Wednesday 25 September 2019

Timeline of Madame Bovary

Do you wonder about how much time passes between events or how long something lasts in Madame Bovary? I did. It’s not always clear, but I’m trying to piece together the timeline of the story.
1/ Charles Bovary moves to Tostes to practise as a doctor (P.1, ch.1), and lives there for 4 years before moving to Yonville (P.1, ch.9). 
It’s not said how long after he moves to Tostes that he gets married to his 1st wife Heloise, but the marriage lasts 14 months (P.1, ch.5). 
Charles meets Emma whilst still married, and about 5 months after the 1st wife’s death, he sees Emma again. Because of mourning, I think the wedding is about a year later. 
2/ Part 1 of the book is about Emma marrying Charles, becoming Madame Bovary, moving to Tostes, meeting and fantasising about the Vicomte. At the end of Part 1, before leaving Tostes, she becomes pregnant. 
Part 2 is about Emma in Yonville, her 1st meeting with Léon, and affair with Rodolphe. 
Part 3 is about Emma’s affair with Léon and her financial troubles. During this time, she travels back and forth between Yonville and Rouen for her affair. 
3/ In Part 2 chapter 12, during the affair with Rodolphe, and soon before they plan to elope, Emma tells him that she has suffered for 4 years. That most likely means that at that point she has been married to Charles for 4 years. 
4/ In Part 3 chapter 1, Flaubert tells us that Léon sees Emma again after 3 years. That means that Part 2 is at least 3 years, could be 3 years and a half, depending on when Léon moves away. I’m not sure about that point. 
5/ Emma has an affair with Rodolphe for 2 years (P.3, ch.8).  
6/ In Part 3 chapter 6, when Emma has had an affair with Léon for some time and is now starting to have financial troubles, Flaubert tells us that 2 years have passed since her illness (after Rodolphe’s abandonment). 
I’m not sure how long the illness lasts, nor how much time passes between it and her meeting with Léon in Rouen. However, in Part 2 chapter 14, Flaubert says that it’s a hard winter and Emma takes a long time to recover, so I assume that her illness lasts a few months. During this time she re-discovers, then drops, religion, then Homais brings up the idea of going to the theatre in Rouen, where she meets Léon. The whole thing would be a few months. 
7/ In Part 3 chapter 8, when Emma comes to Rodolphe for help, we are told that he has been avoiding her for 3 years. I would guess that Emma has an affair with Léon for about 2 years and a half. 
An easy way Flaubert could have done to mark time and help the reader keep track of time is by mentioning Berthe’s age, which he never did. By my calculation, she’s about 6 when Emma dies.
What do you think? 

