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MADAME BOVARY: Book 1 (Chapt. 1-9) [Wk. of 8/3/09]

[ Edited ]
Here's our first section of the novel for discussion.  Have at it!  :smileywink:
Message Edited by ConnieK on 08-07-2009 05:25 PM
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Re: MADAME BOVARY: Book 1 (Chapt. 1-9)

After reading the first three chapters, I was struck by how Flaubert delays his introduction to Emma, his title character.

 

At first I thought Charles was the main character of the story. We meet him as a young boy, through the eyes of his his classmates. He's introduced as a bumbling and not very bright child. 

 

When Flaubert focuses his attention on Charles, we learn that he is ridiculously spoiled by his mother. He is an unremarkable child... goodnatured, but lazy and unimaginative. At medical school, instead of studying, he skips classes and plays dominoes. He fails his first medical exam... and only after retaking it, does he pass and become a doctor.

 

We see Emma peripherally; we learn about her only through the perceptions of others. Charles finds her charming, and Heloise, Charles' first wife, tells him that she has heard rumors about her putting on airs.

 

We meet 2 other Madame Bovary before we even meet Emma. One is his domineering mother, and the other is his controlling older wife. They're both unimaginative and petty people... pretty much like Charles himself.

 

When we finally meet Emma, she longs for a grand and romantic life. She is so unlike the previous 2 Madame Bovary in Charles' life. He is comfortable with their controlling treatment of him .

 

When Charles marries Emma, he expects her to fill the shoes of these women, and he has absolutely no clue to her own qualities. It's clear that in his simple-minded kindness, he will never comprehend Emma's romantic longings.

IBIS

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Re: MADAME BOVARY: Book 1 (Chapt. 1-9)


Thanks for clearing that up! After reading the forst nine chapters, I was still wondering if Emma was THE Madame Bovary or if Charles's mother was. And it was a long road to get to her wasn't it? I was thinking long about chapter eight that she might walk away from Charles, but the last line of chapter nine throws that theory out the window. So now she is preggers and that is that.
 
 
IBIS wrote:

After reading the first three chapters, I was struck by how Flaubert delays his introduction to Emma, his title character.

 

At first I thought Charles was the main character of the story. We meet him as a young boy, through the eyes of his his classmates. He's introduced as a bumbling and not very bright child. 

 

When Flaubert focuses his attention on Charles, we learn that he is ridiculously spoiled by his mother. He is an unremarkable child... goodnatured, but lazy and unimaginative. At medical school, instead of studying, he skips classes and plays dominoes. He fails his first medical exam... and only after retaking it, does he pass and become a doctor.

 

We see Emma peripherally; we learn about her only through the perceptions of others. Charles finds her charming, and Heloise, Charles' first wife, tells him that she has heard rumors about her putting on airs.

 

We meet 2 other Madame Bovary before we even meet Emma. One is his domineering mother, and the other is his controlling older wife. They're both unimaginative and petty people... pretty much like Charles himself.

 

When we finally meet Emma, she longs for a grand and romantic life. She is so unlike the previous 2 Madame Bovary in Charles' life. He is comfortable with their controlling treatment of him .

 

When Charles marries Emma, he expects her to fill the shoes of these women, and he has absolutely no clue to her own qualities. It's clear that in his simple-minded kindness, he will never comprehend Emma's romantic longings.


 

There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. - Edith Wharton
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dulcinea3
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Re: MADAME BOVARY: Book 1 (Chapt. 1-9)

[ Edited ]

One thing has struck me repeatedly about Flaubert's narrative.  He will start out apparently describing something that happened repeatedly (to make up an example, "She would often go for a walk." ), but then get so specific that it seems like he is describing one particular instance.  I'm assuming that he does this to emphasize the sameness of these characters' lives, where the routine just repeats itself over and over.

 

I also get a sense of detachment upon the part of the narrator.  He seems to only be interested in reporting what happens, without getting involved in what he is reporting.  This seems to lend an objective atmosphere, like I am looking through a camera at a scene, or at a painting.  There is a very visual quality to the narration, and I can frequently picture the scene.

 

The first chapter seems to depart from the narrative style that follows.  In the first chapter, we are obviously getting the recollections of a schoolmate of Charles, with all the judgments that the other boys passed upon him when he arrived in their midst.  I was particularly struck by the statement, "It would now be impossible for any of us to remember anything about him."  Since the narrator here is giving us Charles' life history, it seems to me that he certainly does remember plenty about him.  But after the first chapter, the narration seems to change to the impartial, detached narrator.

