Madame Ovary . . . Is Me!

May 21

My alleged book club (we are a hard group to get on the same page) is reading Madame Bovary. Or trying to. Geez Louise, it’s dense! FYI, the name of our little group is the Geez Louise International Book Club, or GLIB. We do have a Louise, and we once had an international member, but she has returned to Italy. Was it something we read?madamebovarybook.jpg

Anyway, the author Gustave Flaubert was constantly asked the question, Who is Madame Bovary? Was she based on a real person —his sometime mistress, perhaps? A totally fictional character —his less-than ideal woman? Mais non, he said, she is none of these! Pressed beyond endurance, he gave his infamous answer: Madame Bovary, c’est moi.

It’s me? I mean, it’s him? Really? Nobody seems to know what that means: Does Emma represent everyman, er, woman? (He can’t have meant it literally, could he?) Maybe it doesn’t mean anything: he must have been sick and tired of discussing that book when all his others were being virtually ignored, and could have just said something to shut us all up. We’ll never know. But I was listening to a tape last night about the world’s greatest  novels (Sorry, Gustave, but Bovary really was your best shot), which discussed Emma’s faults — her fatal flaws, actually — that led directly to her really nasty downfall.

Unfortunately, her sins sound very familiar. A lot like mine. Yikes! And maybe like yours . . .

First of all, Emma Bovary loved pretty things:
Guilty as charged.

She spent too much money on them:
Gulp.

She had affairs:
No comment.

She gave her lovers expensive gifts, thus combining two fatal flaws in one fell (shopping) swoop:
I take the fifth on this. The gold key chain and the silver flask, both from Tiffany’s, that I may have bought for two low-down heels who shall remain nameless (present husband most assuredly excluded!) — You’ll never prove it.

Madame B. liked having her hands looking nice:
Oh yeah? But did she have a Korean nail salon on every corner? With Special Prices on Monday and Tuesday? No woman could resist.

She kept taking up pursuits, trivial or otherwise, then dropping them:
•Like . . . Italian lessons: Scusi! I will learn it. Someday.
•Or becoming religious: Well, I did look into Buddhism once.
•Or attempting to read the classics: Like Madame Bovary, perhaps? Personally I hate it that The Odyssey sits there on my bookshelf gathering the dust of the ages and reminding me of Yet Another Good Intention Run Amok.

She runs amok!
I, on the other hand, merely walk. Especially with this latest outbreak of sciatica.

And there the comparison, thank god, seems to end.
Unlike Emma, I don’t have a doctor, dull-witted or otherwise, as a husband, and if I did, I most definitely would not coerce him into performing an unnecessary, experimental operation on a poor, ignorant boy with a club foot. Yecch. I don’t even like necessary, non-experimental surgeries, and would never encourage anyone to have one much less perform one.

And I will never, ever swallow poison, knowingly anyway. What a miserable, stupid, ugly thing to do. It hurts! Plus, you really look horrible in the end, and I am way too vain. Come to think of it, so was she. What WAS she thinking?

Menopause Manor
Anyway, all this reminds me of nights long ago in my college dorm, which we heartlessly called Menopause Manor. We were so young. Our nickname for Flaubert’s masterpiece was, of course, Madame Ovary. And through the years, I’ve sometimes thought of myself as that. We women are often ruled by hormones, both raging and lack of, anatomy being at least a part of destiny, no matter what Gloria Steinum says. But then again, we don’t have all that testosterone.

 I don’t know about you, but I‘ve often been caught in a vicious (menstrual) cycle of: when will I get it, am I getting it now, I hope I’m getting it now, I hope I’m not getting it now, will I get it on the day of the prom? The SATs? My wedding —any of them? And then, finally, why aren’t I getting it? Did it stop for good? How do I feel about that? If I take certain hormones, I’ll get it, but why would I want it? Because it makes me feel young? But wouldn’t I prefer doing without the mess, not to mention the pain. The Old and the Crampless. It’s so unfair the way life makes you pay.

Back at Menopause Manor, when we were Young and Clueless, we had an English Lit professor who pointed out that Flaubert never judged Emma. And why should he, I think now. Did Flaubert (or the professor for that matter) ever once have to worry about getting his period, not to mention getting his nails done? Who are they to judge us? Flaubert did slip once though in the book, I’m told. At some point (I’ll have to read it again to say at which particular point, and that will happen when hell freezes over), he wrote a haunting two word sentence, “Poor Emma.”

Poor Emma, indeed, who comes to her end because she was such a romantic (oh no!) and because she had read too many novels (I’m doomed) .

Oh well. Live and learn. Or, in Emma’s case, live and loin. I guess I’ll always identify with her, a little, and continue to think of myself  as Madame Ovary. Have to remember to bring this up at the book club, although we usually meet for lunch, and I try to avoid the words “bring it up” whenever possible. Wonder if the other “Glibbies” read the book this time. Wonder what Oprah would make of all this. . . .


Dear Reader:
Please suggest a book for us that might be a tad more fun than Madame Bovary!
(No offense, Gustave, and it’s great writing and all that, but I mean, really.)

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