‘Madame Bovary’ by Gustave Flaubert Read Along: Part II

This read along is hosted by CJ at ebookclassics (who is hosting the second check-in post for Part II of the novel) and Juliana at Cedar Station.

1. First of all, what did you think about Part Two?

‘Madame Bovary, once she was in the kitchen, made for the fireplace. With the tips of her fingers, she took hold of her dress at the knee, and, lifting it just to her ankle, held out to the fire, above the leg of mutton on the spit, a foot clad in a small black boot. The flames lit every inch of her, a harsh brilliance penetrating the weave of her dress, the fine pores of her white skin and even her eyelids that she blinked repeatedly’.

Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert, Pg.74

I absolutely adored Part II of Madame Bovary. Charles and Emma have left their tiny provincial life in Tostes behind and set out on a new adventure in Yonville-l’Abbaye. Not only is this move significant in terms of a new beginning but it is also the point where Emma traverses the boundary between inaction and action – she attempts to take her happiness into her own hands with devastating consequences. I also enjoyed the switch to the direct address of ‘you’ at the opening of Part II: ‘You leave the main road at La Boissière and you carry on along the slope as far as the top of the Côte des Leux, where you can see the whole valley’ (pg.65). It is almost as if Flaubert is inviting us to join in and witness the events that are about to unfold. We become the passive audience to the inevitable climax of Emma’s frustrations.

However, I do continue to feel sorry for Emma. As the above quote highlights, she is constantly objectified by the men around her. Even Léon, whom we meet when Charles and Emma first arrive in Yonville, cannot help but view her in these terms, despite their burgeoning platonic friendship. It is not a coincidence that Emma’s leg and a leg of mutton appear next to each other in the same sentence. Flaubert equates this desire for Emma as a hunger, which is almost violent in its portrayal. This can be seen even more when we come across the character of Rodolphe – a typical rake-like figure, a womaniser.

Continue reading

Easter Break!

IMG_1322

Lincoln Cathedral

 

I apologise for my absence here on this blog over the Easter weekend. I have spent a much-needed break up at my parent’s new house in the Lincolnshire countryside visiting family who I haven’t seen in years, visiting Lincoln and eating lots of great food (and chocolate!).

I did bring my laptop, intending to participate in the second check-in for the Madame Bovary Read Along (I will write up my post tomorrow morning), however, it turned out that I couldn’t even get my data roaming to work on my phone. However, it was a wonderful bonus to be away from the internet (and my phone) for four long days. I finished Madame Bovary on the Friday – I just couldn’t resist reading on to the inevitable end – and have made considerable progress on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s brilliant Americanah, which has been shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. I also acquired a number of treasures, which I will write about in a series of posts on bookshops in Lincoln.

So, on the Saturday I visited Lincoln for the first time. Despite the reluctant annual trips up to Lincolnshire to visit family as a kid, I had never gone into central Lincoln before and was pleasantly surprised by this bustling city steeped in history. My first point-of-call was the beautiful, towering Cathedral, which sits at the top of Steep Hill (appropriately named, for it is a very steep hill!). I have been into a number of Cathedrals in my time, but Lincoln Cathedral tops them all. At one point, in the fourteenth century, the Cathedral was the tallest building in the world and continued to be so for over 200 years. It is a truly beautiful piece of architecture and I could not help but feel awed in its presence.

IMG_1411

The Medieval Library

However, the main attraction for me (and the reason I was so eager to visit) was the Medieval and Wren Libraries, situated above the north walk of the cloister at Lincoln Cathedral. Standing side by side, the Medieval and Wren Libraries each differ in the concept of what a library was to be used for. The Medieval Library, which you walk into first, is full of rows of oak lecterns with manuscripts (and later printed books) chained up so you couldn’t take them away. The room is also dark and gloomy to reflect how reading would have been done in candlelight. There was a miniature Bible in one of the cases where the writing is so miniscule and so tiny that it must have taken so much time, concentration and patience to read, let alone write the manuscript.

IMG_1413

The Wren Library

The Wren Library, designed by the renowned architect Sir Christopher Wren, housed the personal collection of the Dean of Lincoln from 1660 to 1681, Michael Honywood. This room is decidedly different from the Medieval Library. It is light and airy and the books are displayed openly on shelves that reach the ceiling. It was a beautiful room even though you weren’t allowed near any of the books!

