Tag Archives: love

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

29 Mar

I’m pleased to announce Better Know a Book’s second guest post by Izzy Long! I’m excited to welcome another voice to this blog, and hope you all enjoy her post below!

With Valentine’s Day just behind us, what better novel to recommend than Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert? This is a romping good read, which will leave you alternately wanting to shout at the silly Emma Bovary, and identifying with her sighing romanticism. It’s a cautionary tale, but full of twists and turns as we watch Madame Bovary approaching her inevitable downfall.

Published in? 1857

Quick Read? Yes, this is a quick read, and the story really gallops along. Bookworms will read it in a day and a half.

Difficulty? Easy! It’s a great introduction to French literature for this very reason.


The book opens with a description of Charles Bovary, the man Emma will marry. It shows him at school, a weak and ineffectual man who is distinctly average. He manages to pass his medical exams, and becomes a mediocre country doctor. His mother marries him off to what she thinks is a fortune – a local widow. She dies, but instead of investing in shares she has squandered her money, leaving very little money to Charles.

He soon falls in love with Emma Bovary, a pretty country girl, and after a romantic and lavish wedding they settle down to married life. Emma soon becomes bored now that the romance of the wedding is over. She dreams obsessively of a more glamorous life, and eventually becomes depressed when she cannot obtain her dream. She becomes pregnant, and Charles moves them to a new town in an attempt to stir Emma out of her depression. Here Emma meets Leon, a law clerk, who reads romantic fiction.

The baby is born and so is a romance between Leon and Emma, who is not distracted by her new baby, but rather bored with it. She does feel guilty however, and put Leon off, and he soon gives up and moves to Paris to study law. Soon afterwards a wealthy man called Rodolphe declares that he loves Emma and they too begin an affair. Emma is rather careless, and the neighbors in the little French town begin to gossip about her. Charles doesn’t have a clue what is happening, so appears rather stupid.

He messes up an operation on someone’s clubfoot, which has to be amputated, and Emma hates him for being stupid and incompetent. He continues to love her, whilst she focuses entirely on her love for Rodolphe, running up huge bills with local shopkeepers and Lheureux, the moneylender, as she buys presents and new dresses to delight her lover. Charles’s practice is struggling after the botched operation and he struggles to pay her debts.

Rodolphe begins to tire of the demanding Emma and…

I am not going to spoil the ending of the book for you, because hopefully by now you will want to read it for yourself. Let’s just say that things do not end particularly well for anyone in the book, but the twists and turns before you reach the end (this synopsis takes you about half way) will keep you in suspense.

What Makes this book awesome? This book is awesome because it is so readable, and the story is told at a great pace, so you never get bored. If you’re looking to expand your knowledge of the classics and want an easy way in to French literature, then Madame Bovary is a great place to start. It doesn’t hurt at all! You can recognize lots of things in Emma which you identify with as you read, and hence you can sympathize with her as well as finding her behavior outrageous. She is the first example of someone using retail therapy in literature I have ever come across, and all of her emotions are channeled in the wrong ways. One can sympathize with Charles too, but not much, as he is so incredibly dim and blindly devoted to Emma. He used the book to criticize the bourgeoisie – the merchants and capitalists who had risen to power after the French Revolution. They were the ‘middle-classes’ whose manners and obsession with money was considered vulgar by many, including Flaubert. Emma’s dissatisfaction with her bourgeois lifestyle is a reflection of the author’s attitude. The book also brings up issues about women’s lives, and about language’s inability to express what it is we are really feeling.

Some neat-o facts

  • The book was written at a time when sexual matters were not discussed in novels, so it caused a scandal when it was published. Flaubert was very upset by this, as it is not the point of the book at all. He was put on trial in 1857, for obscenity, but acquitted. The resulting publicity did no harm to sales!
  • Flaubert’s style was considered very new at the time, as the language he used matched the action in the book. When Emma was depressed, the prose matched her mood, when she was happy, Flaubert’s writing reflected that in style. While this may seem normal to us these days, it was quite new and innovative in the 19th Century. One of the reasons it is so easy to read by a modern audience is down to Flaubert’s ‘modern’ style of writing. It is considered one of the most influential novels ever written for this reason. One critic wrote, “Flaubert established for good or ill, what most readers think of as modern realist narration, and his influence is almost too familiar to be visible”.

