characters themselves feel and think, and when we do, it is never in such a way that we feel Flaubert is identifying himself with them. As a result Flaubert does not share any opinion of his own, but deliberately stands outside his own experiment to avoid misrepresenting its results.
Overall, I definitely recommend Madame Bovary. It's one of those books you just have to read before you die.
I read this last week purely because it's a book that I knew the name of but knew nothing else about. Flaubert apparently spent six years perfecting this book, which is quite incredible and almost unbelieveable. I personally don't think that the result is worth the effort of six years. It's not a bad read, it's just not the most gripping of stories.
The book begins with the introduction of Charles Bovary and how he makes the journey from shy schoolboy to village Doctor. I found the number of pages devoted to Charles' beginnings somewhat pointless and not at all beneficial to the story. It also made me feel as though Charles was going to be the main focus of the book, when of course he is not. Still, once Flaubert introduces Emma then the story moves along a bit more quickly. Charles meets Emma through Emma's father, who is his patient. After a brief and somewhat clinical courtship, they marry and move to a new village. Emma quickly tires of her marriage and her lifestyle and, over time, her eye wanders and she ends up having two love affairs. All the while she is spending beyond her means and racking up serious debts. The story itself centres on Emma's dissatisfaction with her life, and her constant boredom with her lot. It is quite hard to feel any sympathy for Emma as she seems quite hard and emotionless, and you are aware that she walked into her marriage willingly. Charles' only crime toward her is to be not as exciting as she wishes him to be.
The story is not only about Emma's affairs, as other reviewers have stated - although that is a large part of the plot. I would say that it is more about Emma's general dissatisfaction and the ease in which she falls prey to greed and lust (although she believes it is love). Flaubert tells the story with great details, sometimes where none are necessay I think. But, on a positive note, this does make it easy to imagine the scene and indeed the characters themselves.
This was a fairly enjoyable read, but probably not one that I would read more than once. I wasn't really gripped until right near the end when Emma's story is finally concluded. It is more of an amble through the life of a bored Doctor's wife than the more exciting story I was hoping for.
Indulge me a moment while I relate a short tale. More years ago than I care to remember, when I was at school, we were assigned, in a French oral class, the task of working in pairs, one of us taking the part of a police officer and the other a witness, to converse in French, asking for and giving the description of a person spotted at the scene of some fictitious crime. I worked with my friend Louise and, although this is blatant boasting, I have to say that we were both some distance ahead of the rest of our classmates in our proficiency of the language. I took the part of the police officer and, having established that Louise could offer a description of this shady character, I began to ask what he was wearing. Louise's imagination knew no bounds and she was delighted to report that he was wearing a leather skirt (yes, really) and a yellow hat. Further investigation revealed that this was no ordinary hat for it, too, was made of leather and it had an attractive floral band around it. The man was wearing socks which were described as "serpent like" and a tie which reminded her of a carpet. So the description continued becoming more detailed and elaborate by the second. It was all I could do not to collapse into hysterical laughter as Louise demonstrated the depths of her French vocabulary. As I review "Madame Bovary" it should become apparent why this episode sprang to mind when I put pen to paper to write this piece.
When it was published in 1857, "Madame Bovary" caused something of a sensation. It's author, Gustav Flaubert, received widespread condemnation for what was deemed an immoral novel and there were even attempts to prosecute. However, it is widely held, now, as one of the great novels of French literature and one which is said to mark a shift in French literature - the first novel of the realism genre.
Emma Bovary is married to a country doctor, a few years her senior. Charles never intended to become a doctor, it was wished for him by his mother when he completed his schooling and for want of any other ideas, Charles fell into line. When his mother also found him a wife he again agreed but the wife died soon after the marriage and when Charles met Emma while attending to her injured father, he quickly fell in love with her.
Some years earlier, Emma had returned to the family farm after being schooled in a convent. The nuns had had high hopes of Emma joining the sisters and she had shown much early promise but she had then discovered romantic novels and immersed herself in tales of knights and damsels and, instead of hymns, she could be heard singing ballads of the day.