 

Poor Charles!  His mother decides what his profession will be, in what town he will practice it, and chooses a particularly unattractive wife for him, who is much older than he and exerts control over him, taking the place of his mother when she is not there.  Even as unpleasant as she is, it's difficult not to feel sorry for her when her accountant embezzles all of her money, and then Charles' parents descend upon the house, blaming her for the misfortune.  Their attitude might not be unexpected when you remember that his father was outraged when his own father-in-law passed away and didn't leave much money.

Message Edited by dulcinea3 on 08-04-2009 11:50 AM
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Re: MADAME BOVARY: Book 1 (Chapt. 1-9)


dulcinea3 wrote:

One thing has struck me repeatedly about Flaubert's narrative.  He will start out apparently describing something that happened repeatedly (to make up an example, "She would often go for a walk." ), but then get so specific that it seems like he is describing one particular instance.  I'm assuming that he does this to emphasize the sameness of these characters' lives, where the routine just repeats itself over and over.

 


Message Edited by dulcinea3 on 08-04-2009 11:50 AM

YES!! Isn't there just this desperate feeling of being trapped in monotony? And Charles seems to relish the sameness, even though he's willing to pull up stakes in order to try to pull Emma from her ennui.

 

It's too bad he didn't ask her where she wanted to go. But then perhaps she really doesn't know what she wants. She thought she wanted to be married to Charles until it suddenly occurs to her that there are thousands of other men out there and she no longer has a choice.

There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. - Edith Wharton
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Re: MADAME BOVARY: Book 1 (Chapt. 1-9)

Yes, it took a long time, not until Chapter 5, that we get inside Emma's head.

 

In the first four chapters, Flaubert shifts his point of view from character to character... we see her THROUGH the perceptions of others... Charles, her father, Charles' mother, and Charles' first wife. 

 

Finally, after Charles marries Emma, her point of view takes over.

 

We get our first real glimpse of her thoughts when she meditates on her marital dissatisfaction. While Charles dotes on her in a daze of love and happiness, Emma feels dissatisfied... she expected marriage to lead her to romantic bliss.

 

Instead she feels her life has fallen short of the high expectations that she got from reading romantic novels.... "Emma tried to find out what one meant exactly in life by the words bliss, passion, ecstasy, that seemed to her so beautiful in books."

 

I got a terrible sense of foreboding... I see how unrealistic her romanticism is. It's as if Flaubert is setting the stage for an escalating crisis that will eventually doom her.

 

The thought of Emma becoming a mother is terrifying to me. She is so unprepared to take care of a helpless child.

 


bartzturkeymom wrote:

Thanks for clearing that up! After reading the forst nine chapters, I was still wondering if Emma was THE Madame Bovary or if Charles's mother was. And it was a long road to get to her wasn't it? I was thinking long about chapter eight that she might walk away from Charles, but the last line of chapter nine throws that theory out the window. So now she is preggers and that is that.
 

 

 

 

IBIS

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Re: MADAME BOVARY: Book 1 (Chapt. 1-9)


IBIS wrote:

 

I got a terrible sense of foreboding... I see how unrealistic her romanticism is. It's as if Flaubert is setting the stage for an escalating crisis that will eventually doom her.

 

The thought of Emma becoming a mother is terrifying to me. She is so unprepared to take care of a helpless child.

 


Oh gosh yes! She can barely take care of herself. She has no consideration of others' feelings unless she s trying to impress them. I found it very telling that she inserted herself in the world of the royals as soon as she hit that party and was completely deflated by the time she got back to her ordinary, middle class life among the unwashed peasants. She doesn't even have a groom to flirt with since he is only contracted to do his work and leave. She doesn't know the first thing about making and keeping friends. How will she survive without moral support hoing forth? Motherhood isn't easy in the best of times.
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Re: MADAME BOVARY: Book 1 (Chapt. 1-9)

[ Edited ]

I agree that the narrator’s point of view seems detached. But don't you think he’s doing more than just reporting what happens without getting involved. I get the impression that he implicitly comments on the social value of what he describes.

 

Emma spends her time reading romantic writers. They never wrote about the dreary aspects of real life. Flauberts describes his characters emotions, actions, and setting vividly without romantic or fantastic embellishments.