For the Academy’s Consideration: Some Romantic Literary Movies (A Good Story Series #2.5)

11 Feb

Now, I’m all for reading, but let’s face it. A good movie can be just as satisfying as a good book! Especially ones with a literary flavor. So I’ve come up with a list of my favorite “literary” movies for a warm, cozy Valentine’s Day night in, whether with your significant other, with friends, or all by your lonesome. So pop the butteriest (can that be a word now?) popcorn you can find, buy your favorite kind of chocolate, get a warm blanket, and dive into these picks. If I’ve missed anything obvious, do list it in the comments below:

1) “Midnight in Paris”

Based off of this Woody Allen sketch, Woody Allen showcases the angst of a contemporary writer in Paris who goes on magical rides into the Paris of the 1920s. As he rides off to party with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda, drink with Hemingway, and banter with Gertrude Stein, he falls in love, learns a thing or two about nostalgia, and what it means to love a place, a time, and a person (modernist or no!).

2) “Stranger than Fiction”

You know if it’s Will Ferrell, it’s probably going to be funny. In this movie, Harold Crick is not only protagonist of the movie, but of a book as well, meaning he hears the narration of his life as the writer writes it all down. This means Harold also knows he is about to die. As he desperately tries to avoid this awful fate, he falls in love–and must ultimately find a way around the fate this “writer” has set out for him.

3) “Shakespeare in Love”

This is a cheesy choice to list. I know that. But let’s face it. It’s an idea about the life of Shakespeare, and it IS very romantic. So for those of you who have a Shakespeare craving now and again, check out this adaptation of his life and works. It’s a sure-fire win for Valentine’s Day romance, if that’s what you’re looking for.

4) “Bright Star”

If you’re really looking for a love story, a real true love story, look no further than Keats. As a young, penniless poet who would hugely influence the Romantic movement, Keats fell in love with a woman named Fannie Brawne, a girl above his class, and the subject of many of his letters and poetry. Yet when he falls deathly ill extremely fast, their romance heats up, as class and love do battle head-to-head.

5) “Becoming Jane”

While not the most historically accurate film, Austen fans everywhere may enjoy this story of Jane Austen’s supposed romance with LeFroy, an arrogant-seeming man who won her affections. Though Austen may never have married, many may love the idea of her own story lines coming to life. Indulgent? Yes. Fun for her fans? You betcha.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (A Good Love Story Series #2)

9 Feb

It’s been a few days and chances are you are getting progressively more and more sick of Valentine’s Day ads and stores everywhere encrusted with red and pink tchatchkes and people complaining about being single/bragging about being in a relationship. I’ve been there, I get it. But, if only for history’s sake, take a look at Sense and Sensibility if you haven’t already. Considered a parody of the early 19th century romance novel, it may just be witty enough to keep you sane as you walk by the selection of approximately 2904328578 boxes of chocolate in your local drug store.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Published: 1811

Quick Read?: Yes, this is pretty quick.

Difficulty?: Not really. The most difficult parts are long explanations of inheritance and marriage law at this time. But it is important, and otherwise the book is quite straightforward.

Synopsis: Three sisters, Marianne, Elinor, and Margaret find themselves in a precarious position when their father dies and their brother takes all of the considerably large inheritance for himself. Now reduced to far less extravagant circumstances, the sisters find themselves living in a small cottage near their relative, Sir John Middleton. Elinor is the eldest sister and the most rational, but must deal with their new acquaintance, Colonel Brandon, and his affections for her (a man in his 30’s! Shocking!). Marianne, however, is the younger sister, full of emotional and “sensibility” (which at this time meant a kind of feminine emotional hysterics. Lovely.), and she falls for Willoughby, a kind gentleman whom she soon falls absolutely gaga for, much to Elinor’s annoyance. Elinor tries to conduct herself without feeling, which causes Colonel Brandon to back away, making her realize her own feelings. Marianne throws herself at Willoughby, only to watch him go off to London and marry another woman. Though both sisters seek happiness, how could they ever come to terms with reason and emotion, sense and sensibility? (couldn’t help it, guys.)

Why read this book? This novel is considered one of Austen’s more ironic–it very much plays with the silly, “sensible” romance novels that were popular with women during this time period. The extreme polar opposites of Elinor and Marianne reflect a real struggle at the time for women, especially those who wanted to be educated: does one listen to one’s heart and show emotion, only to not be taken as seriously? Or does one reserve all emotion and seem unfeeling, only to alienate oneself from others seeing the real person inside? It’s still a timeless issue, and one that is still thought of constantly today.

