Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Emma and the Experienced Seducer

Emma and Lėon's relationship is described as romantic love that remains physically unconsummated. They talk, but they do not have sex. The word 'adultery' has not yet been mentioned. After Lėon's departure Emma could still conceivably save herself from immorality and shame.

Rodolphe Boulanger is a man of many mistresses and has "an old Rheims biscuit-box" full of souvenirs from his past exploits (Part II, Chapter 13). "[H]e was of brutal temperament and intelligent perspicacity, having, moreover, had much to do with women, and knowing them well." (Part II, Chapter 7). Rodolphe effortlessly assesses the situation of the Bovarys: "I think he is very stupid. She is tired of him, no doubt. He has dirty nails, and hasn't shaved for three days. While he is trotting after his patients, she sits there darning socks. And she gets bored!" (Ibid.) He contemplates the option of making her his mistress from various angles and then decides: "Oh, I will have her." (Part II, Chapter 7).

What are the chances of Emma Bovary? Will she evade the clutches of this serial philanderer? So far, the narrative has built up tension with Emma's disillusionment with her marriage and her will they- won't they -relationship with Lėon. It is questionable whether any English novelist, no matter how sensational in aspirations, would have stated the immoral intent of a villain to seduce and debauch the novel's heroine quite so bluntly. Rodolphe's cool and composed declaration is effective and with one small sentence creates a whole new narrative momentum in the novel. We wait with anticipation how Emma will fare with Rodolphe.

Rodolphe opens his game during an agricultural show in Yonville. He settles down to talk to Emma about love at a window  while the town worthies sit on a platform below listening to a speech with "the common herd" of town's people gathered before it. I am not sure what to make of this scene (Part II, Chapter 8).  The speech by the Councillor (the Prefect could not come after all) and Rodolphe's persuasive discourse with Emma are mingled in alternate paragraphs. There is no obvious connection between the two; nothing in the speech seems to reflect Rodolphe's words.

There is the immediate comic effect of contrasting the pompous, public speech about the advances of agriculture with the private, intimate speech of romantic advances. There is also irony in Rodolphe conquering Madame Bovary on a day when Yonville is bursting with civic pride and self-importance. The narrative is quite brutal about the petty rivalries and inflated self-worth of Yonville. Just like the little, provincial town, Emma is today made to feel important.

Emma and Rodolphe's affair is consummated out in the woods and "with a long shudder and hiding her face, she gave herself up to him" (Part II, Chapter 10). This is a wildly melodramatic scene of heightened emotions and worthy of the most rampant romances. The sex is implied delicately, between the lines. The crucial paragraph records Emma's sensations of her surroundings and her own body: "Then far away, beyond the wood, she heard a vague prolonged cry, a voice which lingered, and in silence she heard it mingling like music with the last pulsations of her throbbing nerves." In the next sentence, Emma's sensuousness is contrasted with Rodoplhe''s manliness: "Rodoplhe, a cigar between his lips, was mending with his penknife one of the two broken bridles." Whatever took place was literally unbridled and cause for a cigar.

Throughout the affair with Rodolphe, Emma continues to compare herself to fictional heroines. She expects to feel emotions beyond any earthly delights - her imagination is always more powerful than reality, she is doomed to be disappointed.

"So at last she was to know those joys of love, that fever of happiness of which she had despaired! She was entering upon marvels where all would be passion, ecstasy, delirium." (Part II, Chapter 9)

Coming from a narrator, this excessive language is dripping with melodrama and pathos. But coming from Emma's point of view, as indirect free speech, it reveals the naivety of Emma's mind and her unrealistic expectations gleaned from romantic fiction. Flaubert is doing a nice trick here, giving us the full load of OTT passion in a third person narrative, but from an ironic distance by placing it inside the feverish mind of his protagonist.

"Then she recalled the heroines of the books she had read, and the lyric legion of these adulterous women began to sing in her memory with the voice of sisters that charmed her. She became herself, as it were, an actual part of these imaginings, ..." (Ibid.)

