I’m having a hard time enjoying the beauty of Flaubert’s writing when his characters are so ugly… and I’m not talking about their physical appearances. Their insides are ugly!
You need evidence? Proof? How about Part II, chapter 9.
Rodolphe has purposefully stayed away from the Bovarys. He’s playing a game with Emma, a game with which she’s not familiar. A game that he has mastered. The game of seducing a married woman.
At the start of the chapter there’s a little flirtatious conversation. Oh, not between husband and wife. Between Rodolphe and Emma.
Then Charles Bovary becomes part of the scene. Here’s where I imagine Rodolphe twirling his greasy, handle-bar moustache.
“Wouldn’t horseback riding be good for your wife?” says Rotten Rodolphe.
Clueless Charles: “Why, yes it would, but sadly we don’t have a horse.”
More moustache-twirling by Rodolphe, “Well, I have a horse that I’d be happy to share…
very happy to share.”
Charles: “Golly, that’s just great! I love my wife so much that I’m willing to send her off with you, a
stranger I’ve only recently met. You seem concerned about my wife, so I like you.”
Now here’s where Emma gives us a glimpse of how ugly she is inside. Rodolphe has left and husband and wife are discussing the riding proposition. Oh, yes. It’s a proposition.
Charles: “I think you should go riding with Rodolphe. He’s a handsome, wealthy man who seems
Emma pouting: “Nah. I don’t want to.”
Charles: “But, Emma sweetie, I think you should! It would be good for your health. You’ve seemed so depressed since that attentive Leon moved away.”
Emma: “I still don’t want to go. It would be weird.”
Worried Charles: “But your health?!”
Whining Emma: “I’d have nothing to wear on the date.”
Charles: “Dearest, we’ll buy you a new outfit to wear on the horsie!”
Emma: “Okay, I’ll go. (at the risk of ruining my marriage)”
Ack! The text says, “The riding-habit decided her.”
The final touch of ugliness is when bumbling, bewildered Charles writes to Rodolphe that “his wife was at his disposal and that they were counting on his kindness.”
Get the scarlet letter ready. Emma’s going to need it.