I was looking at the feminism book lists on Goodreads’ Listopia. The lists had some fictional books on them and there was some debate about whether they belonged. Though the debate that I saw was on Anna Karenina‘s inclusion as a “best of” feminist work, I thought of Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. (I haven’t read Anna Karenina, otherwise I’d probably talk about that one)
If you’re not familiar with the work, just know two things about it:
- it is famed for being “the showpiece of French realism” according to my textbook. (I had originally read this because it was required in one of my lit classes)
- it is an unabashed look at a single woman’s tragic life in 1800’s France.
Part of what makes it a great feminist classic, in my opinion, is the unabashed part of that second one when it pairs with the realism of the first. See, her life isn’t romanticized, nor are her problems or botched solutions to them. Don’t get me wrong, at no point did I find Madame Bovary to be a likable character. I mostly felt sorry for her and wondered what her character would do were she set in the modern era. Would she be independently successful with an outlet for all of her ambition? Would she have gotten married at all? Would she have found her way to the upper classes?
What makes it a great feminist throwback is as a reminder to people who attempt to say that a woman who is put on a pedestal by a man is privileged to be there. Some may feel that way, but I’ve known others who are more like Madame Bovary. We feel chained on top of that pedestal, made to perform tricks and manipulations under threat of abandonment or worse, and forbidden from making our own decisions or our own way in the world. Fortunately, I was born at the latter end of the twentieth century, so that plight was easier to escape, but women were not always so lucky. Actually, there are plenty of women in this world that are still not so lucky.