Sunday, April 5, 2009

Book v. Movie: Madame Bovary

In the 1949 film version of Madame Bovary, the author, Gustave Flaubert, is on trial for creating an unsavory, un-ladylike and detestable character in Emma Bovary. This is of course based on the actual lawsuit brought against Flaubert and his publisher on charges of immorality. They were acquitted and the book was a success.

This was a book that I avoided reading for a very long time based on a lack of knowledge of the plot. When I finally picked it up a couple of years ago, I was surprised by how engaging and heartbreaking this story was. Emma Rouault is a young woman who dreams of romance and chivalry while living the life of a farmer's daughter. When she has the opportunity to leave her life for one she believes to be more compelling, that of a doctor's wife, she finds reality to be far from what she desires. In an attempt to remedy this, she recklessly overspends to have a home above her station and has extramarital affairs in a search for those things she craves. She neglects her child and embarasses M. Bovary, her husband.

The film is a very accurate telling of the story and almost perfectly captures the pathos of Madame Bovary's situation. Jennifer Jones is Emma and Van Heflin is her tragic husband. My only complaint is the standard one I have with films of this time period -- the use of British actors in a French film who don't even attempt an accent. Some side characters are slightly French but not many!

Verdict: Read the novel and then watch the movie. You won't be disappointed with either.

Understanding a bit of Emma's angst,

Buy Madame Bovary (the novel) and Madame Bovary (the film) on Amazon or find them at at your local library.

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