Mrs. B's Eccentric Book Reports: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

A Little Bit about Mrs. B

Thirty years ago I became an English teacher because I love to read and I love to share books and ideas. When someone next to me on the bus is reading, I want to see what they're reading, and I want to know what they think about it. If you invite me to your home, I’ll scope out your bookshelves. I want to share good books with people, and I want to share the meaning, ideas, and feelings that books convey.

Being an English teacher was the perfect job for me—right?

WRONG! On so many levels it was a bad fit, though I did it with reasonable success for many years. Dissecting, analyzing, labeling, memorizing, and testing are a far cry from the cozy coffee shop or rowdy bar discussions I enjoyed. And don’t get me started on BOOK REPORTS…


So this is my version of a "book report"

I want to share books (and sometimes movies, short stories, paintings, and possibly other media) that have impacted my life, made me think, laugh, and cry. And I want to know what you think, too. So please respond to the silly polls and make comments if you want to.

Yes, this is a monetized site, so I can’t help but hope you’ll buy the items I recommend, but I also offer a link to my wonderful local library, the Seattle Public Library. If you want your local library linked, tell me and I’ll post it in addition. In these difficult times, it’s a wonderful thing that the world’s literary treasures are free (for three weeks, anyway).

I deliberately have no plan, order, or logical arrangement, so with no further ado, I’d like to introduce you to one of my favorite novels: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert:

Plot Summary

Since the plot summary is usually the most lengthy and boring part of a traditional book report, I'm going to reduce it  to one sentence:

A very materialistic woman reads romantic novels, has extra-marital affairs, spends money she doesn't have, and kills herself, pretty much in that order.

I challenge you to submit your version of a one to three sentence summary of Madame Bovary in the Comments section below.

Stuff--Does It Really Make Us Happy?

My Inane Ramblings: Why I Love This Book

Gustave Flaubert said, "Madame Bovary, c'est moi ..." but I beg to differ. I am Madame Bovary. Or at least in recovery from a form of bovarism (a word coined from the name Emma Bovary , the main character in Flaubert's novel), which is, according to Wiktionary:

  1. An imagined or unrealistic conception of oneself
  2. (psychology) An anxiety to escape from a social or sentimental condition judged to be unsatisfactory, sometimes by building a fictitious personality

In the late 80s I was divorced, living in a small town in northern New Mexico, and broke. My divorce had been ugly and the details were public knowledge. My ex had grown up in that same small town, and to say I was a social pariah is not an exaggeration. But I didn't do the obvious thing--MOVE--because I had a job there and, well, not anywhere else.

That's when I discovered the joys of spending money I did not have. Master Card, Visa, and American Express were my friends. I finagled two loans to buy a car I also could not afford. I had an extensive, expensive wardrobe, and the mall was my home away from home.

Emma Bovary would understand the rush I got from buying things I didn't need and couldn't afford. Frequently I would charge something, deliberately not looking at the price. So Emma B. of me!

Analyzing the situation from a distance of over twenty-five years enables me to see that I was in a delusional state, escaping to a fictitious life where it mattered what I wore, drove, and had. A life where I was important, loved, and glamorous. Tellingly, this is also when I first read Flaubert's Madame Bovary .

Flaubert lovingly recounts the details of Emma's wardrobe, hair ornaments, and jewelry. Analyzing any advertisement targeted to women, one hears the same kind of seductive, sensual language to describe shoes! Coats! Watches! Emma has affairs but she is really seduced by the idea that possessions can give her life meaning.

I am in recovery, as I wrote earlier, from my raging case of bovarism . I don't think anyone is immune or gets over it completely. And I do know that we all have a vision of ourselves that is, perhaps, not entirely realistic.

Several years ago I attended my step-daughter's wedding. I wanted to look my best and had spent quite a bit of money on a new dress and shoes. I had a picture in my mind of what I looked like--feminine, sophisticated, but youthful, and fashionable. My husband was less than enthusiastic about my "look," but wisely kept his mouth shut. Imagine my horror upon seeing the wedding pictures to see that I looked frumpy, dowdy, and odd. No, the reality did not match the vision in my mind at all.

Since that time, I frequently look at people's presentation of themselves via clothing, hairstyles, and accessories. And I wonder--what was the vision that inspired that look? You, woman with a red bow in your hair, red nail polish, a red blouse, red plaid skirt, red shoes, and a red purse; I think I can see where you're going with that. And, really, just want you to know. Everything's going to be all right.

