My new article, which includes a rigorous defense of Emma Bovary, is now up at Metro.
I was glad to have a reason to read Madame Bovary again. The first time I read the novel it didn’t affect me that much. But reading it this time (mostly during one marathon sitting) I found it to be so tragic; my sadness at the end of it may have rivaled my sadness upon finishing Lolita. I guess both Madame Bovary and Lolita have a lot of similarities: a young girl forced into a relationship with a man whose feelings they don’t reciprocate. Almost everyone in these stories is far worse off at the end than they were in the beginning (with Homais as an exception).
I’m still waiting to meet a fellow defender of Emma. I don’t know what it is about literature that makes people so judgmental about characters. The people I speak to seem to suspend their knowledge of their own impulses and circumstances. Emma’s certainly a deeply flawed character, but I really do feel bad for her. Just think of scene where she desperately talks to Leon about literature: this is a luxury I enjoy every day living in New York. I get to be surrounded by readers who are passionate about their books. If this was taken away from me I would cause trouble too.
In a way it reminds me of my intro to Greek Tragedy class in my freshman year of college. We read the Iliad and everyone condemned Helen in the harshest terms. But my professor, (in many ways the person who taught me how to read) insisted that we understand her circumstances. We are all capable of atrocious behavior, especially when we are in love. The fate of cities may not be at stake, but in many ways that’s the only real difference. About eight years after that class I would truly learn this lesson.