 

For example, the wedding scene of Chapter 4 … He does rattle off a lot of details... sometimes listing item after item… the kinds of vehicles the guests arrive in, how they wear their hair, what fabrics their clothes of made of... He described the feast so elaborately it seemed to me that’s there was far too much food for just 43 guests to eat.

 

When he tells us about the young girls, “their hair greasy with rose-pomade, and very much afraid of dirtying their gloves,” I see how awkward and unrefined they are. In describing the country people’s attempts to dress up, Flaubert pokes fun at them.

 

He also draws a critical portrait of bourgeois life. In Chapter 6, he writes that Emma loves the flowers and icons of her religion, but that real spiritual faith is “alien to her constitution.” This tells me that Emma, for all her pretensions to great sentiment, is really incapable of deep feeling. He also satirizes bourgeois churchgoers who make a great show of religion but possess little genuine piety.

 

Flaubert is offering us an amazingly cynical viewpoint of the bourgeois in small village life during the 19th Century.

 

And I love it!

 


dulcinea3 wrote:

One thing has struck me repeatedly about Flaubert's narrative.  He will start out apparently describing something that happened repeatedly (to make up an example, "She would often go for a walk." ), but then get so specific that it seems like he is describing one particular instance.  I'm assuming that he does this to emphasize the sameness of these characters' lives, where the routine just repeats itself over and over.

 

I also get a sense of detachment upon the part of the narrator.  He seems to only be interested in reporting what happens, without getting involved in what he is reporting.  This seems to lend an objective atmosphere, like I am looking through a camera at a scene, or at a painting.  There is a very visual quality to the narration, and I can frequently picture the scene.

 

 


 

 

Message Edited by IBIS on 08-04-2009 01:16 PM
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Re: MADAME BOVARY: Book 1 (Chapt. 1-9)

The ball in Chapter 8 tells us a lot about Emma's state of mind. We see it through her perspective, and it's clear that she is unable to accept the world as it is.

 

There is a deliberate contrast between Emma's experience, and the reality. She is so happy that doesn't realize that no one at the ball is paying any attention to her... that her meaningless dance with the viscount becomes, in her fancy, a tremendously romantic event.  

 

Emma allows herself to forget that she is not from a privileged upper class. When the servant breaks a windowpane, she sees the peasants outside, and she remembers the simple country life when she was young.

 

Its an abrupt reminder that Emma cannot escape her humble origins. I'm beginning to sense her frustrations... she's feeling trapped, and wants very much to escape.

 


bartzturkeymom wrote: 
Oh gosh yes! She can barely take care of herself. She has no consideration of others' feelings unless she s trying to impress them. I found it very telling that she inserted herself in the world of the royals as soon as she hit that party and was completely deflated by the time she got back to her ordinary, middle class life among the unwashed peasants. She doesn't even have a groom to flirt with since he is only contracted to do his work and leave. She doesn't know the first thing about making and keeping friends. How will she survive without moral support hoing forth? Motherhood isn't easy in the best of times.

 

 

IBIS

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bartzturkeymom
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Re: MADAME BOVARY: Book 1 (Chapt. 1-9)


IBIS wrote:

I agree that the narrator’s point of view seems detached. But don't you think he’s doing more than just reporting what happens without getting involved. I get the impression that he implicitly comments on the social value of what he describes.

 

Emma spends her time reading romantic writers. They never wrote about the dreary aspects of real life. Flauberts describes his characters emotions, actions, and setting vividly without romantic or fantastic embellishments.

 

For example, the wedding scene of Chapter 4 … He does rattle off a lot of details... sometimes listing item after item… the kinds of vehicles the guests arrive in, how they wear their hair, what fabrics their clothes of made of... He described the feast so elaborately it seemed to me that’s there was far too much food for just 43 guests to eat.

 



Isn't it interesting that he went into all that detail and now all these years later it is essentially meaningless unless we have some sort of degree in historical items so that we understand the subtext? He may have listed each of those carriages in order to denote the classes of people attending, just as he does with the gentlemen's attire. Today, I have no idea if what they wore indicated aristocracy or middle class. 

 

It was curious also that at the other party, Emma insisted Charles not dance (and in fact seemed aghast that he'd even think he should be allowed to). I wonder if she just wanted to have the opportunity to meet other men or if she was truly embarassed to be seen with him or if she felt he was out of his league socially. If he is, then isn't she also?