Emma has doubts about marrying Charles because she does not think that she is madly in love with him. She feels that passion is missing but she marries him nonetheless because she persuades herself that love will come later. After the wedding she leaves her father to live with Charles in the town of Yonville where she is intorduced to Leon, the clerk to the town's lawyer. At first Emma tries to hide her feelings for this vital young man but she is forced to admit to herself and eventually to Leon that she has fallen in love with him. At this point, though, it is too late, Leon is on his way to the city to complete his legal exams.
After his departure, Emma tries her best to be a good wife to Charles and a good mother to Bertha, their young daughter but she is miserable. Marriage is not what she had imagined, a far cry from the lives led by the characters in her books and the rich people she reads gossip about in the magazines she has sent from Rouen and Paris.
It is not that Charles does not love Emma, he is merely undemonstrative and it is perhaps symbolic of the nature of courtship and marriage at that time that Emma feels such disappointment, after all she would not have had the chance to really get to know a partner like woman do before committing to marriage today. Charles in not the husband she wants although noone could fault his generosity and his kindness. Emma sees in Charles all kinds of faults which a happy woman would probably never notice but which make her more and more unhappy as she tries to give the impression of happiness.
When, later, she meets the arrogant and womanising Rodolphe she succumbs to his dubious charms and throws herself into the affair. However even the romance and excitement she so badly craves are not enough to make her happy and Emma is not able to live with the consequences of her actions.
Some people have said that Emma Bovary is very much a modern woman: she has been described as being a feminist icon. This novel is one of the earliest examples of a heroine who wants more than to be the dutiful wife, a woman who is bored with staying at home and looking after the house while her husbnd goes out to work. However, for me, Emma loses any of the strength and spirit she might be considered to have because she is essentially selfish and vacuous. She is easily impressed by nobilty and wealth and is disdainful of the habits of the country folk around her. Personally, I never felt any sympathy for Emma but it may be that it is because I am looking at her from the perspective of a young woman in the twenty-first century. However, since the book caused such a stir on publication, clearly, society at the time did not care much for Emma Bovary either.
Charles is not an exciting man he does what he thinks is right for Emma,such as buying her a horse when it has been suggested that more fresh air would be of benefit to her health. His naivete is no doubt one of the reasons for his inability to be the romantic hero Emma would like for a husband. Straight from his medical training to a small practice in the provinces, he has seen little of the world and and is little experienced in what women want. He does nothing to suggest that Emma is justified in the way she treats him but on the other hand he offers no real colour or life.
Flaubert's writing is filled with similes, metaphors and a constant stream of adjectives. I found this rather charming at first but gradually it began to wear me out. I longed for things just to be blue or high but Flaubert obviously didn't think things sufficiently described until the reader was crying out for relief from the bombardment of adjectives. Used in moderation the descriptive writing would be lovely to read but I found it overwhelming. This excess was what reminded me of my French classes where Louise and I never knew quite when to draw the line.
One passage reads "Her black eyes looked blacker. Her hair, slighlty puffed over her ears, glittered with a blueish sheen. The rose in her chignon quivered onits flexible stem. At the tip of each leaf there was an artificial drop of water. Her dress was of pale saffron yellow, relieved by three tight bunches of roses complete with their leaves. "
Someone said to me recently that comtemporary author, Will Self, uses all the words that Martin Amis wanted to use in his novels but couldn't fit in. It's just as well they're not contemporaries of Flaubert - there would be no spare words left to use!
All of this is not to say, though, that "Madame Bovary" no longer has anything to offer today's readers. The characterisation is wonderful and Flaubert has, managed to capture almost every personality one might meet, from the rapacious wet nurse who is charged with looking after the newborn Bertha to he pedantic chemist Monsieur Homais whose ministrations first brought Charles to Yonville. There is enough entertainment from these characters to keep the reader occupied even if the trials of Charles and Emma's marriage do begin to wear you down. They certainly wore me down: I found little to attract me to either Charles or Emma but I did enjoy the depiction of life in provincial France with it's petty rivalries. One lovely chapter covers the communities agricultural show where prizes are being handed out for various achievements in farming and the industrial arts. In one delightful scene, a toothless, wrinkled, old lady is completely bambozzled when she is ushered to the stage to claim a prize of twenty five francs for long service to her farm.
