Thursday, 15 March 2012

Madame Bovary - a very modern heroine

Have you ever read the same book, years apart, and reacted to it in very different ways?  Are some books better read in the innocence of youth?  Do others need age and experience to be appreciated?

As a young teen I adored Anya Seton's Catherine.  The combination of history and romance was perfect escapism for a dreamy teenager.  At seventeen, I was interested in existentialism, inspired by Camus' The Outsider.  I have never reread either book.  Perhaps, like revisiting favourite childhood haunts, rereading should be avoided.  Can you recapture those teenage enthusiasms?  Is it worth risking the disappointment?

I read Madame Bovary ten or fifteen years ago.  I did not enjoy it at all. Monsieur Bovary irritated me,with his dull provincial ways. Madame Bovary was shallow and self-centred.  This was no grand amour, just destructive delusion.

Rereading Madame Bovary has been a revelation. M. Bovary is still uncultured and unsophisticated.  Emma Bovary is just as self-centred, but somehow this time it doesn't matter.  I don't have to like the characters to enjoy the book.  I can admire Flaubert's depiction of the ennui of provincial bourgeois life and his particular attention to finding le mot juste. He creates such a convincing world through the minutiae of the everyday where his characters speak and live in clichés.

In many ways Emma Bovary is a very modern heroine.  Imagine her suburban world, reading celebrity magazines and Ideal Home. She fantasises about London parties and Manolo Blahnik shoes.  Imagine the multiple credit cards and the loan sharks, the bailiffs at the door. Still the adultery and rampant consumerism would not satisfy.

Definitely worth rereading.

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