 

 

There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. - Edith Wharton
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Re: MADAME BOVARY: Book 1 (Chapt. 1-9)


dulcinea3 wrote:

 

Poor Charles!  His mother decides what his profession will be, in what town he will practice it, and chooses a particularly unattractive wife for him, who is much older than he and exerts control over him, taking the place of his mother when she is not there.  Even as unpleasant as she is, it's difficult not to feel sorry for her when her accountant embezzles all of her money, and then Charles' parents descend upon the house, blaming her for the misfortune.  Their attitude might not be unexpected when you remember that his father was outraged when his own father-in-law passed away and didn't leave much money.

Message Edited by dulcinea3 on 08-04-2009 11:50 AM

It surprises me that Charles is so easy going considering how tightly would his parents are. It's also a wonder so many of his patients survive with his lack of real preparation as a physician.I wonder what would have happened if Emma's father's broken leg had been a compound fracture or if t got infected. Everybody seems willing to praise himfor lancing boils and giving patients sleeping powders.

 

 

There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. - Edith Wharton
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Re: MADAME BOVARY: Book 1 (Chapt. 1-9)


bartzturkeymom wrote:

dulcinea3 wrote:

 

Poor Charles!  His mother decides what his profession will be, in what town he will practice it, and chooses a particularly unattractive wife for him, who is much older than he and exerts control over him, taking the place of his mother when she is not there.  Even as unpleasant as she is, it's difficult not to feel sorry for her when her accountant embezzles all of her money, and then Charles' parents descend upon the house, blaming her for the misfortune.  Their attitude might not be unexpected when you remember that his father was outraged when his own father-in-law passed away and didn't leave much money.

Message Edited by dulcinea3 on 08-04-2009 11:50 AM

It surprises me that Charles is so easy going considering how tightly would his parents are. It's also a wonder so many of his patients survive with his lack of real preparation as a physician.I wonder what would have happened if Emma's father's broken leg had been a compound fracture or if t got infected. Everybody seems willing to praise himfor lancing boils and giving patients sleeping powders.

 

 


 

Yes, actually, now that I think of it, the elder Bovarys have a certain sense of entitlement that seems more aligned with Emma than with Charles.  I suppose that's why Emma doesn't get along with her mother-in-law - two peas in a pod.

 

I was wondering about Charles' medical skills, too.  It said that he never really understood what he was studying, but just memorized it, and there is note that he has never cut the pages of his medical texts in his office.  Although I suppose that is not too uncommon, as it seems that the books have been sold multiple times, without any of the owners ever reading or consulting them.  And I also noticed, as you did, that none of the cases we have heard about so far have seemed very challenging.  And yet the patients find their simple cures to be impressive miracles!

 

Charles and Emma remind me a bit of Dr. and Mrs. Gibson in Gaskell's Wives and Daughters, which we recently read in the Literature by Women group.  A doctor, and his dissatisfied social climber wife.  Only Dr. Gibson was far from besotted with his wife, as Charles is with Emma.

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Re: MADAME BOVARY: Book 1 (Chapt. 1-9)

As a country doctor, Charles Bovary is not very good at it. He is, in fact, not qualified enough to be termed a doctor, but is instead an officier de santé, or "health officer". He's more of a generalist, and his surgical skill set is very low.

 

He is weak-willed, and easily controlled by the women in his life. He's not very bright, and has to work hard at everything to succeed. He has no particular interest in medicine, yet he becomes a doctor, no doubt to please his mother. He has little feeling for Heloise, yet he marries her anyway. 

 

Although he is kind-hearted, he's a bit of a fool. 

 


dulcinea3 wrote:

bartzturkeymom wrote:

dulcinea3 wrote:

 

Poor Charles!  His mother decides what his profession will be, in what town he will practice it, and chooses a particularly unattractive wife for him, who is much older than he and exerts control over him, taking the place of his mother when she is not there.  Even as unpleasant as she is, it's difficult not to feel sorry for her when her accountant embezzles all of her money, and then Charles' parents descend upon the house, blaming her for the misfortune.  Their attitude might not be unexpected when you remember that his father was outraged when his own father-in-law passed away and didn't leave much money.

Message Edited by dulcinea3 on 08-04-2009 11:50 AM

It surprises me that Charles is so easy going considering how tightly would his parents are. It's also a wonder so many of his patients survive with his lack of real preparation as a physician.I wonder what would have happened if Emma's father's broken leg had been a compound fracture or if t got infected. Everybody seems willing to praise himfor lancing boils and giving patients sleeping powders.