It really is necessary to bear in mind that conventions and morality were very different when "Madame Bovary" was written to the way they are today although human nature does not seem to have changed much. Maybe this is why I did not get too vexed with this story even though I could easily have been so inclined. I was torn between being irritated by Emma and feeling a bit sorry for a fellow woman trapped in an unhappy marriage. It doens't seem that unusual these days to hear tell of a young woman marrrying an older man only for the results of the age gap to later have a negative impact on the relationship. Nor is it an unheard tale for a man to work hard to provide for his wife and children with it never to be quite enough to satisfy her. Therefore, the situations depicted in this novel are not peculiar to the mid-nineteenth century but our reaction to them is influenced by our looking at them with a modern perspective.
Although my copy had quite useful and interesting notes at the end, I did not feel that there was anything that was not self-explanatory in the text, no references specific to the time which are not in common usage today and certainly nothing which would warrant a quick look to get its gist before I could read on.
Recommended with reservations; not a book for everyone.
My copy is a second hand edition published by World's Clasics. ISBN - 0-19-281564-4
It is translated by Gerard Hopkins and has an introduction (including a brief chronology of Flaubert) by Terence Cave.
Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert
Emma Bovary is bored. Shes bored with her humdrum life; married to a boring and mediocre doctor she lives under the burden that people judge her only relative to her husband and she struggles to find her own identity. She fills her empty days reading chick-lit romance novels and shopping before embarking on a string of adulterous affairs trying to find a man who will love her and appreciate her as a person in her own right.
So far, so Desperate Housewives. The bookshop shelves are filled with this kind chick-lit stuff, so what makes this book stand out? Well firstly it was written by a man, and a Frenchman by the by, and secondly it was written in 1857.
Madame Bovary was the first novel published by Gustave Flaubert and to say it caused something of a stir would be an understatement. In correspondence with friends Flaubert had said that he wanted his first book to make some waves but even he was surely surprised by the outcry that greeted its publication. The book was initially banned on the grounds that it was morally offensive and it took a high court ruling before publication could go ahead, very similar to the furore surrounding Lady Chatterleys Lover a century or so later.
The novel is the story of Emma Rouault, the convent educated daughter of a well to do gentleman farmer, and Charles Bovary, a not particularly competent local doctor. The story opens with Charles starting school for the first time at about age fourteen and how under the relentless prompting of his ambitious mother he scrapes his way through school and medical training until he is able to open a practice in a small provincial town. In his first few months in the town he is railroaded into an unhappy marriage with a local widow, again by his mother, and is only freed when his new wife dies soon after. Whilst in mourning he treats a local farmer for a broken leg and falls for his daughter, Emma.
After a suitable period of time they marry and Emma Rouault becomes Emma Bovary. At this point the focus of the story shifts, where before Charles is the centre of attention now Emma is the main character. She is the only one we really get to know and all other characters become peripheral, seen only through her eyes. This is quite a dramatic shift as the two characters are in many ways reflections of the other. When we first meet Emma, through Charless eyes, she is a near silent figure sitting in her fathers kitchen lacklustrely performing her household chores. Up till now we are focussed on Charles and his battles with his own demons and sense of failure and at this point it would be hard to imagine a less inspiring character than Emma. It is only once they are married that we are allowed into her thoughts and feelings, and then it is Charles who moves into the near silent role, a role he is stuck with for the duration of the book.
The marriage doesnt start well as from the outset Emma is filled with despair at her husbands lack of ambition and energy. Despite having received a good education, in that she learned how to read, sew, play the piano and act demurely, she has little idea how the real world operates. She spent much of her school days reading romance novels and colourful magazines describing the exciting lives being led in glamorous Paris and has an expectation that this is what her life would and should be like. Acutely aware that her husband will never have the means or ambition to provide her with this life she grows ever more resentful and bitter, not just at Charles but with the world she lives in and the perceived lack of opportunity and freedom afforded to her as a woman. As time passes her resentment grows and manifests itself in a variety of ways. On a rare occasion when they are invited to an aristocratic social event she is filled with jealousy of the moneyed and titled women around her and desire for the dashing men. When a handsome viscount drops his cigarette case she takes it home and cherishes it as some kind of totemic link to a world she can only dream about. She is mean-spirited and cold to her husband, despite his clear but inarticulate devotion to her. When pregnant with their child she prays it will be a boy so it will enjoy the freedoms of the world, but when it is born a girl she virtually denies its existence, handing her over to nurses and servants and never showing affection, indeed there are times when she is violently resentful of the childs presence.
