The Fate Of The Romantic: Day 3

Madame Bovary
Gustave Flaubert

“At the bottom of her heart, however, she was waiting for something to happen. Like shipwrecked sailors, she turned despairing eyes upon the solitude of her life, seeking afar off some white sail in the mists of the horizon. She did not know what this chance would be, what wind would bring it her, towards what shore it would drive her, if it would be a shallop or a three-decker, laden with anguish or full of bliss to the portholes. But each morning, as she awoke, she hoped it would come that day; she listened to every sound, sprang up with a start, wondered that it did not come; then at sunset, always more saddened, she longed for the morrow.”

The honeymoon is over.  Ever said that?  The cliché means the glow of idealized infatuation has been rudely tarnished by some aspect of harsh reality.  It happens in all relationships that begin with expectations that are humanly unsustainable.  Sooner or later our flaws emerge and reckoning must be done.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me Karen Swallow Prior writes:

If she were able to express her discontentment perhaps she might have overcome it. Indeed she thinks that if Charles could only understand her, even if only in part, her heart might yield “a sudden bounty.” But she does not have the words to express her yearnings and disappointments. Unreleased, they simmer. As the intimacy of married life with her husband deepens, “the greater became the gulf that kept them apart.” For intimacy with Charles reveals that the doctor who successfully treated her father’s bone fracture—the occasion of Emma and Charles’ meeting—is, in fact, a man, and a rather ordinary, dull, and flawed one at that.

The fact that no man is able to satisfy Emma reveals that even if Charles had been a bit less, or even a lot less, dull, it would not have been enough. Emma’s discovery that her husband is a real person, not just an image, is a discovery most of us must undertake. And it’s a discovery that is made not just once and for all, but—particularly within the context of marriage—over and over, sometimes on a daily basis, as I had to learn for myself.

How have “fairy tale” versions of life you might have once believed been challenged and changed by real life?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.



D I G  D E E P E R

Gustave Flaubert

Writing was not easy for the French novelist Gustave Flaubert. Because of his concern for form and precise detail, he often struggled for days searching for le seul mot juste (“the exactly right word”). He took five years to write Madame Bovary, his best-known work.

Gustave Flaubert was born on Dec. 12, 1821, in Rouen, France, where his father, Achille, was chief surgeon at the Hôtel-Dieu (hospital).  His mother, Caroline Fleuriot, was the daughter of a doctor. Gustave was one of six children, only three of whom survived.

While a student in Rouen, Gustave showed an early interest in literature. He and his friends acted in plays he had written when he was only 11. His first published work, Song of Death, appeared in the review Le Colibri in 1837.

At the insistence of his father, Flaubert went to Paris in 1841 to study law. In 1843, having failed his examinations and suffering from the onset of a nervous disorder, he decided to devote all his time to literature. After the deaths of his father and sister, in 1846, a sizable inheritance enabled him to retire to the family estate at Croisset to write.

Flaubert sought to make literature a pure art. His aim was to write faultless, meticulously chiseled prose. “My head reels and throat aches with chasing after, slogging over, delving into, turning around, groping after, and bellowing, in a hundred thousand different ways, a sentence that I’ve at last finished,” he said while working on Madame Bovary.

Published in serial form in 1856, it tells the story of Emma Bovary, an irresponsible, selfish, extravagant young woman who, involved in debt and intrigue, poisons herself. The novel caused such a sensation in France that its author was put on trial for the alleged immorality of the book.

For Madame Bovary, Flaubert took a commonplace story of adultery and made of it a book that continues to be read because of its profound humanity. The story is that of Emma, a girl in provincial France who eagerly marries her father’s physician, country doctor Charles Bovary, to escape life on the farm. Emma soon comes to discover, though, that Charles is far from the prince that she had hoped for and that married life is quite unbearable. Disgusted and frustrated, Emma begins to act out her romantic fantasies and embarks on an ultimately disastrous love affair.

Madame Bovary cost the author five years of hard work. Believing that there was “no such thing as a synonym,” Flaubert worked and reworked the book, searching for exactly the right word to describe every situation. The novel, with the subtitle Moeurs de province (Provincial Customs), eventually appeared in installments in his friend Maxime du Camp’s journal Revue de Parisfrom Oct. 1 to Dec. 15, 1856. The French government then brought the author to trial on the ground of his novel’s alleged immorality, and he narrowly escaped conviction. With its unrelenting objectivity the novel marked the beginning of a new age of realism in literature.

Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

Published by

Rick Wilcox

Editor in Chief | Literary Life