It’s also, in my humble opinion, one of the funniest books I’ve read by Austen (though admittedly I’ve only read some of her works). The sisters working as complete opposites here is compelling, and the ways in which they interact with each other don’t necessarily come off as cheesy, as many more recent books that copy a similar storyline become. Austen really does show the dangers of both sense and sensibility, and puts both ideas up for contrast, not just two opposite characters.

Some neat-o facts: 

We want a lady on the street, and a writer who is "A Lady" but you know, not named or anything.

  • Austen originally published Sense and Sensibility under “A Lady” rather than her own name. Women writers where not taken quite as seriously at this time.
  • Though Austen wrote romantic works, she was considered a “realist” writers, in that her books were starkly detailed and set in real-life places and situations. I guess one might argue that romance CAN be real, then?
  • Very little is known about Jane’s life because asked for many of her papers and letters to be burned upon  her (unfortunately young) death. For that reason, most of what we know about her is through her family members. A cause of intrigue if you ask me! And, you know, actual literary scholars.

If you like this, try: Pride and Prejudice or Persuasion by Austen; David Copperfield by Chales Dickens; Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (A Good Love Story Series #1)

5 Feb

Well folks. Like it or not, it’s February, and Valentine’s Day isn’t too far away. Whether you’re single, “it’s complicated,” have a significant other, or just like to rant and rave about the consumerist B.S. that surrounds this holiday, try and tell me you don’t love a love story. We all do, in some way, shape, or form (I won’t take any answer but that). So until Valentine’s Day, I’m paying homage to some classic romantic (and Romantic, capital R) books. Whether or not you want to rekindle your belief in love or just absorb yourself in a place with love (hopefully) reigns, it seemed appropriate to look to Miss Jane Austen to start this series off. It’s hard not to swoon over the infamous love story of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy, so do be sure to give it a shot this winter.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Published: 1813

Quick Read?: Yes.

Difficulty: There is some older language, but Austen’s plot moves rather quickly and smoothly, so it won’t slow you down too much.

Synopsis: Elizabeth Bennett is not the most delicate, fair, or desirable young lady in England. It’s not that she’s not beautiful or intelligent, but as a young aristocrat she does feel she can understand and judge those around her quickly and easily. But her judgement is thrown for a loop with the appearance of the dark and brooding Mr. Darcy, who Elizabeth immediately judges as “too proud.” She finds herself around him often though because her sister has started to court Bingley, an extremely rich man who comes through town. Yet Mr. Bingley leaves quickly and Elizabeth’s family threatens to fall apart, she must revisit her judgement of others as Mr. Darcy comes in to possibly save her life as she knows it.

Why read this book?: Austen is a controversial character, but her novels are still read widely today by women all over the world because they really are timeless. The love story of falling in love with someone you also can’t stand is a common motif in books and movies today, and harkening back to the original story is certainly a fantastic ride. The characters don’t feel old-fashioned for the most part, even if the portrayals of British societal standards might. The themes of too much pride and too much prejudice still apply today, which is an impressive feat for a book that is almost 200 years old (Way to go Austen! I’d like to say she planned it, but I doubt it).

Also, looking at love, marriage, family, and money in the early 19th century is certainly intriguing. The idea of honor and dishonor brought upon oneself as a woman, and one’s family, is pretty interesting. Any implication of wrongdoing or misdeed was enough to ruin everything, something that does not exist as much today. So if you want to feel the romance against all odds this Valentine’s Day season, check this book out for sure!

Some neat-o facts:

Jane Austen

There's pride in the way Austen is dressed and prejudice hidden in those eyes.

  • Austen was the daughter of a clergyman, and worked with the poor a lot. Because of this, many people critiqued her for only writing about well-to-do people. I don’t know if I blame her though…the drama is a bit more fun and superfluous. What do you think?
  • There are some pretty wonderful adaptations of this book as a film done by the BBC and elsewhere. Watch if you love romance! Avoid if you hate Valentine’s Day to begin with.
  • While many feminists have criticized Austen for her female characters always revolving around men and their actions, many would argue that that was a reflection of the times, and that most of women’s fate did revolve around marriage, childbirth, and motherhood. If you have an opinion of your own, do let me know in the comments!

