Thoughts on Madame Bovary: Depression or Boredom?

 

I know in the literary world, I’m perhaps a little late on this classic, but I finally got around to reading Madame Bovary over 3 months ago (this blog post is long past due). When it comes to classics, it’s always a hit or miss with me. Some end up boring me, while others immerse me so completely. With Madame Bovary, it was kind of weird. I liked it, but then I didn’t. I think it was Emma’s character that started to annoy me in the end. Apparently a lot of readers have felt this way about her according to my Google research. I am obviously no literary expert, but I felt really compelled to write thoughts and feelings on this book and to break down who Emma Bovary truly is beneath the materialistic and greedy person she became in the end.

Emma Bovary, More Than Just a Bored House Wife:

One can argue that she was a victim, and just a woman of her time, fed up with living in a man’s world, or that she was just selfish and a bit batty and really should have just gotten over herself. Now, if I read and understood everything correctly, I’m pretty sure Emma also suffered from some sort of depression. It couldn’t have been postpartum depression because she started feeling this way before she had her child, but either way any kind of depression is obviously no laughing matter, and that explains why she wasn’t really capable of even taking care of her own child period. Once married, her expectations were shattered, thus leading to her great unhappiness. She should not have relied on her marriage to bring her happiness and purpose, but as a young woman, she had very much to learn and could not have really known any better, especially since she grew up on a farm. Rushed into marriage, she did not have very much time to experience growth or understanding of who she really was as a person.

I think Emma’s greatest tragedy is that she always wanted more and was stuck in her delusions/fantasies. Her husband, Charles Bovary may be a bit dull at times, and completely oblivious to his wife’s true needs, but he greatly adores and loves her. I almost felt sorry for Charles because he’s so naive, but at the same time he was extremely comfortable in his relationship and set in his ways, and should have been more in tune with his wife’s emotions and taken care of her needs as well. He seemed to me to be too caught up in his work and rigid duties. He may have greatly loved his wife, but he obviously had no idea how to really express it. She craved passion and he lacked that in every way possible. Emma wanted and needed romance. She was a dreamer, and like all dreamers, they always want life to play out the way they envision it. What is reality to them?

Society’s Contribution to Emma’s Decline:

There is very little dialogue going on in the book, but at the same time it works better in setting the dismal tone of the atmosphere by entering the characters thoughts and establishing the fact that this isn’t a happy story with a happy ending. For example, while Emma is clearly a dreamer and has high expectations, Gustave Flaubert describes her day in a very realistic and monotonous tone. Right away we understand that she is unhappy and finds her life very dull. I think this is another reason why I find this book intriguing. It’s not really written in a traditional way and feels a little more personal. And describes society and the people in it in a cynical and sarcastic way, sort of like William Makepeace Thakeray’s, Vanity Fair, also published in the early-mid 19th century.

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Mia Wasikowska as Emma Bovary in the 2015 film adaptation of Madame Bovary

I am kind of torn on my feelings for Emma. I want to pity her and understand her, but she begins to act very recklessly and extremely needy throughout the book. But once again, if she was suffering from depression, then it’s hard to hate her. One should perhaps feel empathy or compassion for her instead. She clearly just wanted to be loved and feel loved, and many of the people she was surrounded by often acted quite selfishly, so perhaps her own selfish feelings throughout the book in the end are justified. It’s always about the other characters. Whenever Emma tries to voice her opinions or express herself, she is often silenced by the people in her town. This only worsens her depression and she begins to detach herself from society. She feels completely alone. She may have become greedy and materialistic in the end, and this is why most people will not sympathize with her, but there is much more to her than this. The people in her town did not act any better. They only help contribute to her isolation.

Conclusion:

When I found out the new movie was on Netflix I instantly watched it. Of course it left out quite a lot from the book, but for a movie it pretty much helps summarize the main story. Out of 5 stars, however, I give the movie 3 stars because I feel like it was still lacking some substance. Not to take away from Mia Wasikowska’s performance. I’ve always found her to be a decent actress and I really really loved her in Jane Eyre! I love that book too, and that movie actually lived up to the book.

It’s understandable that most of the characters in Madame Bovary are completely oblivious to Emma’s slow decline into a deep depression. During that time most people were very unaware of that disease. Maybe many of these women were bored and lacked purpose, but there are always other factors to be taken into account. If you’re not happy with yourself, then of course you cannot find true happiness in life. And if you think about it, what role did women really play in that kind of society at the time? They were destined to find a husband, and bare children and that’s it! No offense to all those proud mothers or modern day house wives out there, but for women like Emma who want to dream a little bigger, of course they are going to crave more purpose in life. What is your true purpose, really? To just sit around and wait for your husband to come home? That’s what Emma had to do and she lost herself.

Unfortunately though this led to Emma’s slow decline and she not only lost herself, but she lost control of her life decisions and accumulated massive debt because she thought materialistic possessions could help her through her unhappiness (Cue Joy Division’s She’s Lost Control Again). I wanted to hate Emma, but I have suddenly realized that I can’t. She needed help and she never got the help she needed. She was greatly misunderstood and no one would listen. Society was so cruel to women back then. And women who suffered from depression? It was practically unheard of. Perhaps Emma should have been content with her comfortable life and thankful for a husband that actually greatly loved her and would never betray her as she betrayed him, but she listened to her heart and became forever trapped in a world she could not escape.

Thank you so much for reading! I know I don’t usually make posts like this, but when I get into books and characters, I really get into them. If anyone has ever read this book and would like to offer more insight or opinions, please comment below! I’d love to hear what other people have to say about this book or Emma.

Cheers,

Nicolette

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