Did you weigh your decision carefully? Were you aware of the abyss into which I was drawing you, my poor angel? You weren’t, were you? You were going ahead, foolishly trusting, believing in happiness, in the future…
Unfortunately, I only have time for a quick gathering of thoughts today, but this weekend I hope to look back and put together more of my impressions on Part Two. The book continues to surprise me, and hold my attention, and even to be suspenseful, though we know how it ends.
Once they arrive, the Bovarys meet Leon, then meet Rodolphe; there is the agricultural fair, Leon’s departure for Paris, the failed operation on Hippolyte, Emma’s affair with Rodolphe, and her plan to flee with him, his betrayal, Emma’s illness, the trip to Rouen for the opera, and the reunion there with Leon.
It was interesting to me that, three pages after we meet him, we know who Rodolphe is (there is no doubt):
‘I believe he’s very stupid. She’s probably tired of him. He has dirty nails and a three-day-old beard. While he trots off to his patients, she stays at home darning socks. And we’re bored! We’d like to live in the city, dance the polka every night! Poor little woman! That one’s gasping for love like a carp for water on a kitchen table. With three pretty compliments that one would adore me. I’m sure of it! It would be lovely! Charming! . . . Yes, but how to get rid of the woman afterward?’I found myself wondering why Flaubert did this. If the story is meant to be realistic, should we just know this? Is there always a villain? Would first readers of the novel in its time have found Emma’s waiting to flee with him suspensefully written, as I did, even knowing what will happen?
There are wonderfully written scenes in Part Two, driven by thoughts or dialogue rather than detail. There’s a gathering at the pharmacy, when Binet, who is ‘going to make unfavorable conjectures’ when he sees Emma in the meadow, asks Homais for half an ounce of vitriol. (Is that Flaubert’s joke, or Lydia Davis’?) At the agricultural fair, Rodolphe’s pretty speeches to Emma are interrupted by announcements of the prizes for manure and a merino ram, and later, both lying in bed, Charles imagines Berthe growing up as Emma thinks of her new life with Rodolphe.
For me, the best (most delicious) pages are in Chapter 13, when Rodolphe writes to Emma to ‘explain’ why they cannot run away together. There’s an image that pegs him…
To recapture something of her, he went to the cupboard by the head of his bed and took out an old Reims cookie tin in which he was in the habit of putting the letters women sent to him, and there escaped from it a smell of damp dust and withered roses.and wonderful internal dialogue as he writes his dishonest letter.
For more thoughts from our group reading of Madame Bovary today, please visit Frances’ wonderful blog, Nonsuch Book.