What a sad, yet honest, tale. While I don’t identify with Emma Bovary’s unhappiness with her husband, I absolutely understand her desire to seek out something more in life and to feel fully alive.
In a lot of ways, I despaired along with her when she would think of missed opportunities or things she wished she could do. I sympathize with her longing to see more of the world, to perhaps find something more for herself or a deeper purpose. Given that I have better chances and a different kind of life, I don’t feel as trapped as Emma must have felt, and I certainly would have gone about my quests in a different manner, but I do think the root of all that is in me.
Like many novels of this era, I feel like there was a bit too much description of unnecessary things. It was pretty slow to get going and for a long time I felt the “exciting” bits would never get started. Once they did, I was really eager to continue with the book and see what would happen next. Although, since I am a modern day audience, I would like to have seen a little more scandal described. Obviously when Flaubert wrote this, it was a very different time and his description of Emma’s activities had to be limited, but in a twisted way I’d like to see an updated version of the story.
I think one of the things that struck me the most was the treatment of the daughter, Berthe. I felt awful for her, horrified that her mother was so interested in her own welfare to ignore that of her own child. As much as I can see where Emma is coming from, I could never do that kind of thing to a child of my own. Emma’s tale is sad for sure, but at least she was in charge of her own actions and made the decision to succumb to her desires. Poor Berthe had no choice but to do as her mother told her. That she has to go work in a cotton mill at the end of the story really just breaks my heart. Perhaps it’s because I’ve watched programs on the treatment of young children in a place like a cotton mill, and that we as a society are now so far removed from that life, it strikes me as so harsh. Really, given the inattentive nature of her parents, I’m somewhat surprised that Berthe lived through the story.
Admittedly, my interest in this book stemmed from Kate Winslet’s description of it in the movie Little Children. However, I really feel the book is worth reading and stands out on its own. Force yourself to get through the somewhat boring descriptions! I think anyone who likes literature from this age will like this book, or at least consider it a worthwhile read.