And you, Mama Anorexia, I see you at the grocery store with your kids and recognize you from the gym. When I come into the weight room, you're already there on the step machine. It's on the most difficult setting and your face shows your agony. I do my circuit and leave. You're still stepping. I use the treadmill in another room because I can't look at you anymore. On the way back to the locker room, I'm sweaty, but I feel great. I can't help but look past the doorway of the weight room. You're still there. Step. Step. Step.

Yes, you, Mama. I didn't go to the gym today, but you did. I can tell by your blotchy skin, newly showered hair, palpable exhaustion. You're buying cookies for your kids. You're a nice mom--you let them choose which cookies they want. They're taking a really long time to choose. You are giving their desires your total attention.

Oh, Mama. What vision did you have of yourself when you put on your baggy, hippy-chick overalls with your puffy, embroidered peasant blouse? I'll bet it was someone energetic, happy, pretty, healthy. Oh yeah.


Some of My Favorite Passages from Madame Bovary

1.) She only cared for the sea when it was lashed to fury by the storm, and for verdure when it served as a background to a ruin. Everything must needs minister to her personal longings, as it were, and she thrust aside as of no account whatever everything that did not immediately contribute to stir the emotions of her heart, for her temperament was sentimental rather than artistic, seeking, not pictures, but emotions.

2.) She did not confess that she had loved another man; he did not say he had forgotten her.

3.) Since he had heard those same words uttered by loose women or prostitutes, he had little belief in their sincerity when he heard them now: the more flowery a person's speech, he thought, the more suspect the feelings, or lack of feelings, it concealed. Whereas the truth is that fullness of soul can sometimes overflow in utter vapidity of language, for none of us can ever express the exact human measure of his needs or his thoughts or his sorrows; and human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars. (emphasis mine)

Here's What People Far Smarter Than I Have Said

Madame Bovary, c'est moi, d'apres moi!(Madame Bovary is myself -- drawn from life!)--Gustave Flaubert

What do you think?

Will you read this book?

  • Yes, I can hardly wait!
  • Hell no! Why should I read about a shallow slut?
  • I've already read it and love it!
  • I've already read it. It's okay.
  • I've already read it and wish I hadn't.
See results without voting

Should you watch the movie?

Maybe. Neither the 1933, the 1949, nor the 1991 version received particularly great reviews. The 1949 version was generally rated slightly higher than the other two. I have seen only the 1991 version which is in French with English subtitles. I didn't hate it. It was pretty.

More by this Author


35 comments

AdamGee profile image

AdamGee 6 years ago

Great commentary! Really elegantly written. I haven't read the book yet, but you have inspired me to read it (probably after I finish school and have some time). I can relate to the way you described her character, even though I am male and never married. It is often easier to get lost in a world of fantasy then to look reality in the eye! I can't wait to read more from you :)

-Adam


Lee B profile image

Lee B 6 years ago from New Mexico Author

AdamGee, thank you so much for your very kind words! If I introduce even one person to this book--my work is done.


Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 6 years ago from TEXAS

Madame Bovary has a special place in my heart - was on a list of great books to read assignment for aspiring fiction writers, among such greats as Tom Jones, To Kill A Mockingbird, War and Peace, The Pearl, From Here To Eternity, and others. As for Emma herself - she was selfish of the calibre of Scarlett O'Hara, though perhaps less sparkly than Scarlett. All the characters in the book are impressive enough, though. I have the DVD but think it less good than the book, whose beauty is in its words & can't be fully captured on screen, I'm thinking. It's literature of the highest order. But perhaps I'll watch it again. AdamGee - you might also put Tom Jones on your reading list.


Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 6 years ago from TEXAS

A brief review of Tom Jones:

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, often known simply as Tom Jones, is a comic novel by the English playwright and novelist Henry Fielding. First published on 28 February 1749, Tom Jones is among the earliest English prose works describable as a novel.

The novel is divided into 18 smaller books.

Tom Jones is a foundling discovered on the property of a very kind, wealthy landowner, Squire Allworthy, in Somerset in England's West Country. Tom grows into a vigorous and lusty, yet honest and kind-hearted, youth. He develops affection for his neighbour's daughter, Sophia Western. On one hand, their love reflects the romantic comedy genre that was popular in 18th-century Britain. However, Tom's status as a bastard causes Sophia's father and Allworthy to oppose their love; this criticism of class friction in society acted as a biting social commentary. The inclusion of prostitution and sexual promiscuity in the plot was also original for its time, and also acted as the foundation for criticism of the book's "lowness."