Sunday 22 September 2019

The tragedy of Madame Bovary

Let’s look at this passage, after Rodolphe dumps Emma: 
“As for memories of Rodolphe, she stored them away in the depths of her heart, and there they stayed, more stately, more motionless than a mummy in its crypt. From this great embalmed love came a fragrance that, touching everything, scented the world of purity where she wanted to live with tenderness. When she knelt at her Gothic prie-dieu she spoke the same honeyed words to the Lord that she had once whispered in her lover’s ear during their adulterous outpourings. She did it to instil faith, but no delight descended on her from heaven, and she would get up aching, with the obscure feeling that she was the victim of an enormous hoax. Yet this quest, so she believed, was just one more good deed, and in her proud devotions Emma likened herself to the great ladies of the past, whose glory had once inspired her in a painting of la Vallière, and who, trailing the rickly bedecked trains of their long dresses with such splendour, withdrew into seclusion to wash Christ’s feet with the tears of a heart wounded by life.” (P.2, ch.4) 
Such a magnificent passage. 
Now look at this one, when Emma’s getting bored with Léon:
“They knew each other too well to marvel at the sense of possession that makes pleasure all the more intense. She was as repelled by him as he was weary of her. In adultery Emma was confronted with the mediocrity of marriage. 
[…] She didn’t write him any fewer love letters, on the principal that a woman should always write to her lover. 
Yet in writing she discovered another man, a shadow born of her most impassioned memories, the most beautiful books she had read, her fiercest desires, and eventually he became so real, so attainable, that her heart raced in wonder, despite being unable to picture him clearly—because like a god he was almost invisible beneath his manly attributes. He lived in that blue-tinted land where silken ladders hang from balconies in the sweetly scented breath of flowers in the moonlight. She felt him nearby, he would come and sweep her away body and soul with a kiss. But then she came crashing down again; for these obscures transports of love exhausted her more than the wildest debauchery.” (P.3, ch.6) 
Emma’s tragedy is her yearning for something grand, exciting, and romantic. Her tragedy is her inability to reconcile with the fact that life isn’t like the books she reads. Her tragedy is her delusions and thwarted dreams. Emma moves from religion (during the time at the convent), to marriage, to affair with Rodolphe, back to religion, then to affair with Léon, forever chasing something unattainable, forever dissatisfied and disappointed.  
Emma is stupid, deceitful, reckless, and self-centred. She is shallow and has no depth of feeling, and doesn’t care about anyone, including her own child. She is self-destructive and hard to like. But as I reread Madame Bovary, I sometimes felt for Emma. Her marriage with Charles is an awful mismatch, and the answer to anyone who is against (the right to) divorce or against premarital sex. Compatibility, including sexual compatibility, is important. 
Emma, in addition, doesn’t have a profession or hobby to keep herself from daydreaming and acting out her fantasies. She doesn’t seem to understand finances.
This time, I’ve also realised something I didn’t notice before: Charles too shares his part in Emma’s tragedy. They lack communication—Emma doesn’t express her feelings, he doesn’t understand her and even foolishly believes she’s happy; on his turn, he doesn’t tell her about money problems either, so it is partly his fault that she becomes spoilt and careless with spending.  
Look at this passage: 
“… Lheureux redoubled his efforts and, first threatening then whining, he so contrived things that Charles ended up by singing a promissory note that fell due in 6 months. But no sooner had he signed the agreement than he had a bold idea: to borrow 1000 francs from Monsieur Lheureux. So looking slightly embarrassed, he asked if there was a chance of getting it, adding that it would be for a year and at whatever rate of interest he liked.” (P.2, ch.14) 
Note that: “at whatever rate of interest he liked”. Isn’t that rather dumb?