 

 


 

Yes, actually, now that I think of it, the elder Bovarys have a certain sense of entitlement that seems more aligned with Emma than with Charles.  I suppose that's why Emma doesn't get along with her mother-in-law - two peas in a pod.

 

I was wondering about Charles' medical skills, too.  It said that he never really understood what he was studying, but just memorized it, and there is note that he has never cut the pages of his medical texts in his office.  Although I suppose that is not too uncommon, as it seems that the books have been sold multiple times, without any of the owners ever reading or consulting them.  And I also noticed, as you did, that none of the cases we have heard about so far have seemed very challenging.  And yet the patients find their simple cures to be impressive miracles!

 

Charles and Emma remind me a bit of Dr. and Mrs. Gibson in Gaskell's Wives and Daughters, which we recently read in the Literature by Women group.  A doctor, and his dissatisfied social climber wife.  Only Dr. Gibson was far from besotted with his wife, as Charles is with Emma.


 

 

IBIS

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bartzturkeymom
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Re: MADAME BOVARY: Book 1 (Chapt. 1-9)

I suppose one thing to keep in mind is that medical students were just starting around that time to dissect human cadavers to understand what they were doing. This part reminds me of Dr. Frankenstein where his education is achieved in similar circumstances - takes up an apartment in town, goes to the lectures that appear on the list, reads books that his mentor suggests, and still knows relatively little about doctoring.
I'm not so sure Charles took up medical school so much to please his mother, but because she told him to do it. He's very directable. But even then, he'd rather lay about and play dominoes.
At least he attempts to better himself by reading texts as he falls asleep at night. That is a contrast to the social-climbing periodicals that Emma reads. I can just see her practicing how to stand, speak using topics of the day, and wearing the newest fashion.
Okay - here was an ah-ha moment for me--when Flaubert talks about fashion plates being essentially paper patterns for clothing. I'm not sure what I thought before but a picture of a dinner plate comes to mind. I guess I had some idea that a woman who was a fashion plate was served up like some pretty cake or pastry. Oh well. Enough of my lame brain.
 
 

IBIS wrote:

As a country doctor, Charles Bovary is not very good at it. He is, in fact, not qualified enough to be termed a doctor, but is instead an officier de santé, or "health officer". He's more of a generalist, and his surgical skill set is very low.

 

He is weak-willed, and easily controlled by the women in his life. He's not very bright, and has to work hard at everything to succeed. He has no particular interest in medicine, yet he becomes a doctor, no doubt to please his mother. He has little feeling for Heloise, yet he marries her anyway. 

 

Although he is kind-hearted, he's a bit of a fool. 

 


dulcinea3 wrote:

bartzturkeymom wrote:

dulcinea3 wrote:

 

Poor Charles!  His mother decides what his profession will be, in what town he will practice it, and chooses a particularly unattractive wife for him, who is much older than he and exerts control over him, taking the place of his mother when she is not there.  Even as unpleasant as she is, it's difficult not to feel sorry for her when her accountant embezzles all of her money, and then Charles' parents descend upon the house, blaming her for the misfortune.  Their attitude might not be unexpected when you remember that his father was outraged when his own father-in-law passed away and didn't leave much money.

Message Edited by dulcinea3 on 08-04-2009 11:50 AM

It surprises me that Charles is so easy going considering how tightly would his parents are. It's also a wonder so many of his patients survive with his lack of real preparation as a physician.I wonder what would have happened if Emma's father's broken leg had been a compound fracture or if t got infected. Everybody seems willing to praise himfor lancing boils and giving patients sleeping powders.

 

 


 

Yes, actually, now that I think of it, the elder Bovarys have a certain sense of entitlement that seems more aligned with Emma than with Charles.  I suppose that's why Emma doesn't get along with her mother-in-law - two peas in a pod.

 

I was wondering about Charles' medical skills, too.  It said that he never really understood what he was studying, but just memorized it, and there is note that he has never cut the pages of his medical texts in his office.  Although I suppose that is not too uncommon, as it seems that the books have been sold multiple times, without any of the owners ever reading or consulting them.  And I also noticed, as you did, that none of the cases we have heard about so far have seemed very challenging.  And yet the patients find their simple cures to be impressive miracles!

