Madame Bovary
Category: Novels
Level 9.49 14:12 h 481.7 mb
Madame Bovary is the first novel written by Gustave Flaubert, published in 1856. Madame Bovary is weary of her empty and monotonous life and decides to live a life more exciting. Read the trouble Bovary causes for herself and see if she does achieve her goal of buying a better existence. The book takes a hard look at life and is an essential piece of literature and realism.

Madame Bovary

Gustave Flaubert

An audio adaptation
based on the first translation from the French
by Eleanor Marx-Aveling

Madame Bovary

Part I

Chapter One

We were in Study Hall when the Headmaster came in, followed by a “new fellow” not wearing school uniform, and a janitor carrying a large desk. Those who had been asleep awoke, and we all stood up in surprise as though interrupted at our work.

The Headmaster motioned us to sit down. Then, turning to the teacher —

“Monsieur Roger, here is a pupil whom I recommend to your care; he’ll be in the fifth. If his work and conduct are satisfactory, he’ll go into one of the senior classes, as becomes his age.”

The “new fellow”, half-hidden in the corner behind the door, was a country lad of about fifteen, and taller than any of us. His hair was cut square across his forehead like a village chorister’s and he looked reasonable enough, but very ill at ease. Although he was not broad-shouldered, his green coat-jacket with black buttons seemed too tight under the arms and exposed red wrists at the cuff openings, that were evidently accustomed to being bare. A pair of blue-stockinged legs stuck out from beneath his yellow trousers, pulled up short by suspenders. He wore stout, ill-cleaned, hob-nailed boots.

We began repeating the lesson. He listened all ears, as attentive as if he were at a sermon, not daring even to cross his legs or lean on his elbow. When the bell rang at two o’clock, the master was obliged to tell him to fall into line with the rest of us.

Whenever we came back into class, we were in the habit of throwing our caps on the ground in order to free up our hands; we used to toss them under the benches from the door, so they would hit the wall and raise a cloud of dust: it was “the thing” to do.

But, whether he had not noticed the trick, or did not dare attempt it, the “new fellow,” was still holding his cap on his knees at the end of prayers. This headgear was of a composite nature, uniting aspects of the busby, the shako, the bowler, the otter-skin, and the cotton nightcap: in a word, one of those poor things whose dumb ugliness has its own depths of expression, like the face of an imbecile. Oval-shaped and stiff with whalebone, it began with three circular sausages, followed by alternating patches of velvet and rabbit-skin, cut into diamond shapes and separated by a red band, culminating in a kind of cardboard-lined polygon-shaped bag, covered with complicated braiding, from which hung a long thin cord with a little cross of twisted gold thread at the very end. The cap was new, its visor shiny.

“Rise,” said the master.

He stood up; his cap fell. The whole class began to laugh. He stooped to pick it up. A boy beside him knocked it down again with his elbow; he bent to pick it up once more.

“Do get rid of your helmet,” said the master, who was a bit of a wag.

There was a burst of laughter from the boys, which so thoroughly put the poor lad out of countenance that he did not know whether to keep his cap in his hand, leave it on the ground, or put it on his head. He sat down again and placed it on his knee.

“Rise,” repeated the master, “and tell me your name.”

The new boy stammered something unintelligible.


The same spluttering of syllables was heard, drowned by the tittering of the class.

“Louder!” cried the master; “louder!”

The “new fellow” then made a desperate effort: he opened his inordinately large mouth and yelled out a word at the top of his voice, as if calling someone: “Charbovari.”

A hubbub erupted, rose to a crescendo, and burst into a shrill chorus of voices (they yelled, they barked, they stamped and repeated “Charbovari! Charbovari!”) which gradually subsided into single notes, quietening down with great difficulty and suddenly rippling back to life along the benches, with a stifled laugh exploding here and there in fits and starts, like a damp fire cracker.

However, order was gradually restored in the classroom amid a shower of threats and penalties; and the master having succeeded in catching the name of “Charles Bovary,” having had it dictated to him, spelt out, and re-read aloud, at once ordered the poor devil to go and sit on the dunce's bench at the foot of the master’s desk. He got up to walk towards it, but then hesitated.

“What are you looking for?” asked the master.

“My c-a-p” began the new boy timidly, casting an uneasy glance around him.