Sunday 15 September 2019

The lustful Emma Bovary

Discussing Madame Bovary, people tend to write about Emma’s sentimentality, silliness, and extravagance, and the way she foolishly expects life to be grand and exciting as in books, and feels disillusioned when it isn’t. I forgot, since the last read about 5-6 years ago, that Emma is actually very sensual, with lots of appetite for sex. 
Just look at these passages, when Emma’s falling for Léon: 
“… she was full of lust, anger, hatred.” (P.2, ch.5)  
(For friends who haven’t read Madame Bovary: the hatred is for her husband, for being mediocre and boring, but not beating her up or giving her some other reason to hate him). 
“The desires of the flesh, the lust for money and the melancholia of passion all merged in a single agony—but instead of turning her mind away she bound herself to it even more closely, stimulated by pain and looking everywhere for opportunities to indulge herself.” (ibid.) 
2 chapters later, Flaubert also uses the phrase “carnal desires” (in Christopher Moncrieff’s translation).     
At this point, Emma hasn’t had an affair yet, but today her behaviour would most probably be called micro-cheating, whatever that means. 
“She could make out tiny gold flecks in his eyes, fanning out round his black pupils, and could even smell the pomade that made his hair shine. Then suddenly she felt weak, she remembered the Vicomte who had waltzed with her at La Vaubyessard, and whose beard gave off the same scents of vanilla and lemon, and instinctively she half-closed her eyes in order to breathe it in. But as she did so she sat up in her chair, and saw the old stagecoach Hirondelle on the horizon, coming slowly down Les Leux hill trailing a long plume of dust. It was in that same yellow carriage that Léon had so often returned to her; and it was on the same road that he had left forever! She thought she saw him at his window opposite; then everything became confused, the clouds passed; it was as if she were still waltzing in the Vicomte’s arms in the light of the chandeliers, and Léon wasn’t far away, he was coming… and yet she could still sense Rodolphe’s head beside her. The sweetness of the sensation found its way into her old desires, and like grains of sand in the wind they whirled round in the delicate waft of perfume that was spreading through her soul.” (P.2, ch.8) 
All the men blur together. It’s obvious that what Emma needs, and wants, is some good sex, which she doesn’t get from her husband. 
Just go back to the beginning and look at this scene of Emma and Charles before they get married:  
“She got a bottle of curacao from the armoire, reached down 2 small glasses, filled one to the top, put almost nothing in the other and then, having clinked it with his, lifted it to her mouth. Since it was virtually empty she had to tip her head back to drink; and in that position, with her lips extended, neck craning, she laughed because she couldn’t taste anything, while between her shapely little teeth the tip of her tongue gently licked the bottom of the glass.” (P.1, ch.3) 
Her sensual nature has been hinted from the start. 
It becomes clear that Emma craves sex. She fantasises about the Vicomte, then falls for Léon; after Léon, she quickly succumbs to Rodolphe’s seductions, then she also gets over him, and starts a new affair with Léon. 
With Rodolphe, she has sex with him the 1st time they ride horses together, and during the affair, sneaks out of house several times a week to be with him. 
“1 morning when Charles had left before dawn, she was seized by a sudden desire to see Rodolphe that very second. […] The thought made her breast heave with lust…” (P.2, ch.9) 
And then: 
“All winter, 3 or 4 times a week, he came to her garden when it was completely dark. Emma had taken the key out of the gate, and Charles thought it had been lost. 
[…] To let her know he was there, Rodolphe always threw a handful of sand at the shutters. She would jump up; but sometimes she had to wait, because Charles had a habit of chatting by the fire and would go on ad infinitum. She would be consumed with impatience; if they would have done, her eyes would have leapt out of the window.” (P.2, ch.10) 
Note: “consumed with impatience”. 
Later, when Emma meets Léon again, after 3 years, she has “an irresistible urge to put her lips to” his cheeks (P.3, ch.1). She arranges a meeting in a church, which leads to the famous carriage scene: 
“Among wagons and barrels at the harbour, in the streets and at the marker stones, local people stared in amazement at this unheard-of thing for a provincial town, a carriage with its blind pulled down, and which kept reappearing, more tightly sealed than a tomb, pitching and tossing like a ship at sea.” (ibid.)
What a scene indeed. Subtle, but masterfully suggestive.   
Later, Flaubert is plain about Emma’s high libido. Just look at these lines: 
“… she came back more voracious, more impassioned than before. She would undress violently, ripping the laces of her corset, which slipped over her hips like a snake. Tiptoeing in bare feet she would check the door was locked then throw aside her clothes in a single movement—and pale, silent, serious, she collapsed into his arms with a shudder.” (P.3, ch.6) 
The detail I find interesting is the effort Emma makes to see Léon: “she never lost the distinct sensation of having a long way to go.” (P.3, ch.5) Emma lies about taking music lessons, in order to see Léon every week. So how far does she have to travel? The Bovarys live in Yonville, Léon lives in Rouen—the distance, Flaubert says, is 24 miles, or 38.6 km. That is about the distance from Leeds, where I live, to York—I’m lazy to travel to York by train (for the Aesthetical Short Film Festival, for instance), Emma travels by carriage. Imagine the time and effort. 
Note that Emma is the one travelling to see Léon, much more the other way around, when it is easier for a man to travel (19th century). That shows how much she craves sex.