 

Charles and Emma remind me a bit of Dr. and Mrs. Gibson in Gaskell's Wives and Daughters, which we recently read in the Literature by Women group.  A doctor, and his dissatisfied social climber wife.  Only Dr. Gibson was far from besotted with his wife, as Charles is with Emma.


 

 


 

There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. - Edith Wharton
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Peppermill
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Re: MADAME BOVARY: Book 1 (Chapt. 1-9)

I'm enjoying your discussion here, ladies!

 

I will add some notes from Nabokov later, but I am off for a discussion of Kafka on the Shore right now.

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Re: MADAME BOVARY: Book 1 (Chapt. 1-9)


Peppermill wrote:

I'm enjoying your discussion here, ladies!

 

I will add some notes from Nabokov later, but I am off for a discussion of Kafka on the Shore right now.


I love Murakami! That was a particularly fun read. There are so many twists and things turning inside out.

There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. - Edith Wharton
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leigh1123
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Re: MADAME BOVARY: Book 1 (Chapt. 1-9)

I read the first three chapters and found some parts confusing. The change in the way the story was narrated between chapter one and the other chapters was odd. 

 

I was also not sure who the "real" Madame Bovary was at first.  His mother is referred to as Madame Bovary, his first wife is Madame Bovary junior, and then there is Emma.

 

I also found it unseemly that he went into such a state of mourning after his first wife died.  He was clearly smitten with Emma at the time and didn't seem too emotionally attached to his first wife.  When he went back to visit the farmer, he found things that reminded him of his wife that sent him into a state of depression - I find that very surprising.  He seemed more emotionally attached to his first wife after her death, then before.

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Re: MADAME BOVARY: Book 1 (Chapt. 1-9)


bartzturkeymom wrote:

Peppermill wrote:

I'm enjoying your discussion here, ladies!

 

I will add some notes from Nabokov later, but I am off for a discussion of Kafka on the Shore right now.


I love Murakami! That was a particularly fun read. There are so many twists and things turning inside out.


And it was a fun discussion tonight!

 

But back to Flaubert and the notes I promised to share:

 

Warning:  some may consider the foreshadowings in the second paragraph below to have an element of being spoilers.  I post this commentary here because most of it relates so clearly to the first chapter.  These quotations are from Vladimir Nabokov's Lectures on Literature.

 

"In the first chapter we pick up our initial thematic line: the layers or layer-cake theme.  This is the fall of 1828; Charles is thirteen and on his first day of school he is still holding his cap on his knees in the classroom. ‘It was one of those headgears of a composite type in which one may trace elements of the bearskin and otterskin cap, the Lancers' shapska [a flat sort of helmet], the round hat of felt, and the housecap of cotton; in fine, one of those pathetic things that are as deeply expressive in their mute ugliness as the face of an imbecile.  Ovoid, splayed with whalebone, it began with a kind of circular sausage repeated three times; then, higher up, there followed two rows of lozenges, one of velvet, the other of rabbit fur, separated by a red band; next came a kind of bag ending in a polygon of cardboard with intricate braiding upon it; and from this there hung, at the end of a long, too slender cord, a twisted tassel of gold threads.  The cap was new; its visor shone.'*  (We may compare this to Gogol's description in Dead Souls of Chichikov's traveling case and Korobochka's carriage-also a layers theme!)

 

"In this, and in the three other examples to be discussed, the image is developed layer by layer, tier by tier, room by room, coffin by coffin.  The cap is a pathetic and tasteless affair; it symbolizes the whole of poor Charles's future life-equally pathetic and tasteless."

 

* "Quotations...are taken from the Rinehart edition of 1948 but greatly revised by VN in his preserved heavily annotated copy.  Ed."

"Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here." -- Leo Tolstoy
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Peppermill
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Re: MADAME BOVARY: Book 1 (Chapt. 1-9)

[ Edited ]

leigh1123 wrote:

I read the first three chapters and found some parts confusing. The change in the way the story was narrated between chapter one and the other chapters was odd. [Bold added.]

 

I was also not sure who the "real" Madame Bovary was at first.  His mother is referred to as Madame Bovary, his first wife is Madame Bovary junior, and then there is Emma.

 

I also found it unseemly that he went into such a state of mourning after his first wife died.  He was clearly smitten with Emma at the time and didn't seem too emotionally attached to his first wife.  When he went back to visit the farmer, he found things that reminded him of his wife that sent him into a state of depression - I find that very surprising.  He seemed more emotionally attached to his first wife after her death, then before.


