Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
(trans. By Francis Steegmuller)
We are introduced to Charles Bovary, son of Monsieur and Madame Bovary. His father was irresponsible with money and as a husband, and his mother focused all of her energies on her son, which seemed to influence him well until he attended school where he became lazy and failed his medical exam. He had to retake the exam in order to pass; and his mother found him a position to practice in Tostes and an older widow to marry, Madame Heloise Dubuc, who was overbearing and untrusting.
Charles is called to the farm of Monsieur Rouault who has broken his leg, and Charles falls for his young daughter, Emma. When Charles returns frequently to the farm with the excuse to check Rouault’s progress, Heloise learns of Emma and suspects her husband’s interest in her; therefore, she asks him not to return, which he does not. Then he learns that Heloise has lied about her fortune; and a week later, in humiliation, she dies.
When Monsieur Rouault visits Charles to pay his debt for setting his leg, he invites Charles to his farm. Charles visits the farm often and listens to Emma complain about country life. It is obvious to Rouault that Charles would like to marry his daughter, and when he asks, Rouault consents. The couple is married soon after Charles’ period of mourning has ended.
The wedding celebrations last several days at Rouault’s farm where guests enjoy plenty of food and festivities. On the day of the wedding, Charles is reserved and quiet, but the morning after he is a changed man, though Emma appears still the same, bored and unmoved.
Charles brings his new bride home, and she begins to make changes to the house. He finds that she is his source of…much pleasure, and she is dissatisfied with the lack of happiness she should experience in marriage, as she has read so much about in books.
Meet Madame Bovary! At thirteen, she went into the convent where she immersed herself into religious practice and read plentiful books of romance and adventure, which influenced her greatly; she was restless and searched for emotional fulfillment and instant gratification; and when her mother died, she became so depressed that she recoiled from the control of the nuns. Her father removed her from the convent, where she became restless and bored again with life on the farm.
Even on her honeymoon, Emma wishes for something else; she is never satisfied. She realizes she is disconnected from her husband, and she conceives someone else she could have met who is not as dull and boring as Charles. His mother is jealous of Emma for having taken his attention and love that she believes is rightly hers.
The Bovarys are invited to a ball given by the marquis d’Andervilliers. Emma is enraptured by her surroundings and the distinguished guests, but exasperated and uncomfortable by her husband’s lack of refinement and disinterest. At one point she dances with a nobleman. She longs for a life such as this, and she feels like she has been cheated.
Emma begins to study women’s magazines and thinks about the nobleman, frequently. After firing the last servant, she hires a young orphan girl, Félicitié, and cultivates her into a lady’s maid. She treats her husband to refined living, although he does not understand it; but it is all for her own emptiness.
As time goes on, she is more bored and annoyed by her husband, and she allows herself to become depressed. Another doctor tells Charles that she is suffering from a nervous illness and needs a change of environment: After much research, Charles moves his wife to Neufchâtel. She is pregnant.