Thursday 5 September 2019

Motifs in Madame Bovary: the cigar cases

“As Charles was giving the harness a final check he noticed something on the ground between the horse’s legs; he picked up a cigar case edged with green silk which had a coat of arms in the middle, like on a carriage door. 
‘There are even 2 cigars in it,’ he said. ‘They’ll do for this evening after dinner.” (P.1, ch.8) 
This is the 1st time Flaubert uses the motif of the cigar case in Madame Bovary. It is after the Marquise’s ball. 
“Snatching up the cigar case, Emma threw it at the back of the armoire.” (ibid.)  
It is only a cigar case, but to Emma, it becomes a symbol.
“When Charles was out, she would often take the green silk cigar case from among the folded linen in the cupboard where she had put it. 
She would look at it, open it, even sniff the scent of its lining, a mixture of vervain and tobacco. Whom did it belong to?... To the Vicomte. Perhaps it was a present from his mistress. It had been worked on some rosewood embroidery frame, a pretty little possession that was kept hidden from prying eyes, and had taken many long hours, with the soft curls of the musing female head bent over it. A breath of love had blown through the fine net of the canvas; every stitch of the needle had woven a hope or memory into it, and the intertwined silk threads were all inseparable from that same silent passion. And then one morning the Vicomte had taken it with him.” (P.1, ch.9) 
Flaubert, like Jane Austen, is a master of the free indirect speech. Such a short passage is enough to reveal the ennui, sentimentality, and melodramatic tendencies in Emma Bovary. To someone else, a cigar case is a cigar case is a cigar case. To Emma, she imagines that it belongs to the Vicomte and comes from a mistress, and attaches meaning to it. 
This moment, after the Marquise’s ball, is when Emma becomes disillusioned, regrets her marriage, and dreams of a life of luxury, excitement, and passion that her husband cannot provide. This is also when she starts betraying Charles, for Emma betrays him and their marriage long before she has sex with Rodolphe. 
In the structure of the novel, the cigar case becomes part of a pattern. But it’s not the only one. Look at this passage: 
“The conversation flagged, Madame Bovary kept breaking off every few minutes, while he seemed rooted in self-consciousness. Sitting in a low chair by the fire he turned an ivory cigarette case round in his fingers; she carried on with her sewing…” (P.2, ch.5) 
A cigarette case appears in this moment, around the time Emma realises she and Léon are in love (well, that’s what she thinks—I think they just want to bang). 
Later on, there’s another cigarette case, when Rodolphe enters the story. 
“… At this the peasant dropped the cigarette case he was holding.” (P.2, ch.7)
In this scene, Emma doesn’t feel anything yet, but on Rodolphe’s side, the 1st time they meet, he already wants sex with her. And they would become lovers. 
“As well as the whip with a silver gilt handle, Rodolphe had been given a seal with the motto: Amor nel cor, plus a muffler and a cigar case exactly like the Vicomte’s that Charles had picked up on the road years ago, and which Emma had kept.” (P.2, ch.2) 
As Rodolphe becomes Emma’s lover and therefore the embodiment and subject of her fantasies, she gives him a copy of the green silk cigar case.
In short, Flaubert creates a motif of a cigar or cigarette case to link with the 3 men whom Emma fantasises about and/or cheats on Charles with. 
Interestingly, the passages in this blog post come from the copy I’m reading, translated by Christopher Moncrieff. In the Eleanor Marx-Aveling translation, Léon plays with a thimble-case, and Rodolphe’s peasant drops a lancet-case. Can anyone who reads French please check? But even if the Moncrieff’s translation is inaccurate and the cases of Léon and the peasant have no meaning, the original green silk cigar case and the one Emma gives Rodolphe are still part of an important pattern.

Wednesday 4 September 2019

Charles Mingus and the year 1959

After John Coltrane, I spent some time with Miles Davis, and, finding myself unable to get into Porgy and Bess, In a Silent Way, Sketches of Spain, or even Birth of the Cool, I chose not to listen to Bitches Brew or any more Davis for the moment, and decided to focus on Charles Mingus instead.
Charles Mingus was a bassist, composer, and bandleader. He’s one of the greatest figures in jazz, though probably not as well known in popular culture as some other musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, or John Coltrane. I’ve been listening to Mingus Ah Um lately.

What a great album. It doesn’t have a strong sense of unity like the Coltrane albums I’ve been listening to, but it’s diverse—for example, right after “Better Git It in Yo’ Soul”, full of warmth and energy, is the mournful “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”, an elegy for saxophonist Lester Young, who wore a pork pie hat, then it is followed by the fun, swing-style composition “Boogie Stop Shuffle”, and so on. Such a ride.
Mingus Ah Um also contains the instrumental version of “Fables of Faubus”, a protest against, and mockery of, Arkansas governor Orval E. Faubus, who sent out the Arkansas National Guard to prevent 9 black students from entering an all-white high school in 1957.
This is the song with lyrics, re-titled “Original Faubus Fables”, from the album Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus.

Anyway, as I’ve been listening to the album over and over, I’ve just realised that 1959 was such a fantastic year for jazz. That was the year Kind of Blue was released! BBC4 even made a documentary named 1959: The Year that Changed Jazz.
Here are a few articles talking about the year 1959 in jazz:

Here are some important albums for anyone interested:
Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue (with John Coltrane):

Dave Brubeck’s Time Out:

The famous “Take Five” is in this album.

Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come:

Bill Evans’s Portrait in Jazz:

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers’ Moanin’:

Ella Fitzgerald Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Song Book:

Duke Ellington’s soundtrack for Anatomy of a Murder:

Sun Ra & His Arkestra’s Jazz in Silhouette:

Also in 1959, John Coltrane recorded Giant Steps, which was released in 1960.
What a year.