“Five hundred lines for the whole class!” A furious bellow checked the outbreak of a new storm, like the Quos ego in the Aeneid. “Silence!” continued the master indignantly, mopping his brow with his handkerchief, which he had just taken from his cap. “As for you, boy, you will conjugate ridiculus sum twenty times.”

Then, in a gentler tone, “Come, you’ll find your cap again; it hasn’t been stolen.”

Quiet was restored. Heads bent over desks, and the new boy remained for the next two hours in an exemplary attitude, in spite of the paper pellets flipped from a pen tip from time to time that splattered into his face. But he simply wiped it with a hand and continued immobile, eyes lowered.

That evening, in Study Hall, he pulled his cuff guards out of his desk, arranged his few belongings, and carefully ruled his paper. We saw him working conscientiously, looking up every word in the dictionary, and taking the greatest pains. Thanks, no doubt, to his manifest willingness and effort, he was not sent down to the class below. But although he knew his grammar rules passably well, he had little elegance of style. It was the curé of his village who had taught him his first Latin; his parents, from motives of economy, having sent him to school as late as possible.

His father, Monsieur Charles Denis Bartolomé Bovary, retired assistant surgeon in the army, compromised about 1812 in certain conscription scandals, and forced at this time to leave the service, had taken advantage of his fine figure to acquire a dowry of sixty thousand francs that was being offered to him in the person of a hosier’s daughter who had fallen in love with his good looks. A handsome, rather boastful man, with spurs that rang as he walked, whiskers that merged with his mustache, and fingers always garnished with rings, he liked dressing in bold colours and combined the swagger of a dashing soldier with the affability of a traveling salesman.

Once married, he lived for three or four years on his wife’s fortune, dining well, rising late, smoking long porcelain pipes, not coming in at night till after the theatre, and haunting cafes. The father-in-law died, leaving little; he was indignant at this, “went in for the business,” lost some money in it, then retired to the country, where he thought he would make money.

But, as he knew no more about farming than chintz, as he rode his horses instead of sending them to plough, drank his cider by the bottle instead of selling it by the cask, ate the finest poultry in his farmyard, and greased his hunting-boots with the fat of his pigs, he was not long in finding out that he would do better to give up all financial exploits.

For two hundred francs a year he managed to live on the border of the Caux and Picardy provinces, in a kind of half farm, half private house; and here, soured and eaten up with regret, cursing his luck and jealous of everyone, he shut himself up at the age of forty-five, sick of humanity, he said, and determined to live in peace.

His wife had adored him at first; she had doted on him with a boundless servility that had merely inspired his indifference. Vivacious once, expansive and affectionate, she gradually became ill-tempered and irritable and began to nag and grow nervous as she aged, like wine turning to vinegar. She had suffered much without complaint in the beginning, seeing him chase after all the village tarts, having him sent back to her at night, satiated and stinking drunk from a score of houses of ill repute. Then her pride revolted. After that she withdrew into silence, burying her anger in a dumb stoicism that she maintained till death. She was forever busying herself with domestic and financial matters. She went out constantly to call on the lawyers or the judge; she remembered when bills were due and had them renewed. And at home, she ironed, sewed, washed, oversaw the workmen, and paid their accounts, while Monsieur, totally unconcerned and permanently sunk in a sullen stupor, from which he only roused himself to make disagreeable remarks to her, sat smoking by the fire and spitting into the ashes.

When she had a child, it had to be sent out to nurse. Once back home, the little chap was spoilt as if he were a prince. His mother stuffed him with jam; his father let him run about barefoot, and even said, playing the philosopher, that the lad should be raised naked like a young animal. In contrast to his wife’s maternal ideas, he had certain virile theories about childhood on which he sought to mould his son, wishing him to be brought up in hardship, like a Spartan, so as to acquire a strong constitution. He sent him to bed without a fire, taught him to swig large draughts of rum and to jeer at religious processions. But being of a peaceable nature, the lad responded rather poorly to his theories. His mother always kept him near her; she cut out cardboard figures for him to play with, told him tales, entertained him with endless monologues full of whimsical charm and melancholy. In her loneliness, she centered all her shattered dreams and little broken vanities on the child. She imagined a high social position for him; she already saw him, tall, handsome, clever, becoming a well-settled engineer or lawyer. She taught him to read, and even sing two or three little songs at an old piano. But Monsieur Bovary, caring little for letters, scoffed at all this. “It wasn’t worth it,” he said. “Where would they ever find the means to send him to a public school, and buy him a practice, and start him in business? Besides, a man could always get along in the world with a bit of cheek.” Madame Bovary bit her lips, and the child just wandered about the village.

