I Never myself read Madame Bovary without thinking of another masterpiece of French fiction; and I have no doubt that the comparison has occurred to others also. Madame Bovary and Manon Lescaut are both histories of women whose conduct no theory of morality, however lax, can possibly excuse. Both are brought to ruin by their love of material luxury. Both are not only immoral, but cruelly unfaithful to men who in different ways are perfectly true and faithful to them. Both perish miserably, not in either case without repentance. Why does Emma Bovary repel while Manon Lescaut irresistibly attracts us? I think the answer is to be found in the ignoble character of the former as compared with Manon. The mistress of Desgrieux loves wealth, splendour, sensuous gratification of all sorts, for themselves, with a kind of artistic passion. They are the first necessity to her, and everything else comes second to this passionate devotion. On the other hand, Madame Bovary sets up lovers, spends her husband’s money, cheats and deceives him, because it seems to her the proper thing to do. Her countesses, and duchesses all had lovers and gorgeous garments, so she must have gorgeous garments and lovers too. Her first reflection after transgressing is almost comic—“J’ai un amant!” She has a sort of Dogberry-like conviction that a pretty woman ought to have a lover and everything handsome about her, the same sort of conviction which more harmlessly leads her English sisters to be miserable if they have not a drawing-room with a couch and chairs, and a chimney-glass, and gilt books on the table. He excesses come from a variety of feminine snobbery, and are not prompted by any frank passion or desire.

The reproach usually brought against the book is that it is too dreary, and that there is not a sufficient contrast of goodness and good humour to relieve the sombre hue of the picture. I believe myself that the author felt this, and that the intended to supply such a contrast in the person of M. Homais, the apothecary of Yonville. It has been suggested that Homais is not intended to be favourably drawn, but I think that this is a mistake. Homais has indeed the slight touch of charlatanism which half-educated and naturally shrewd men, whose lot is cast among people wholly uneducated and mostly stupid, often acquire. But he is an unconscious humbug, and not a bad fellow as the world goes, besides being intensely amusing. Much of the amusement, indeed, results from the impassibly saturnine way in which Flaubert directs even the gambols of his puppets. This impassibility is the great feature, as I have said, of all his books, and notably of this. The stupid common-placeness of Charles Bovary’s youth, the sordid dullness of his earlier married life, the more graceful dullness of the second, the humours of a county gathering and agricultural show at Yonville, the two liaisons with the vulgar roué squire and the dapper lawyer’s clerk, the steps of Emma’s financial entanglement, the clumsy operation by which Bovary attempts to cure a clubfoot, the horrors of the heroine’s death-bed, and the quieter misery of her husband’s end, are all told with the materials accuracy of a photograph and the artistic accuracy of a great picture. As a specimen of the style I may quote the passage in which Emma’s first conscious awakening to her mistake in marrying Bovary is described:

She began by gazing all round to see if nothing had changed since her last visit. The foxgloves and the wallflowers were in the same places, the clumps of nettles still surrounded the great stones, and the blotches of lichen still stretched across the windows, whose closed shutters on their rusty hinges were slowly mouldering themselves away. Her thoughts, at first of no precise character, flitted hither and thither like the greyhound which ran round in circles, barked at the butterflies, hunted the field-mice, or nibbled the cornflowers at the edge of the wheat. Little by little her ideas grew more definite; and as she sat on the grass and dug her parasol here and there into the turf, she kept repeating to herself, “Why did I marry him?” She asked herself whether she might not by some other chance have fallen in with some other husband, and she tried to imagine what these events which had not happened, this life which had never existed, this husband whom she did not know, would have been like. All men surely were not like Charles. He might have been handsome, witty, gentlemanly, attractive, like the husbands whom her old schoolfellows no doubt had married. What were they doing now? In Paris, amid the bustle of the streets, the excitement of the theatres, the brilliance of the balls, they were living lives where the heart had room to expand and the senses to develop. But as for her, her life was as cold as a garret that looks to the north, and ennui like a spider spun its web in the shadow of the corners of her heart. She thought of the prize-days at the convent, when she had to go up to the platform to take her crown; with her long hair, her white dress, and her kid shoes, she must have looked pretty doubtless, for the gentlemen

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