When she inevitably embarks on a series of affairs she is reckless in her pursuit of them and it is only her husbands artlessness that stops him seeing what is happening. In fact, so keen is he to enhance his wifes happiness that on several occasions he provides her with the means of continuing her adulterous behaviour. At the same time she has developed a ruinous addiction to shopping and is seduced into spending more and more on clothes and furnishings by an unscrupulous shopkeeper, running up unmanageable debts in her husbands name.
Madame Bovary is a tragedy; the heroine is clearly a tragic figure but it is hard to find any sympathy for her. In common with classical tragedy she is brought down by her own flaws, but unlike other classical figures who are undone by their own noble but misplaced actions she is brought down by a combination of her own greed and maliciousness. If there is a victim in this book it is Charles. He has spent his life being let down by those closest to him. From the father who let him run wild in the countryside before sending him thoroughly unprepared to school as a teenager, through his domineering mother forcing decisions on him at every turn to his young wife who despises him and takes advantage of him at every opportunity. His tragedy is that he wants to be everything to all of them, to please them all. Its his noble desire to be what they all want him to be that fits the classical profile.
It is always difficult to judge books that have been translated, but this one appears to have been very well done. Beyond the central story the book is a satire on the habits and practices of a certain class of people. French middle classes, living in provincial towns are the target of some sharp mockery and the translator captures this and passes it on to the reader in a subtle but unmissable way. The book is very easy to read and the reader is never excluded from the story by the distance in time and geography, most of the cultural references will be unknown to a modern audience (there are footnotes to explain them) but these in no way hinder the overall understanding of the narrative.
Despite my misgivings about the central character I wouldnt hesitate to recommend this book. The author has a wonderful sense of pace and is able to capture the essence of the supporting characters in just a couple of sentences that often injects some humour and light into what is otherwise quite a dark and sad story.
This review is based on the Penguin Classics edition translated by Geoffrey Wall and containing an interesting preface by Michele Roberts and comprehensive introduction.
Gustave Flaubert was born in Rouen in 1821. His father, a head surgeon is a hard-working and intelligent man but authoritative and ambitious man; his mother, morose, will be for Flaubert, after the death of his father a support and a refuge. He passes a rather unhappy childhood in the frozen atmosphere of the hospital; he feels himself passive, unstable, different, and takes refuge at the same time in the literature and derision. He was considered as a young crazy and insane person. #Daughter of a rich farmer, Emma Rouault marries Charles Bovary, officer of health and recent widower of a tyrannical woman. #Raised in a convent, Emma aspires to live in the world of dream. World of dream described in the mawkish novels she reads. #A ball in the castle of Vaubyessard persuades her that such a world exists, but the transition she discovers with her own life starts up a nervous disease. #Her husband then decides to settle in another village, famous agricultural place. #There, she becomes acquainted with the local personalities, Homais, ambitious pharmacist and atheist, the Bournisien priest, Leon Dupuis, clerk and Rodolphe Boulanger, countryman. #The birth of a girl distracts her a little, but soon Emma falls for Rodolphe. She wants to run away with her lover who behaving like a bastard abandons her. #Emma thinks she just can’t live without this ashamed feeling of being left on her own and goes through initially a crisis of mysticism. #Later in the book, she bumps into Leon, back from Paris. She very quickly becomes her mistress. #Well settled in her love affair, Emma Bovary invents lies to be able to see again Leon, and spends significant sums, which she borrows from a too obligeant merchant, Lheureux. #One day, this one asks to be refunded. Emma, by fear of the judgement soon being pronounced against her, tries at first to borrow money from
Leon, then from Rodolphe. #Both refuse promptly, and Emma poisons herself with the arsenic concealed in the pharmacist shop. Well what else to say that this book didn’t get much of my attention. I was tremendously bored during the whole reading. I don’t know I just didn’t feel at all being dragged down in the story. Page after page I slowly was loosing interest. Even sometimes I had to re-read more than twice the same passage. >>>>Flaubert is just not my cup of tea.<<<< His style is bland and goes in length. The story however is average but I am afraid I have to give a 2 star only. 2 because of the main character, she is a unique lady and I got touched by her genuine behaviour. Hum, maybe not genuine rather stupid because her naïve perception of life makes her believe what she reads. This is where I want to finish this op about the domain of imaginary turning its back to reality. Those novels captivate Madame Bovary and she gets lost into a prism of images, diverting her from the reality. Let’s see it as a way to get comforted in life.