If you like this, try: Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, or Mansfield Park by Austen; Middlemarch by George Eliot; Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte; Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

Orlando by Virginia Woolf

14 Jul

I must apologize, readers, for the small delays to this blog–I’m working two jobs this summer, and sometimes my wonderful ideas for blog posts get lost somewhere between eating, seeing friends, and passing out completely from exhaustion. My summer has been and will remain beyond fun, but alas, sometimes Better Know a Book gets paused. My apologies.

But fear not, for there are plenty of posts to come. Today, I’m tackling another book from my favorite writer, the Woolfinator–Orlando. For anyone who thinks Woolf is an uber-serious, stuffy, boring writer, they have clearly never come near this gem. It’s a fun, whimsical ride through British history, defying gender norms and ideas of love even today. It’s a love letter to love, but also, an actual love letter, and one that almost always gets wrongfully shafted on summer reading lists.

Published: 1928

Orlando by Virginia Woolf

Quick Read?: Let yourself get into the flow of it–once you do, it is definitely very quick.

Difficulty: Not very. It does help to know some British history, but even then.

Synopsis: Written in faux biographical form, Orlando opens during Elizabethan era of English history, where our hero, Orlando, is a young lord in Queen Elizabeth I’s court. He is a handsome young man, with lovers in, ahem, very high places, but when the Russian princess Sasha comes to visit, Orlando is beyond smitten. After an intense and short affair, Sasha must leave suddenly, leaving Orlando devastated, resorting to poetry to heroic valor for his country to soothe himself. Yet somehow, magically, Orlando lives not for decades, but centuries, and finds himself an ambassador to Turkey from England. It is there that, during days of slumber after a battle, that he turns into a woman (through a beautifully written passage). As he/she parades through British history, Orlando meets with historical figures, including many writers and poets, to try and understand poetry and love, both of which he abandoned once Sasha left. He/She does this up until the 19th century, living amongst history and the present day. A charming, whimsical work, it flows just like Orlando’s beloved poetry, filled to the brim with the euphoric feel only being in love can really give.

What makes this book awesome? It’s entirely possible you ended up reading all that just to think Holy crap, this book sounds weird as hell, I don’t get it. But that’s truly it–Orlando is just a magical human being who transcends both time and gender, and is able to make larger assertions and ideas about both through his experiences. Woolf writes about his/her life in a way that is seamless and entirely believable. It seems natural that Orlando discussed poetry with Alexander Pope just as it seemed natural that he went ice skating with Queen Elizabeth I’s court. So if you’re worried this will just be too weird, just trust your imagination. It’s only weird if you allow it to be–if you don’t allow it to be, it’s a beautiful love story.

And yes, it’s humorous! Woolf pokes fun at a lot of historical eras, figures, and writers. Even if you only know a tiny bit about these ideas, you can still pick up on the humor, and really is giggle-worthy. The narrator is just as taken aback by Orlando as we are, and it is this exasperation on their part that causes us to laugh as well. This book is proof, if any of them are, that Woolf actually had a wonderful sense of humor.

The way she writes gender is fascinating as well. She makes Orlando extremely androgynous, with very feminine and masculine traits all at once. It is gender-bending even by today’s standards, and shows the effect of time on our ideas of gender, our relationships, and on society’s beliefs as a whole. Many believe this to be one of the first pieces of lesbian literature, though few realized this at the time it was published, thanks to its magical traits.

The Woolfinator, messing with homophobes since the day she was born. Also, messing around with women when her husband wasn't around.

Some great facts to know:

  • When folks say Orlando is a love letter, they mean it. It’s not just to English history or a love letter to love either–Woolf had an affair with noted painter and eccentric Vita Sackville-West. Their affair prompted the novel, as noted in Woolf’s own diary. (Their letters to one another are a hoot, for the record). No one recognized the lesbian elements to the story until much later on, thanks to the warping of time and reality throughout.
  • Because no one recognized these elements, it was one of Woolf’s best-selling works while she was alive.
  • There has been a movie adaptation of it, as well as several stage adaptations, given that it is one of the least cerebral of her works, and the most straightforward (seriously, isn’t that ridiculous? a book about time travel and gender bending is your most straight forward book? You crazy, Virginia).
If you like, try: any other works by Woolf, The Passion by Jeanette Winterson, The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor

The lady who inspired this Orlando, Vita Sackville-West. Who knows how old she REALLY was when this was taken...