Monday 2 September 2019

Motifs in Madame Bovary: Cupid and the plaster priest

Motifs abound in Flaubert’s works. They are not symbols, but patterns and repeated images and associations. 
1 of the main ones is the horse motif. I’ve now noticed the statue motif. 
This is the Bovarys’ wedding: 
“A confectioner of Yvetot had been intrusted with the tarts and sweets. As he had only just set up on the place, he had taken a lot of trouble, and at dessert he himself brought in a set dish that evoked loud cries of wonderment. To begin with, at its base there was a square of blue cardboard, representing a temple with porticoes, colonnades, and stucco statuettes all round, and in the niches constellations of gilt paper stars; then on the second stage was a dungeon of Savoy cake, surrounded by many fortifications in candied angelica, almonds, raisins, and quarters of oranges; and finally, on the upper platform a green field with rocks set in lakes of jam, nutshell boats, and a small Cupid balancing himself in a chocolate swing whose two uprights ended in real roses for balls at the top.” (P.1, ch.4) 
Contrast that with the Marquis’s party: 
“The silver dish covers reflected the lighted wax candles in the candelabra, the cut crystal covered with light steam reflected from one to the other pale rays; bouquets were placed in a row the whole length of the table; and in the large-bordered plates each napkin, arranged after the fashion of a bishop’s mitre, held between its two gaping folds a small oval shaped roll. The red claws of lobsters hung over the dishes; rich fruit in open baskets was piled up on moss; there were quails in their plumage; smoke was rising; and in silk stockings, knee-breeches, white cravat, and frilled shirt, the steward, grave as a judge, offering ready carved dishes between the shoulders of the guests, with a touch of the spoon gave you the piece chosen. On the large stove of porcelain inlaid with copper baguettes the statue of a woman, draped to the chin, gazed motionless on the room full of life.” (P.1, ch.8) 
Much more luxurious. 
There’s another Cupid when the Bovarys move to Yonville: 
“Then across an open space appears a white house beyond a grass mound ornamented by a Cupid, his finger on his lips; two brass vases are at each end of a flight of steps; scutcheons blaze upon the door. It is the notary’s house, and the finest in the place.” (P.2, ch.1) 
And another sculpture: 
“Farther on, at a spot where the building narrows, the confessional forms a pendant to a statuette of the Virgin, clothed in a satin robe, coifed with a tulle veil sprinkled with silver stars, and with red cheeks, like an idol of the Sandwich Islands; and, finally, a copy of the “Holy Family, presented by the Minister of the Interior,” overlooking the high altar, between four candlesticks, closes in the perspective.” (ibid.) 
Soon after the appearance of the 2nd Cupid, Emma meets Léon for the 1st time. 
A quick search tells me that there is a 3rd Cupid near the end of the novel: 
“On the clock there was a bronze cupid, who smirked as he bent his arm beneath a golden garland. They had laughed at it many a time, but when they had to part everything seemed serious to them.” (P.3, ch.5) 
This is during the time Emma has an affair with Léon. The 3 Cupids in the novel are all different, but 2 of them are associated with Léon. 
All of the quotes above come from the translation by Eleanor Marx-Aveling, on Gutenberg, just so I don’t have to type. 
“Then how many things had been spoilt or lost during their carriage from Tostes to Yonville, without counting the plaster cure, who falling out of the coach at an over-severe jolt, had been dashed into a thousand fragments on the pavements of Quincampoix!” (P.2, ch.3) 
What is the plaster cure? It is actually the plaster priest I was looking for. 
This comes from the Christopher Moncrieff translation I’m reading: 
“Then there were the things that had been lost or damaged in transit from Tostes to Yonville, to say nothing of the plaster priest, which had fallen off the cart after a violent jolt and smashed on the cobbles in Quincampoix.” (P.2, ch.3)
The plaster priest is linked to the 1st part of the Bovarys’ marriage: 
“At the far end, beneath some small fir trees, a plasterwork priest was reading his breviary.” (P.1, ch.5) 
It appears again the day after the Marquis’s ball: 
“She walked in the garden, up and down the same old paths, stopping at the flower beds, the espaliers, the plaster priest, studying all these things from the past that she knew so well with a sense of astonishment. How far away the ball seemed already!” (P.1, ch.8) 
This is when there are cracks in their relationship—a taste of the luxury, riches, and excitement at the party only makes Emma see more clearly her husband’s mediocrity and contentment (or lack of ambition) and the tedium of her life. 
“Under the fir trees by the hedge, the priest in the 3-corned hat reading his breviary had lost his right foot, and there were white pockmarks on his face where the frost had chipped off the plaster.” (P.1, ch.9) 
More cracks. 
In the end, the plaster priest gets broken to pieces on the way to Yonville, which is where the marriage starts to go wrong. 
(All these plaster priest passages come from the Christopher Moncrieff translation). 
There are also other statues and statuettes in the novel, but the plaster priest and the Cupids are the main ones.