Abbe Bournisien must have been such a disappointment to Emma. Lost and "filled with tenderness" for the memories of her convent church experiences, "[s]he recalled the great candelabras, which rose, on the altar, higher than the flower-filled vases and the tabernacle with its little columns. She wishes that once again, as in the old days, she could be part of the white veils marked here and there with black by the stiff cowls of the good sisters bending over their prie-dieux; on Sundays, at Mass, when she lifted her head, she would see the sweet face of the Virgin among the bluish eddies of rising incense."
And there stood the cure in his worn and dirty vestments with the "abundant folds of his red chin," "his skin scattered with yellow blotches that disappeared among the coarse hairs of his graying beard. He had just dined and was breathing noisily." His brief conversation with her was not of the transcendence of faith but the mundanity of naughty children and too warm weather. Emma once again seeks the highest solution, the pinnacle, the ideal and is delivered an aesthetically challenged man of "earthly remedies," a religious man that resides in the material needs of those surrounding him before an idealized higher calling. A realist response to her own romanticized yearnings.
The questions and responses of the catechism she hears recited as she trails off from the church address identity - "Are you a Christian?" "Yes, I am a Christian." " What is a Christian?" "A Christian is one who, being baptized...baptized...baptized..." Assigned identity. Accepted through rote. And then the most curious small moment occurs when she arrives home. We see her as three people, three assigned identities - Emma, the young woman and Madame Bovary. This occurs throughout the book but for some reason made a greater impression on me here. Emma as the girl that shoves her approaching baby away from her - petulant and young. Who like a child lies about what she has done. Madame Bovary rushes to pick up Berthe after her fall - the mother that does her duty. And the young woman seems to ponder her position - this is not as things were to be.
I waded through part one thinking that the lies here were all simple ones. Expressions of selfishness, delivered for personal gain. But these layers of assigned identity reveal lies that are permitted to define others in that Emma may not be the most sympathetic of characters - selfish and shallow and defined through material possessions - but part two highlights the fact that she has also been lied to repeatedly. She believed the fairy tales of the convent, the promise of marriage, the promise of great love and passion and maternal affection. I think of a natural literary descendent of Emma, Edna Pontellier, who having no means through which to express her interior life with the male patterned discourse available to her takes her own life. And this only further highlights the devastating emptiness of Madame Bovary as any interior life is only a shadow here as all is determined by a hyper-bourgeois adherence to an external life.
Men are free but women are "thwarted." "Bound." "Sinking in ocean of shadow." Prized for their appearance. "Gasping for love like a carp for water on a kitchen table." Defined by someone else's name. Near the abyss. Constantly being "subjugated." Giving themselves up. Drowning in the depths of eyes that reveal no passageways to a soul. Their emotions disdained. You know where I am going. Because it comes up repeatedly throughout part two. I feel pity but also horror at the thought that the receptive imagination of Emma Bovary so willingly accepts the writing of her own demise. Flaubert the bastard. Just another man that fucked her. Not exactly the best critical analysis. An emotional one. Love the book for itself but the author won't make the cut for the dead guys to dinner list.
One more week of the empty vessel master work. Like last week, I will add the post links in here late on Thursday. And am really looking forward to the conversation again. If you missed the comment thread over at Emily's last week, catch yourself up immediately. Compelling enough to get tweeted by Penguin this week, people! Just love Emily's work. And would like to think she wouldn't invite Gustave to dinner either.
- Anthony at Time's Flow Stemmed
- Emily at Evening All Afternoon
- Richard at Caravana de Recuerdos
- Emily at Seriously Reading
- Marie at Boston Bibliophile
- Buried In Print
- Melissa at The Avid Reader's Musings
- Jeanne at Necromancy Never Pays
- Bellezza at Dolce Bellezza
- Audrey at Books as Food
- Isabella at Magnificent Octopus
- Jenn at Picky Girl
- Shelley at Book Clutter
- Carina at Reading Through Life
- Nicole at Bibliographing
- Amy at New Century Reading