I am still reading Flaubert's Madame Bovary. I am a slow reader, much slower now than in my youth. I figure I'm not quite a third of the way through the book. Emma and Leon are becoming attracted to each other in a vapid sort of way. Both of them are bubble-heads who feel put upon by the mundanity of life. Why do I not have some other, more glamorous life, in some other, more glamorous place? They ask themselves this and sigh.
My current impression of the novel is that it's uneven. There are large patches of glorious prose that carry me along quite happily, and there are large patches of more rather heavy weather, where Flaubert is building, putting together a symbolic landscape into which he'll eventually bring Charles and Emma. Some of that construction (I refer here to the opening pages of the Yonville part) is not so pleasant to sit through. I can see why Flaubert needed to construct the elaborate set, but I did not enjoy the noise of the hammers and saws. I am speaking in metaphor, damn it. I blame Gustave.
The symbolic network Flaubert creates is elaborate and I do admire the craft. Alas, I think this might be one of those novels I admire more than I enjoy. We'll see, I guess, how the scales are weighted when I reach the end. But because I am familiar with the plot of the book, I can see that Leon shuffling sadly past Emma's bedroom window (both Emma and Leon convinced they are suffering from the lack of glamour and pining for each other) might parallel and contrast with the profane beggar who sings a bawdy outside the window of the room in which Emma dies, later on in the book.
I am also growing too much aware, I think, of the editorial nature of the symbolic landscapes, and I must say that Flaubert might have overdone it. For example:
They returned to Yonville by the water-side. In the warm season the bank, wider than at other times, showed to their foot the garden walls whence a few steps led to the river. It flowed noiselessly, swift, and cold to the eye; long, thin grasses huddled together in it as the current drove them, and spread themselves upon the limpid water like streaming hair; sometimes at the tip of the reeds or on the leaf of a water-lily an insect with fine legs crawled or rested. The sun pierced with a ray the small blue bubbles of the waves that, breaking, followed each other; branchless old willows mirrored their grey backs in the water; beyond, all around, the meadows seemed empty. It was the dinner-hour at the farms, and the young woman and her companion heard nothing as they walked but the fall of their steps on the earth of the path, the words they spoke, and the sound of Emma's dress rustling round her.
The walls of the gardens with pieces of bottle on their coping were hot as the glass windows of a conservatory. Wallflowers had sprung up between the bricks, and with the tip of her open sunshade Madame Bovary, as she passed, made some of their faded flowers crumble into a yellow dust, or a spray of overhanging honeysuckle and clematis caught in its fringe and dangled for a moment over the silk.
That's all very fine, yes? But the thing is, it's a method Flaubert uses constantly: to present a long long list of beautiful things and then, at the end, to continue on with an image of destruction or decay. As I said on Monday, I think, Flaubert infuses the prose little by little with toxins. There is nothing wrong with this little trick, except that Flaubert is using it in a repetitious manner. Emma is spoiling everything nice; everything that Emma thinks she desires is actually ruinous. The individual uses of this conceit are all very fine and inventive, but the continuous use of this conceit--even with the great variation of surface detail--is becoming tiresome. I understand, however, that because Madame Bovary was stylistically unique when it was first published, Flaubert's readers were not necessarily trained to read novels closely, to recognize the importance of symbols in prose literature the way one does with poetry. So I cut Flaubert slack and sit through his detournement of lists. Because a lot of the lists are entertaining.
Anyway, I continue with Madame Bovary but I am not filled with the desire to read more Flaubert after this book. I miss Chekhov, po pravdi govorya.
Also: A quick update on the WIP. I am at about 75,000 words, pushing forward with Chapter 15 (the penultimate chapter). I think it's pretty good so far. I see that there are some things that will need to be adjusted early on in the story, because there were things I didn't know when I was first writing the novel and so I have continuity errors (by which I really mean mischaracterizations) in the opening chapters. But that's all easy stuff. I think my own symbolic background is working out and my metaphorical wagers are paying off. I think. I don't really know, but I have a good feeling. I should have this draft finished in a couple of weeks, and then I will ignore the MS while Mighty Reader subjects herself to the first draft and attempts to give me feedback that I will attempt to ignore before claiming her advice and her ideas as my own. She's become used to my behavior in this regard, but that doesn't excuse it, I know.