As I recall, Gustave Flaubert’s novel “Madame Bovary,” published in 1856, was required reading in high school English classes when I was a student.  Our school did not follow this pattern, which does not surprise me, since the movie revealed that the story was tasteless in many ways, and in fact was considered scandalous in Flaubert’s day.


Gustav FlaubertCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                         Gustave Flaubert - Wikimedia

 It was quite interesting, however, to note that morals at that time were similar to present-day circumstances, and Madame Emma Bovary could seemingly exist today.

The film begins with Emma (Mia Wasikowska) graduating from her private convent school, and following her father’s advice to marry the young doctor, Charles Bovary (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), who had a medical practice in their town.  Emma looked on this opportunity as a way of fulfilling her dream of a romantic married life with a person of wealth, with all of its perquisites.

Unfortunately, Charles proved to be somewhat dull as we noticed that their dinners were carried on with no conversation as he occupied himself with the responsibilities of his profession.  In truth, he was merely a second-rate country doctor.  Emma was left to walk in the garden, or read, or practice the piano, and soon realized that her life would always be unexciting and lonely.


Mealtime at the BovarysCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                          Mealtime at the Bovarys - Wikimedia

     Credit - Composition of Alfred de Richemont (1857-1911) - engraved by Charles Chessa

 She is tempted to succumb to the attentions of a young law clerk, Leon Dupuis (Ezra Miller), who secretly confesses to her his passionate longing for her.  She dismissed him rather than tarnish her new relationship with Charles.  Leon grew tired of pleading with her and left their town to study law in Paris.  Emma was conflicted over his departure.

Charles and Emma received an invitation to a ball given by the Marquis which introduced Emma to a life she had never experienced before.  She began to spend a great deal of money on her clothing and the furnishings in their home, and became indebted to the dry-goods dealer, Monsieur Lheureux, who encouraged her to make these expensive purchases.

An opportunity arose for Charles to improve his status in the medical profession by taking on a surgical procedure to cure a young man with a club foot.  He pored over the instructions for the procedure for several weeks before attempting the painful operation which appears to have taken place without any painkillers or anesthetics at that time.  Regrettably, his efforts did not succeed and the young man had to have his leg amputated. 

Emma was perturbed at her husband’s incompetency and her dull marriage, and having received overtures from the Marquis, she acquiesced, and the handsome Marquis began an affair with her which lasted four years.  Emma visited the Marquis’ home and wrote him some indiscreet notes, ignoring the fact that the neighbors in their town could surmise their liaison.  She could be seen going back and forth between the two homes by the citizenry, just as the viewer saw.  She begged him to marry her and take her away, and he reluctantly agreed.  On the night when they were planning to leave, the Marquis sent Emma a letter of apology and ended their relationship. 

Emma became ill with despair, and Charles suggested that they take in the opera in the nearby town of Rouen to raise her spirits.  At the opera, they encountered Leon Dupuis who had completed his education and was now a successful lawyer in Rouen.  Emma, still craving the high life, began an affair with Leon.  Every week, she traveled to Rouen for a tryst with her lover, while Charles believed that she was taking piano lessons there from a noted teacher.


Emma and LeonCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                         Emma and Leon in Rouen - Wikimedia

        Credit - Composition of Alfred de Richemont (1857-1911) - engraved by Charles Chessa

Emma continued to do business with Monsieur Lheureux, purchasing goods on credit.  He suggested that she should obtain Power of Attorney over Charles’ estate from his parents, since he had no time for it himself.  Charles agreed and Emma continued to purchase beautiful gowns and materials from Lheureux, piling on more debt. 

A significant part of Emma’s allure were the gorgeous gowns she fancied.  They were breathtaking.  Mia Wasikowska’s small waist and exquisite figure did much to show off Emma’s wardrobe, even though Mia seemed a poor choice to play Madame Bovary.  She is not overly beautiful, and her scripted lines came out flat most of the time.  It was difficult to believe that three men had fallen deeply in love with her. 

The day of reckoning arrived when Monsieur Lheureux announced to her that she owed him ten thousand francs.  She had no means to pay for it.  Leon had tired of her just as the Marquis had.  Both men refused to give her money and she was forced to proposition Lheureux, who wanted no part of that.

The ending of this tale will not be revealed here.  Flaubert’s novel has perhaps been saved from oblivion because the story serves as a warning to those who value material goods and the pleasures of this world over goodness and right living.  The work does have redeeming qualities.


City of RouenCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                                    Modern-Day Rouen, France

 It is interesting to note that the film veered away somewhat from Flaubert’s writing.  In the novel, Emma and Charles had a baby girl who was a disappointment to Emma who would have preferred a boy.  It is curious that this chapter of Emma’s life was never mentioned in the film.  Also, Emma’s lover, the Marquis was simply a wealthy landowner in the novel with no royal connections.  Thirdly, Flaubert’s version relates that Charles was a widower whose wife supposedly had money, allowing him to set up his practice before she passed away.  It is a shame that the film writers did not respect this classic masterpiece of Flaubert enough to give an honest version, rather than duping people into believing that this is the actual story of Madame Bovary.


Madame Bovary: (Movie Tie-In)
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