7/18/2008

Pop-culture woman of the week - Madame Bovary

Name: Emma Bovary
Appearance: Madame Bovary (1857)
Creator: Gustave Flaubert
Weapon/ability: None
Race: French
Age: Young adult at the beginning of the novel

Please note that spoilers for the book is included.

Madame Bovary is the story of an ill-suited match and what will happen if you are to prone to give into romantic longing - which of course will end badly for you.

Emma Bovary, nee Rouault, is the daughter of a farmer but has gotten a good education from a convent and likes to read a lot. She is seen by her husband-to-be, a doctor named Charles Bovary, when her father had broken a led and he was immediately attracted to her. But he is married.

The wife dies and as soon as suitable for a man to look for a new wife he proposes to Emma and is accepted. Marriage to a kind but somewhat dull provincial doctor was perhaps not exactly what Emma had in mind when she fantasized about her life. The difference between dream and reality becomes more glaring to her after they attend a ball given by a marquis and she gets a taste of a fancier life. Life becomes unbearably boring to her. Her husband senses that something is amiss and moves to a new, bigger town hoping that it will improve her spirits. It does not. Neither does becoming a mother. Instead she falls in love with a young law student, Léon Dupuis, who shares her longing for a finer life. Emma manages to stay away from doing anything stupid and acts as the loving wife while Léon departs for Paris.

But Emma catches the eye of a local landowner, Rodolphe Boulanger, who would not mind having an affair with the beautiful Emma. And Emma is easy to persuade. Her husband suspects nothing while she has a three years long relationship with the handsome and rich man who gives her a taste of the fancy life she yearns for. She becomes more and more reckless and in the end wants to elope with her lover - which he has no interest in and on the very eve of their supposed elopement she is given a letter where he ends thing. Emma is deeply shocked.

To get Emma in better spirits her husband takes her to the opera, which is disastrous in every way. She gets a taste for romance and excess and luxury again - and she meets Léon, who is now working nearby. A new love-affair begins. Emma is at first very much in love, but soon becomes bored, especially with Léon not being as domineering as her old lover. And Léon gets tired with Emma soon too. To sooth her longing for a better life she goes shopping and runs into massive debt.

In the end she can not pay and Emma is desperate to find a solution. None of her lovers, nor anyone else, is willing to help her. In the end she takes her life with arsenic - in one of the more horrific death scenes in classical literature. Her husband is crushed by her death and spends almost all his time trying to preserver her memory. Not even a love-letter from her first lover can shake is belief in her and he dies a broken man. The daughter is sent off to be raised by distant relatives.

The story has been filmed several times, the picture in this entry is from the 1991 version directed by Claude Chabrol - which got nominated to an Oscars for best costume design (the price went to Bugsy)

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