He followed the farmhands, driving away the fluttering ravens with clods of earth. He ate blackberries along the sides of ditches and minded the turkeys with a long switch. He went haymaking during harvest, ran about the woods, played hop-scotch under the church porch on rainy days, and at great fêtes begged the beadle to let him toll the bells, that he might hang all his weight on the long rope and feel himself borne upwards by its swing. Meanwhile he grew like an oak; he was strong of hand, fresh of colour.

When he was twelve years old, his mother had her own way; he began lessons. The curé took him in hand, but the lessons were so short and irregular that they could not be of much use. They were given at spare moments in the sacristy, standing up, hurriedly, between a baptism and a burial; or else the curé, if he had not to go out, sent for his pupil after the Angelus. They went up to his room and settled down; the flies and moths fluttered round the candle. It was close, the child fell asleep, and the good man, beginning to doze with his hands on his stomach, was soon snoring with his mouth wide open. On other occasions, when Monsieur le Curé, on his way back after administering the viaticum to some sick person in the neighbourhood, caught sight of Charles playing about the fields, he called him, lectured him for a quarter of an hour and took advantage of the occasion to make him conjugate his verb at the foot of a tree. The rain interrupted them or an acquaintance passed. All the same he was always pleased with him, and even said the “young man” had a very good memory.

Charles could not go on like this. Madame Bovary took a firm stand. Ashamed, or rather fed up with the subject, Monsieur Bovary gave in without a struggle, but they waited one more year, so that the lad should take his first communion.

Six more months passed, and finally in the course of the following year Charles was sent to school at Rouen. His father took him towards the end of October, at the time of the St. Romain fair.

It would now be impossible for any of us to remember that much about him. He was a youth of even temper, who played in playtime, worked in school hours, was attentive in class, slept soundly in the dormitory, and ate well in the refectory. He had in loco parentis a wholesale ironmonger in the Rue Ganterie, who took him out once a month on Sundays after his shop was shut, sent him for a walk on the quay to look at the boats, and then brought him back to college at seven o’clock before supper. Every Thursday evening he sent a long letter written in red ink to his mother, together with three communion wafers; then he went over his history notebooks, or read an old volume of “Anarchasis” that was knocking about the study. When he went for walks he talked to the servant, who, like himself, came from the country.

By dint of hard work he managed to keep around the middle of the class and once even won a certificate in natural history. But at the end of his third year his parents withdrew him from the school in order to make him study medicine; they were convinced that he could actually take his degree by himself.

His mother chose a room for him on the fourth floor of a dyer’s she knew, overlooking the Eau-de-Robec. She made arrangements for his board, acquired some furniture for him, a table and two chairs, sent home for an old cherry-wood bedstead, and bought a small cast-iron stove, with a supply of wood to warm the poor child. Then, after a thousand injunctions to be good now that he was going to be all by himself, she left at the end of the week.

The syllabus that he read on the notice-board stunned him: lectures on anatomy, lectures on pathology, lectures on physiology, lectures on pharmacy, lectures on botany, and clinical medicine, and therapeutics, without counting hygiene and materia medica — all names of whose etymologies he was ignorant, and that were to him as so many doors to sanctuaries filled with magnificent darkness.

He understood nothing of it all; it was all very well to listen — he did not follow. Still he worked; he had bound notebooks, he attended all the courses, never missed a single lecture. He did his little daily task like a mill-horse, who goes round and round with his eyes bandaged, not knowing what work he is doing.

Every week, to spare him expense, his mother had the carrier deliver a piece of oven-baked veal to him, when he came out of the hospital, on which he lunched, kicking his feet against the wall as he ate. After this he had to run off to lectures, to the operating-room, and back to the hospital, before finally returning home at the other end of the town. In the evening, after the poor dinner of his landlord, he went back to his room and set to work again in his wet clothes, which smoked as he sat in front of the hot stove.