I have just read the other reviews of Madame Bovary, and all expressed disbelief that such a borng, cliched book could be regarded as one of the greatest works of all time. But without wishing to get all pretentious about it, that is the whole point. First a word of warning. If you are looking for a good read, this is definitely not the book for you. It features the usual 19th century affairs, swooning, grand balls and melodrama, and it all too predictably follows a plot of affairs going wrong for a young naive woman. The characters are shallow, your sympathy for the main character mixed, and it is all so terribly frustrating. Genius. The whole point about this book is to frustrate and disappoint by sticking to such a well-established formula. Emma is a tragic heroine who is caught up in whirlwind romances and betrayed by adultorous bastards. No she isn't - she would like to think of herself as that, but actually all she wants to do is emulate the tragic heroines of the pulp fiction she reads in her youth. Rodolph is an exciting and dangerous presence because she wants him to be. She commits suicide - the ultimate melodramatic gesture, but even this goes wrong, causing her great distress and leaving a horrible black inky stain on her lips. The book works in the same way. The reader is expecting a superb romantic tale of unrequited love, and like Emma, finds the truth to be somewhat disappointing. This in turn raises questions about reader's expectations and applied meaning. Oh lore, I could go on for hours about this. To those others who have reviewed the book, I would encourage them to have another go. They had exactly the reaction Flaubert intended to produce. This time, read it while studying you the reader, if you see what I mean. You will find that there are lots of instances of things crumbling in people's hands just when things were looking good. The book will do the same to the reader. Honestly, it would take p
ages to try and get across what I mean, but please have a go. It is a brilliant brilliant book. Flaubert is laughing at you. And if you get it this time, have a go at Stendhal, another 19th century genius at having a laugh at his readers.
One of the most boring books I have ever read. I wanted to read this book at first because I had heard brilliant reviews. When I started I had to put it down and then picked it up a week later. It's basically about Madame Bovary's affairs and that is it. Madame Bovary wants fun as she is married to a boring doctor so she has sffairs with other men. Flaubert doesn't write very well. He has absolutely no imagination and neither do any of his characters. If you really want to know what happens I suggest you watch the BBC's dramatisation of it which was not good, as it was laced with sex scenes. Nothing ever happens and I have no idea why it made the classical literature list.
I read this book in both english and french as it was part of the syllabus when I did French A Level. Well its not that fascianting. I can imagine for its time it was a bit racy as it showed the downfall of a french woman who was in love with the idea of being in love and so although married pursued various affairs, got into debt etc etc, and there had been a court case surrounding it regarding morals. Personally I found the whoel story very boring, it is obvious from the beginning of the book what is going to happen (maybe not in detail, but its still obvious) and so you read it purely to see it through. To me although written with many metaphors and imagery int he writing it's pretty much a mills and boon without a happy ending.
On the face of it, this looks like being a really good read. The cover (I read the Oxford World's Classics edition) tells the reader how the book is a landmark of world literature; how it marked a great shift in French literature; etc, etc. So you set about it with high hopes. The book tells the story of Emma Bovary, a country doctor's wife who becomes increasingly disillusioned and bored with her life and her husband. She seeks escape in a series of adulterous affairs, into which she increasingly throws all her energies, neglecting everything else about her. Lawyer's clerk Léon, the dashing and rich Rodolphe - she has no thought for pursuing anything but the ideals of love that have existed in her mind since childhood. But she is destined to.. well, I won't spoil it; but it's fairly predictable. The problem I found was always that there seemed to be something missing. The book runs smoothly enough, albeit with a pretty predictable plot; the descriptive passages are evocative and the characterisations vivid. But always there seems to be something missing. Perhaps it is the lack of real surprises; perhaps it is the high hopes of the first paragraph not being realised; but I was left strangely flat at the end. If you like this sort of book, then read it; but if you are looking for something new and different, as I was, then try something else.
Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880), the younger son of a provincial doctor, briefly studied law before devoting himself to writing, with limited success during his lifetime. After the publication of Madame Bovary in 1857, he was prosecuted for offending public morals.