I recently read the classic "Madame Bovary" by Gustave Falubert, published in 1857. There were a couple of reasons I chose this book as a read.
1. I reviewed the six books I read in January and noted they were all current titles including "The Shipping News," "Snow Falling on Cedars" and "The Art of Mending" by Elizabeth Berg. All of these were very good reads, by the way.
2. I had not read a classic in a while.
3. I felt my mind needed the stimulation of a more classic work.
4. In a way, I wanted to prove my intelligence and worth. I may be financially struggling right now but that does not mean I still can't be wealthy in mind and spirit.
5. I had always wanted to read this book. I didn't know much about it except that it had caused a scandal when first published.
6. It is considered one of the best books of classic fiction, ranking in at number 7 on some lists of 100.
7. It seemed like a good book for February since it involves the themes of lust, love, marriage, betrayal, sexuality, etc.
I finished the book a week after starting it and absolutely loved it. In fact, I'd say I was riveted to the pages. I enjoyed being taken back in time to rural French Normandy and reading about fashions and old time implements that no longer exist. As always, whenever I end a book written long ago, I am struck by the realization that human nature hasn't changed that much over the years. We still long for the same things - love, respect, acknowledgment and commitment. Madame Emma Bovary went on shopping sprees and hid her purchases from her husband. Her mother-in-law visited and was critical. Once she and and Emma did not speak but twice during a whole two-week period they were together. Sound familiar to certain situations people go through today?
Also touched on were the themes of grief and the fact that religion cannot explain or offer total comfort to the bereaved. Heavy stuff. At Emma's funeral, the men all advise her distraught husband to get it together and the poor man chastises himself for not being strong enough. I saw so many parallels between the two time periods even with the gap of 150 years. Sometimes I don't think we really have advanced that much as people - maybe there have been technological advances but I think the inner core of humanity has remained largely the same.
I felt let down after I read the final page not because it was over but because I didn't have someone to share my thoughts and impressions with about the book. When I was married both of my husbands and I often talked in detail about the books I was reading. And I miss that. I felt so excited that I'd tackled and gotten through a classic. I was inspired and bursting at the seams with new ideas and images in my head. All dressed up and no where to go to borrow from another saying.
It was the bittersweet way I felt while watching the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics. I have not viewed the Olympics the last few years. And I was totally blown away by the creativity demonstrated in the ceremony. From the dancing and costumes of the native Canadian inhabitants, to k.d. Lang's singing. The technical imagery of the leaves falling and the doves flying. The snow that fell indoors and the floor that magically became the ocean with whales enchanted, excited and blew me away. It made me long for more art, adventure and travel in my life which has been solely lacking the past seven years.
My husband was a seasoned traveler and had been to Canada many times. He and I only had gone to Toronto and Niagra Falls with the boys. I know had he lived, we would have returned to the country he admired and loved so much. In fact, one of the high school classes he taught was Canadian History.
The high school open house was a few weeks ago and I had my paperback copy of Madame Bovary with me. Which I should add I only paid 25 cents for at a used book sale this fall. My youngest son's English teacher saw the book and we started a conversation about it which the led to Moby Dick - another classic I have always wanted to read (but I just am not sure I want to learn that much about whaling). Anyway, it felt so nice to connect with another person about a book we'd both read and have some conversation about it.
I miss that aspect of not living with an adult partner. It will help when I can get out more and interact with others at a job. But for now I suppose I could look into seeing if there is a book club at the library. I can see about going someplace new in lieu of taking a trip. I've always believed that you don't have to go far from home to restore your spirit or soul. But it sometimes means exposing yourself to new ideas and places. Maybe part of it is stir craziness from the winter months.
When my husband was alive I made a point of trying to see all the movies nominated for Best Picture before the Oscars. He would stay at home to be with the boys and I'd take a rare night off on my own. Since his death, I've seen just two movies at the theater and less than 20 videos at home. It is probably more like a total of 10 current movies within a six-year time period. Another casualty of widowhood and the need to carpool boys with heavy sports schedules. I think back to my happiness at being able to go off on my own to see a movie while knowing that my little family was safe and sound at home waiting for my return. When I longed for some time on my own. Boy, have the tables turned!
It takes a great deal of effort to function as an only parent and devote a bit of time to oneself. Even more effort to try and maintain a degree of culture in one's life, much less keep up with the daily news. I for one, did not know there had been an airline bombing attempt on Christmas Day until some weeks later. But I think what reading Madame Bovary did for me as well as viewing the Vancouver Opening Ceremony was to show me that I need more entertainment, culture and beauty in my life. They say that reading a book opens up a whole new world. I think that has what has happened with Madame Bovary. I have a taste again of what has been lacking in my life and I want to devour more of it.
And while I'm at it, in case any of you out there have read this book. This book took five years for Flaubert to write. Do you think he specifically created characters in the book to represent certain themes? There is a terribly disfigured blind beggar that some think is supposed to represent Emma's ultimate destruction. I for one, don't think Flaubert set out to create a character to depict this but maybe I'm wrong - after all he took five long years to write this. I think authors for the most part write their story and then all the critics afterward come up with the meaning which may or may not have been there (think "The Old Man and the Sea"). But I miss being able to ask someone their thoughts on this and to discuss it.
Today I am grateful:
1. For great books that stand the test of time.
2. For art in all forms.
3. For creativity that inspires a passion within.
4. For knowing that there will always be more great books out there than I will ever have the opportunity to read.
5. For the finer things in life. I have always focused on simple pleasures but am finding that a mix of the not-so-simple isn't a bad thing. Why shouldn't I dream about visiting Vancouver someday?