On the fine summer evenings, at the time when the close streets are empty, when the servants are playing shuttlecock at the doors, he opened his window and leaned out. The river, that makes of this quarter of Rouen a wretched little Venice, flowed beneath him, between the bridges and the railings, yellow, violet, or blue. Working men, kneeling on the banks, washed their bare arms in the water. Skeins of cotton were drying in the air on poles projecting from the attics. Opposite, beyond the roof-tops spread the pure heaven with the red sun setting. How pleasant it must be at home! How fresh under the beech-tree! And he expanded his nostrils to breathe in the sweet odours of the country which did not reach him.

He grew thin, he became taller, his face took on a melancholy look that made it nearly interesting. Naturally, through indifference, he abandoned all his resolutions. Once he missed a lecture; the next day all the lectures; and, enjoying his idleness, little by little he gave up work altogether. He fell into the habit of going to the public-house, and developed a passion for dominoes. To shut himself up each evening in a dirty room in the pub, to push small sheeps’ bones covered with black dots across a marble table, seemed to him a fine proof of his freedom. It raised him in his own esteem. This was the beginning of life; this was the sweet taste of stolen pleasures; and when he entered that room, the touch of the door knob under his hand gave him an almost sensual delight. Then it was that many hidden things within him began to emerge; he learnt couplets by heart and sang them to his boon companions, he became enthusiastic about Béranger, learnt to make punch, and, finally, how to make love.

Thanks to these preparatory labours, he failed his examinations completely for an ordinary degree. He was expected home the same night to celebrate his success. He started on foot, stopped at the beginning of the village, sent for his mother, and told her all. She excused him, threw the blame of his failure on the injustice of the examiners, encouraged him a little, and took upon herself to set matters straight. It was only five years later that Monsieur Bovary knew the truth; it was old then, and he accepted it. Moreover, he could not believe that a man born of himself could be a fool.

So Charles set to work again and crammed for his examination, ceaselessly learning all the old questions by heart. He passed pretty well. What a happy day for his mother! They gave a grand dinner.

Where should he go to practice? To Tostes, where there was only one old doctor. For a long time Madame Bovary had been on the look-out for his death, and the old fellow had barely been packed off when Charles was installed, opposite his place, as his successor.

But it was not enough to have brought up a son, to have him study medicine, and to have discovered Tostes, where he could practice it; he must have a wife. She found him one — the widow of a bailiff at Dièppe — who was forty-five and had an income of twelve hundred francs. Though she was ugly, as dry as a bone, her face with as many pimples as the spring has buds, Madame Dubuc had no lack of suitors. To attain her ends Madame Bovary had to oust them all, and she even succeeded in very cleverly baffling the intrigues of a butcher, specializing in pork products and backed up by the priests.

Charles had anticipated the prospects of an easier life in marriage, thinking he would be more free to do as he liked with himself and his money. But his wife was master; he had to say this and not say that in company, fast every Friday, dress as she liked, and harass at her bidding whoever among his patients, did not pay. She opened his letters, watched his comings and goings, and listened at the partition-wall whenever women consulted him in his surgery.

She must have her chocolate every morning, attentions without end. She constantly complained of her nerves, her chest, her liver. The noise of footsteps made her ill; when people left her, solitude became odious to her; if they came back, it was doubtless to see her die. When Charles returned in the evening, she stretched forth two long thin arms from beneath the sheets, put them round his neck, and having made him sit down on the edge of the bed, began to talk to him of her troubles: he was neglecting her, he loved another. She had been warned she would be unhappy; and she ended by asking him for a dose of medicine and a little more love.

Chapter Two

One night towards eleven o’clock, they were awakened by the noise of a horse pulling up outside their door. The servant opened the garret-window and parleyed for some time with a man in the street below. He came for the doctor, had a letter for him. Nastasie came downstairs shivering and undid the bars and bolts one after the other. The man left his horse, and, following the servant, suddenly came into their room behind her. He pulled out from his wool cap with grey top-knots a letter wrapped up in a rag and presented it gingerly to Charles, who rested on his elbow on the pillow to read it. Nastasie, standing near the bed, held up the light. Madame, in modesty, had turned to the wall and only showed her back.

This letter, sealed with a small seal in blue wax, begged Monsieur Bovary to come immediately to the farm of the Bertaux to set a broken leg. Now from Tostes to the Bertaux was a good eighteen miles across country by way of Longueville and Saint-Victor. It was a dark night; Madame Bovary junior was afraid of accidents for her husband. So it was decided the stable-boy should go on first; Charles would start three hours later when the moon rose. A boy was to be sent to meet him, and show him the way to the farm, and open the gates for him.

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