Lee B profile image

Lee B 6 years ago from New Mexico Author

Nellieanna, thank you so much for coming by! I never thought of comparing Emma B. to Scarlet O'Hara, but it makes a lot of sense. I must say though, that Scarlet is more honest with herself ABOUT herself. That's why I think she is a survivor. While Emma lies MOSTLY to herself which is her downfall.

I totally agree about the movie version. I WANT to like it, but it's just not enough somehow.

Thank you for the review of Tom Jones. For some reason I just cannot finish that book! I've read ABOUT it but never actually read the whole book. And it is an important book because it was honest and critical of social norms in a way that was far before it's time.


Aley Martin profile image

Aley Martin 6 years ago from Sumner, Washington,USA

another great post Lee! I see you live in Seattle! I live in Tukwila and love it here! Do you belong to any classic book groups? Perhaps we should start one, even online?


Lee B profile image

Lee B 6 years ago from New Mexico Author

Thank you, Aley! We're really not too far away, are we? I don't belong to any book groups. Starting one up sounds interesting!


Cheeky Girl profile image

Cheeky Girl 6 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

This is a great book, I read years ago and it was wonderful. Surely one of the best among great books and great reads!


2patricias profile image

2patricias 6 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

I've never read the book, but I will now add it to my list of 'pending' books to read.

Your one sentence summary is brilliant, but your explanation of why you liked the book tells me far more.


Lee B profile image

Lee B 6 years ago from New Mexico Author

Thank you for stopping by Cheeky Girl. I've actually been a bit obsessed with this book. It seems to have just as much to say today in our consumerist culture. I still fall into the trap of thinking if I only had this or that product, my life would somehow be better.


Lee B profile image

Lee B 6 years ago from New Mexico Author

Thank you, 2patricias! I guess my summary is sort of a joke and a little personal challenge. I may try to do this with all my book reviews if it doesn't become TOO goofy. Sure hope you read the book and let me know what you think!


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa

Thanks for an interesting look at a book I know I "should" read but haven't so far! Maybe when I get through all the others I want to read! I liked the style of this book report, it was fun and engaging.

Love and peace

Tony


Lee B profile image

Lee B 6 years ago from New Mexico Author

Thank you for stopping by, tonymac04. I'm glad you liked my inane rambling. As a teacher, I just got so sick of those traditional book reports that make even the best books seem boring. Hope you get a chance to read Madame Bovary!


ladyjane1 profile image

ladyjane1 6 years ago from Texas

I think I saw the Minnelli movie with Jennifer Jones years ago and thought it was okay. I have never read the book but I think I will now. I love classic books. THanks for this great hub.


Lee B profile image

Lee B 6 years ago from New Mexico Author

Thank YOU, ladyjane1. I hope you like the book! It's a bit disconcerting because most people don't feel much affection for the protagonist(I didn't)--however, I still found it very compelling. Hope you do too.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

As a tragic sufferer of bovarism, you can't imagine how much I enjoyed this thread.I love the book too Lee. In fact it inspired half my pen name, the other half coming from another favourite...Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre"...almost an entire opposite in character.

I have a lot of sympathy for Madame Bovary...self-absorbed hopeless romantic that she was. She sought sensual pleasure and an enchanted world but was in many ways trapped by penury and the stultifying cultural mores of her day....as well as her own unrealistic desires. I love the ballroom scene, where she is in her element, twirling in sensual delight in the centre of a gorgeous room. This is her world...the world she wants.

Apparently Flaubert was trying to create the perfect novel in Madame Bovary, keeping the author as objective and unobtrusive as possible. He makes no judgements about his character..... that is left to the reader. I do think there is a strange detachment, almost coldness, in Flauberts writing here but it is marvellously written nonethelesss.

I like the way you relate the story to real world experience....it's true, most women have a little bit of Madame Bovary in them. I know I do.

Cheers


Lee B profile image

Lee B 6 years ago from New Mexico Author

I did wonder if there was a connection to your pen name, Jane! And the combination of the two characters is mind spinning; I'm tempted to change my name to Emma Eyre, as "Jane Eyre" is one of my favorites and one I had planned on reviewing.