I, too, found the shifts in narrative voice confusing.  Here are some comments from Nabokov on the topic:

 

"Flaubert set himself the task of giving his book a highly artistic structure. In addition to the counterpoint, one of his tricks was to make his transitions from one subject to another within the chapters as elegant and smooth as possible. In Bleak House the transition from subject to subject moves, on the whole, from chapter to chapter-say from Chancery to the Dedlocks, and so on. But in Madame Bovary there is a continual movement within the chapters.  I call this device structural transition.  We shall inspect certain examples of it.  If the transitions in Bleak House can be compared to steps, with the pattern proceeding en escalier, here in Madame Bovary the pattern is a fluid system of waves. [Bold added.]

 

"The first transition, a fairly simple one, occurs at the very beginning of the book.  The story starts with the assumption that the author, aged seven, and a certain Charles Bovary, aged thirteen, were schoolmates in Rouen in 1828.  It is in the manner of a subjective account, in the first person we, but of course this is merely a literary device since Flaubert invented Charles from top to toe.  This pseudosubjective account runs for about three pages and then changes from the subjective to an objective narrative, a shift from the direct impression of the present to an account in ordinary novelistic narrative of Bovary's past.  The transition is governed by the sentence: ‘It was the curé of his village who had taught him his first Latin.'  We go back to be informed of his parents, and of his birth, and we then work our way up again through early boyhood and back to the present in school where two paragraphs, in a return to first person, take him through his third year.  After this the narrator is heard no more and we float on to Bovary's college days and medical studies."

Message Edited by Peppermill on 08-04-2009 10:44 PM
"Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here." -- Leo Tolstoy
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Re: MADAME BOVARY: Book 1 (Chapt. 1-9)

 

Thanks, Peppermill, for sharing Nabokov’s  “layer-cake” theme .

 

Flaubert does describe the cap layer by layer, adding detail upon detail. I did think that  it was ugly and ridiculous. It made me wonder why his mother made him wear it. By wearing it to school, he became a laughing stock to this classmates.

 

I can see how it may symbolize something about Charles' pathetic and ridiculous life. 

 

Apparently, Flaubert fanatically searched for the “mot juste”, the uniquely perfect word that EXACTLY revealed the essence of the thing, or person, he was describing... He didn't merely want to reproduce reality. He wanted to CAPTURE it.  Searching for just the "right word" was a laborious, painstaking job. 

 

Sometimes reading these long, descriptive passage can be a plodding and slow process; the accumulation of detail can sometimes be monotonous. 

 

No wonder it took him 5 years to finish the book.

 

Did anyone else find these long descriptive passages too detailed? Too much? 


Peppermill wrote: 

Warning:  some may consider the foreshadowings in the second paragraph below to have an element of being spoilers.  I post this commentary here because most of it relates so clearly to the first chapter.  These quotations are from Vladimir Nabokov's Lectures on Literature.

 

"In the first chapter we pick up our initial thematic line: the layers or layer-cake theme.  This is the fall of 1828; Charles is thirteen and on his first day of school he is still holding his cap on his knees in the classroom. ‘It was one of those headgears of a composite type in which one may trace elements of the bearskin and otterskin cap, the Lancers' shapska [a flat sort of helmet], the round hat of felt, and the housecap of cotton; in fine, one of those pathetic things that are as deeply expressive in their mute ugliness as the face of an imbecile.  Ovoid, splayed with whalebone, it began with a kind of circular sausage repeated three times; then, higher up, there followed two rows of lozenges, one of velvet, the other of rabbit fur, separated by a red band; next came a kind of bag ending in a polygon of cardboard with intricate braiding upon it; and from this there hung, at the end of a long, too slender cord, a twisted tassel of gold threads.  The cap was new; its visor shone.'*  (We may compare this to Gogol's description in Dead Souls of Chichikov's traveling case and Korobochka's carriage-also a layers theme!)

 

"In this, and in the three other examples to be discussed, the image is developed layer by layer, tier by tier, room by room, coffin by coffin.  The cap is a pathetic and tasteless affair; it symbolizes the whole of poor Charles's future life-equally pathetic and tasteless."

 

* "Quotations...are taken from the Rinehart edition of 1948 but greatly revised by VN in his preserved heavily annotated copy.  Ed."


 

 

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