Madame Bovary is one my favorite novels. Emma Bovary will always be an enigma, but as the years pass, I feel that I understand her better. She has a violent nostalgia, almost an infantile nostalgia, to be understood by the men surrounding her. I like her relentless fight for independence, her rebellion against the mediocre, and her quest for the sublime, even if she burns her wigs in the process. I like that Flaubert never judges her morally for her self-destructiveness, for her desperate attempt to satisfy her wildest desires and appetites.
I always used to suffer a great deal if I let myself get too close to reality since the definitive world of the everyday with itshard edges and harsh light did not have enough resonance to echo the demands I made upon experience. It was as if I never experienced experience as experience. Living never lived up to the expectations I had of it--the Bovary syndrome.
As a bookish child in Calcutta, I used to thrill to the adventures of bad girls whose pursuit of happiness swept them outside the bounds of social decency. Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina lived large in my imagination. The naughty girls of Hollywood films flirted and knew how to drive.
In Madame Bovary Flaubert never allows anything to go on too long; he can suggest years of boredom in a paragraph, capture the essence of a character in a single conversational exchange, or show us the gulf between his soulful heroine and her dull-witted husband in a sentence (and one that, moreover, presages all Emma's later experience of men). (...) This is one of the summits of prose art, and not to know such a masterpiece is to live a diminished life.
Maybe it's not, in the end, the virtues of others that so wrenches our hearts as it is the sense of almost unbearably poignant recognition when we see them at their most base, in their sorrow and gluttony and foolishness. You need the virtues, too""some sort of virtues""but we don't care about Emma Bovary or Anna Karenina or Raskolnikov because they're good. We care about them because they're not admirable, because they're us, and because great writers have forgiven them for it.
I have often thought that Walter Mitty had it in him to be more than a hen-pecked loser. Instead of living it up as a flamboyant daredevil in his dreams, he could have chosen to be a responsible man in real life, going about his work with dignity, and people may just have treated him with respect. Did his failures in life lead him to seek solace in daydreams or did his wandering mind stand in the way of his potential success? One must have triggered the other, and then it would have been both working together. An empty life drives you to fantasies of fulfilment, which then form a deadly, vicious circle which can turn you into a cartoon, as it did poor Mitty. Or lead you to ruin like Madame Bovary.
Every fairy tale offers the potential to surpass present limits, so in a sense the fairy tale offers you freedoms that reality denies. In all great works of fiction, regardless of the grim reality they present, there is an affirmation of life against the transience of that life, an essential defiance. The affirmation lies in the way the author takes control of reality by retelling it in his own way, thus creating a new world. Every great work of art, I would declare pompously, is a celebration, an act of insubordination against the betrayals, horrors and infidelities of life. The perfection and beauty of form rebels against the ugliness and shabiness of the subject matter. This is why we love "Madame Bovary" and cry for Emma, why we greedily read "Lolita" as our heart breaks for its small, vulgar, poetic and defiant orphaned heroine.
Lots of talk lately about the GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL that seems to be exclusively masculine. And how many of the characters in the GENIUS BOOKS are likable? Is Holden Caulfield likable? Is Meursault in The Stranger? Is Henry Miller? Is any character in any of these system novels particularly likable? Aren't they usually loathsome but human, etc., loathsome and neurotic and obsessed? In my memory, all the characters in Jonathan Franzen are total douchebags (I know, I know, I'm not supposed to use that, feminine imagery, whatever, but it is SO satisfying to say and think). How about female characters in the genius books? Was Madame Bovary likable? Was Anna Karenina? Is Daisy Buchanan likable? Is Daisy Miller? Is it the specific way in which supposed readers HATE unlikable female characters (who are too depressed, too crazy, too vain, too self-involved, too bored, too boring), that mirrors the specific way in which people HATE unlikable girls and women for the same qualities? We do not allow, really, the notion of the antiheroine, as penned by women, because we confuse the autobiographical, and we pass judgment on the female author for her terrible self-involved and indulgent life. We do not hate Scott Fitzgerald in 'The Crack-Up' or Georges Bataille in Guilty for being drunken and totally wading in their own pathos, but Jean Rhys is too much of a victim.
76. David Hume - Treatise on Human Nature; Essays Moral and Political; An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding 77. Jean-Jacques Rousseau - On the Origin of Inequality; On the Political Economy; Emile - or, On Education, The Social Contract 78. Laurence Sterne - Tristram Shandy; A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy 79. Adam Smith - The Theory of Moral Sentiments; The Wealth of Nations 80. Immanuel Kant - Critique of Pure Reason; Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals; Critique of Practical Reason; The Science of Right; Critique of Judgment; Perpetual Peace 81. Edward Gibbon - The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; Autobiography 82. James Boswell - Journal; Life of Samuel Johnson, Ll.D. 83. Antoine Laurent Lavoisier - Traite e‰lementaire de Chimie (Elements of Chemistry) 84. Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison - Federalist Papers 85. Jeremy Bentham - Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation; Theory of Fictions 86. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe - Faust; Poetry and Truth 87. Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier - Analytical Theory of Heat 88. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel - Phenomenology of Spirit; Philosophy of Right; Lectures on the Philosophy of History 89. William Wordsworth - Poems 90. Samuel Taylor Coleridge - Poems; Biographia Literaria 91. Jane Austen - Pride and Prejudice; Emma 92. Carl von Clausewitz - On War 93. Stendhal - The Red and the Black; The Charterhouse of Parma; On Love 94. Lord Byron - Don Juan 95. Arthur Schopenhauer - Studies in Pessimism 96. Michael Faraday - Chemical History of a Candle; Experimental Researches in Electricity 97. Charles Lyell - Principles of Geology 98. Auguste Comte - The Positive Philosophy 99. Honore de Balzac - Pe¨re Goriot; Eugenie Grandet 100. Ralph Waldo Emerson - Representative Men; Essays; Journal 101. Nathaniel Hawthorne - The Scarlet Letter 102. Alexis de Tocqueville - Democracy in America 103. John Stuart Mill - A System of Logic; On Liberty; Representative Government; Utilitarianism; The Subjection of Women; Autobiography 104. Charles Darwin - The Origin of Species; The Descent of Man; Autobiography 105. Charles Dickens - Pickwick Papers; David Copperfield; Hard Times 106. Claude Bernard - Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine 107. Henry David Thoreau - Civil Disobedience; Walden 108. Karl Marx - Capital; Communist Manifesto 109. George Eliot - Adam Bede; Middlemarch 110. Herman Melville - Moby-Dick; Billy Budd 111. Fyodor Dostoevsky - Crime and Punishment; The Idiot; The Brothers Karamazov 112. Gustave Flaubert - Madame Bovary; Three Stories 113. Henrik Ibsen - Plays 114. Leo Tolstoy - War and Peace; Anna Karenina; What is Art?; Twenty-Three Tales 115. Mark Twain - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; The Mysterious Stranger 116. William James - The Principles of Psychology; The Varieties of Religious Experience; Pragmatism; Essays in Radical Empiricism 117. Henry James - The American; The Ambassadors 118. Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche - Thus Spoke Zarathustra; Beyond Good and Evil; The Genealogy of Morals;The Will to Power 119. Jules Henri Poincare - Science and Hypothesis; Science and Method 120. Sigmund Freud - The Interpretation of Dreams; Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis; Civilization and Its Discontents; New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis 121. George Bernard Shaw - Plays and Prefaces
Mortimer J. Adler