I think one of the real ironies in Emma's character is that had she married one of the wealthy, worldly men she fantasized about, she would have been just as dissatisfied--and, I believe, her end would have been much the same.

I so appreciate your comments, Jane. I have long wondered what it is about this book that is so compelling, and I think you have shown light on some of that for me.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

I love "Emma Eyre"....you should do it!


Lee B profile image

Lee B 6 years ago from New Mexico Author

I'm thinking about it!


Gigi2 profile image

Gigi2 6 years ago from UK

I am delighted to have discovered your hub. I am keen to read the book and will be checking this hub often, it's bookmarked! Thanks for a wealth of interesting information. looking forward to reading more of your hubs.


Lee B profile image

Lee B 6 years ago from New Mexico Author

Thank you so much, Gigi2! I hope you let me know what you think of the book when you finish. You might also want to check out the two other hubs I've linked.


epigramman profile image

epigramman 6 years ago

there's nothing eccentric about your hubs or book reports - they're simply hubtastic!!!!

When I see your profile of freedom and adventure I think of the song by the Beach Boys - Sail on Sailor!!


Lee B profile image

Lee B 6 years ago from New Mexico Author

Thank you so much, epigramman! I'm thinking of my book hubs as eccentric because I don't really REVIEW, just RAMBLE.

I'm all about adventure and freedom! Unfortunately, lately it's been work, rainy weather, and staying at the marina.

Glad you stopped by!


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

I have not read the book but I have seen two films about it, which I enjoyed very much. But not as much as I loved this page. I have been where you were, spending like crazy in a little fantasy world, thinking it would never end. I should have been frugal and saved money. If I had, I would be set for life right now. Instead, I'm busted and bankrupt. But, who knows, maybe it'll make for a better book.

:-)


Lee B profile image

Lee B 6 years ago from New Mexico Author

"I should have been frugal and saved money. If I had, I would be set for life right now."

I sure know what you're talking about here, James! I feel like I'm living on a financial roller coaster.

I can hardly wait to read your book! Thank you for your kind comment.


mysterylady 89 profile image

mysterylady 89 6 years ago from Florida

Lee B, I chose this as your first hub to read because I used to teach - or try to teach - Madame Bovary. Now I realize my h,s, students simply did not have the life experiences they needed to be able to enjoy this book. Your book report was delightful. I am going to start following you.


Lee B profile image

Lee B 6 years ago from New Mexico Author

Thank you so much, mysterylady! Of the books I've reviewed so far, the only one I've taught was To Kill a Mockingbird to 8th graders. I'm sure they didn't appreciate the book the way an adult with more life experiences would, but they did get something out of it. I'm sure your students got whatever they could take from Madame Bovary, and many of them will return to it later when they're ready. I know many books I read as a teen went right over my head, but when I go back to them a light turns on in my head. I'm honored that you've chosen to follow me! I'm already your follower!


Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 6 years ago

Great job. I'm glad I don't have to read it! Great report though!


Lee B profile image

Lee B 6 years ago from New Mexico Author

Thank you, Micky!


Sa`ge profile image

Sa`ge 5 years ago from Barefoot Island

....... melt the stars". yes, maybe. :D again thank you :D


Lee B profile image

Lee B 5 years ago from New Mexico Author

Glad to see you here, Sa'ge! Thank you for coming by.


My Esoteric profile image

My Esoteric 5 years ago from Keystone Heights, FL

Loved your "book report", Lee B, and thanks for stopping by my Hub as well. I haven't read Madame Bovary, and probably don't need to as I was married to her in the form of my second wife. Fortunately, my third wife proved to me there are actually sane women in the world, lol.


Lee B profile image

Lee B 5 years ago from New Mexico Author

So glad you stopped by, My Esoteric! Sorry to laugh at your one-time misery and glad things are better now. I do think all of us have a bit of Madame Bovary in us!


Dee Dee 5 years ago

Can u please tell me if you know the author of that painting that you put on the top of the book commentary? I would be very thankful :)

btw...I adore Mdm.Bovary and Gustave Flaubert probably as you do, I'm working on my oral presentation and i'd like to use this picture :)


Lee B profile image

Lee B 5 years ago from New Mexico Author

I'm sorry, Dee Dee! I put this hub together so long ago, I just can't remember even where I got this photo, and I never did know the name of the painter. I went into editing mode--but no info there.

Hope you are able to find this painting or something else you can use for your oral presentation. Good luck! Lee

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