Emma finally sees her life reaching the romantic heights of fiction, and she is joining "the lyric legion" of adulterous heroines quite literally. The same theme surfaces later in the scene at the theatre, where Sir Walter Scott's Lucy of Lammemoor connects with Emma's mind and she lives through each emotion evoked by the play: "She recognized all the intoxication and the anguish that had almost killed her. The voice of the prima donna seemed to her to be but en echo of her conscience, and this illusion that charmed her appeared an actual part of her own life." (Part II, Chapter 15). Emma becomes her own fictional heroine, to star in the best romance ever produced: her own life. The irony is in the way a prosaic doctor's wife in provincial France and an eponymous heroine of a realist novel, is desperately longing to be a romantic adventuress and a heroine of a melodramatic romance. Emma Bovary is clearly in the wrong book.

In these chapters, Flaubert really lets rip with passion, desire and self-abandon. The language reaches new intensity in Emma's powerful expressions of desire and hatred. The narrative passes no judgment on Emma. Her dissatisfaction with poor Charles grows in step with her infatuation with Rodolphe, and again it is not clear if she is being driven into her lover's arms by her frustration with her dullard husband, or she is pulled into adultery by her own romantic imaginings fired up by fiction, or she is simply a country girl caught and exploited by an experienced womanizer. We can see Emma both as a wilful independent agent flouting convention and as a victim of circumstances and others' desires.

A letter from Emma's father recalls her to her sense and she begins to repent her adulterous passions. But Charles destroys all chance of marital happiness by his botched operation on Hippolyte's club foot and sends Emma straight back to Rodolphe's arms. M. Homais plants the seed in Charles's mind. Emma dreams of medical glory for her husband. Charles being Charles, we know that things will go horrible wrong. Amputation and a wooden leg, provided by Emma, are the direct result of this tragicomedy (Part II, Chapter 11). Emma's final disillusionment with her husband and her plan to elope with Rodolphe follow. (Part II, Chapter 12).

Emma is wildly committed to her lover, while he is growing both bored with her and alarmed by her ardour. "... I love you best. I know how to love best. I am your servant, your concubine! You are my king, my idol! You are good, you are beautiful, you are clever, you are strong!" (Ibid.) Emma's words leave Rodolphe more or less yawning:

"He had so often heard these things said that they did not strike him as original. Emma was like all his mistresses, and the charm of novelty, gradually falling away like a garment, laid bare the eternal monotony of passion, that has always the same forms and the same language. He did not distinguish, this man of so much experience, the difference of sentiment beneath the sameness of expression. Because libertine and venal lips had murmured such words to him, he believed but little in the candour of hers, exaggerated speeches hiding mediocre affections must be discounted; as if the fullness of the soul did not sometimes overflow in the emptiest metaphors, since no one can ever give the exact measure of his needs, nor his conceptions, nor of his sorrows, and since human speech is like a cracked kettle, on which we hammer tunes to make bears dance when we long to move the stars." Part II, Chapter 12)

In the middle of the unravelling love affair of Emma and Rodolphe, Flaubert's narrator suddenly steps outside of the characters and their immediate situation to describe beautifully the universal inadequacy of language, and gives us one of the best-known Flaubert quotations.

The day before their planned escape together, Rodolphe dumps Emma by letter and flees Yonville alone. Rodolphe's exercise of composing the farewell letter is comical and at the same time brutal. He comes across as callous and truly villainous, faking tear stains on the paper. The narrative presents him as a product of his own dissolute life and the society which has allowed him to lead such a life. Therefore, he comes across as natural and not to be judged. Emma reads Rodolphe's letter by an open garret window and in a daze almost throws herself out of it. She is only saved y Charles's voice calling for her (Part II, Chapter 13). Instead, Emma succumbs to brain-fever for 43 days. At the end of her convalescence M. Homais has another brilliant idea that will lead to a disaster: Charles should take Emma to the theatre in Rouen. There they come across Lėon again.

No comments:

Post a Comment