Whilst in Lincoln I also made a quick stop at the Castle. I say quick because only the castle wall was open due to the major renovations that are taking place and which will be finished by 2015 – in time for the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta.

IMG_1358

View from the Castle wall

‘Boy, Snow, Bird’ by Helen Oyeyemi

IMG_3155

 

‘Nobody ever warned me about mirrors, so for many years I was fond of them, and believed them to be trustworthy. I’d hide myself away inside them, setting two mirrors up to face each other so that when I stood between them I was infinitely reflected in either direction. Many, many me’s. When I stood on tiptoe, we all stood on tiptoe, trying to see the first of us, and the last. The effect was dizzying, a vast pulse, not quite alive, more like the working of an automaton. I felt the reflection at my shoulder like a touch. I was on the most familiar terms with her, same as any other junior dope too lonely to be selective about the company she keeps’.

Boy, Snow, Bird, Helen Oyeyemi, Pg.3

I remember reading all the hype surrounding Helen Oyeyemi’s fifth novel, Boy, Snow, Bird, a couple of months ago in the blogging world and thought to myself, how have I never heard of this writer before? Her novels tend to take their basis from traditional fairytales, turning them into something completely different and completely relevant (something I admire in writers like Angela Carter). They merge the real with the magical, the mythical or folklore, incorporating the different cultures in which these narratives are embedded. In the case of Boy, Snow, Bird Oyeyemi takes as her inspiration the ‘evil’ stepmother trope from the popular Snow White fairytale, amongst many others.

Boy Novak, the motherless young woman who opens up the story with the wonderful quote above, has decided to flee her abusive ‘rat catcher’ father. She jumps on the first bus to arrive in New York and ends up in a mythical little town called Flax Hill in Massachusetts. There is an unsettling feeling about this place, which isn’t all that welcoming to newcomers. Everyone has a useful role in this small community, from the bookstore owner, Mrs Fletcher, to the history-teacher, turned jewellery maker, Arturo Whitman, widower and father of the beautiful, young Snow.

‘Her voice sounded exactly the way I’d thought it would sound. For some reason that scared me, so I didn’t stop at the gate to greet her even though I heard her saying “Hi” in a startled way. I just said “Hi, Snow” as if we’d met before, when of course we hadn’t, and I kept going, kept my gaze fixed on the road ahead of me. “Scared” doesn’t even really describe it. I almost crossed myself. It felt like the evil eye had fallen upon us both’.

Boy, Snow, Bird, Helen Oyeyemi, Pg.25

Continue reading

‘Madame Bovary’ by Gustave Flaubert Read Along: Part I

This read along is hosted by CJ at ebookclassics and Juliana at Cedar Station (who is hosting the first check-in post for Part I of the novel).

‘It would be impossible now for any of us to remember a thing about him. He was a boy of sober temperament, who played at play-time, worked in school hours, listened in class, slept well in the dormitory, ate well in the refectory’.

Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert, Pg.8-9

Gustave Flaubert’s debut novel, Madame Bovary, was published in 1856-7 and opens up to a realistic portrayal of the provincial lives of Charles Bovary and his soon-to-be wife, Emma Rouault – the infamous Madame Bovary. Although the novel is principally named after Emma, Flaubert is cautious not to give away everything at first. We begin with a short history of Charles Bovary’s life, told from the first person plural ‘we’ – from the humiliation he suffered in his school days, to his unremarkable career as a medical health officer. There is only one brief moment where Charles strays from the path his mother – the first Madame Bovary – has forcibly placed him on: ‘He became a tavern-goer, a great domino-player. To closet himself every evening in some scruffy public-room, so as to tap on a marble table his little bits of sheep-bone marked with black spots, this seemed to him a precious act of liberty’ (pg.10).

Teasing us further, Flaubert then introduces another Madame Bovary to the story – Charles’ first wife, the ‘splendidly be-pimpled, Madame Dubuc’, a widow with a large sum of money to her name. This marriage, like everything else in Charles’ life is engineered by his domineering and interfering mother and the new Madame Bovary – Heloise – seems only to replace this figure:

‘Charles had pictured marriage as the advent of a better life, thinking he would be more free, and able to dispose of his own person and his own money. But his wife was master; in company he had to say this, not say that, eat fish every Friday, wear what she wanted him to, harass at her instigation the patients who didn’t pay up. She opened his letters, watched over his comings and goings, and listened, through the partition wall, to his consultations, when there were women in his surgery’.

Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert, Pg.11

Continue reading

‘Mad Girl’s Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted’ by Andrew Wilson

IMG_0333

 

‘On the 25 February 1956, twenty-three-year-old Sylvia Plath stepped into a roomful of people and immediately spotted what she later described in her diary as a ‘big, dark, hunky boy”.

Mad Girl’s Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted, Andrew Wilson, Pg.1

And so, Andrew Wilson begins, and ends, his new biography of the legendary Sylvia Plath – with the first fatal meeting between herself and Ted Hughes. Unlike previous biographies – with Anne Stevenson’s ‘authorised’ Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath called into constant scrutiny, apparently only 89 pages of it is dedicated to Plath’s life before she met Hughes – Wilson tries to uncover more of Sylvia’s earlier life. New interviews and pieces of information are brought to light in this ‘refreshingly inquiring book’, according to the Sunday Times, and Wilson litters his work with direct quotations from friends, families and, most importantly, lovers who knew Plath, regardless of how fleeting their acquaintance may have been. He is even able to shed some light on Plath’s ever-elusive penultimate love, Richard Sassoon – an area of Plath’s life that has eluded many biographers to date. This has the effect of authenticity. I don’t feel like I am being manipulated into viewing Plath in a certain way. Each facet of information uncovers different sides to her, highlighting the duality in Plath’s conflicting personalities.

‘Sylvia’s interior world may have been a skewed one, but she became expert at pretending, fashioning a mask of normality that she could wear when it suited’.

Mad Girl’s Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted, Andrew Wilson, Pg.48

I first became acquainted with Plath’s work when my sister bought me a copy of The Bell Jar for my sixteenth birthday. The blurb of my copy, a quotation from The New York Times Book Review, stated that ‘This novel is not political or historical in any narrow sense, but in looking at the madness of the world and the world of madness it forces us to consider the great question posed by all truly realistic fiction: What is reality and how can it be confronted?’ At the time I knew little of Plath’s life other than the fact that she had committed suicide at the age of 30; I had no idea just how ‘realistic’ this fiction would be. I then re-read The Bell Jar last year on the 50th anniversary of its publication in 1963. This time I had more knowledge of Plath than I previously did. I knew that just like Esther Greenwood, Sylvia Plath had secured a guest editorship position at Mademoiselle magazine, which is where the novel opens. I also knew that Plath had suffered a nervous breakdown at the age of 20 and attempted suicide, like Esther does. However, it wasn’t until I read Wilson’s Mad Girl’s Love Song that I realised just how close to reality The Bell Jar was.

Continue reading

The Feminist Library Bookshop!

IMG_3163

The Feminist Library, Westminster Bridge Rd

Although hidden within a rather old, inconspicuous building, The Feminist Library on Westminster Bridge Road (just a short 10 minute walk from Waterloo East Station) is home to a large collection of Women’s Liberation Movement literature, particularly second-wave materials from the 1960s up to the 1990s. Hidden in the recesses of a few cramped rooms on the first floor of this inconspicuous Multipurpose Resource Centre, The Feminist Library stocks everything from fiction written by women, to non-fiction, magazines and zines. I was surprised to find out that they stock over 5,000 non-fiction books, which have been donated, and date back to the 1900s. Topics cover the arts, women’s history, mental health, physical health and politics. It was an impressive collection to look at and I was drawn to so many titles!

IMG_3162

The bookshop itself is actually only open on Saturdays from 10am-6pm and is located in the space outside of the office and library. It is rather small, however, they have a fascinating collection of back issue copies of the feminist magazine Spare Rib for sale, as well as numerous pamphlet books on different topics for a couple of pounds each. There is also a small selection of new publications, such as Catherine Redfern and Kristin Aune’s Reclaiming the F Word: Feminism Today and a couple of books by Susan Sellers, including the interesting Vanessa and Virginia, based on the relationship between Virginia Woolf and her sister, Vanessa Bell (I was almost tempted to buy this).

I was most drawn to the secondhand rack of books, which included a mix of fiction and non-fiction. I came back with a very interesting haul, which I look forward to reading!

IMG_1285

IMG_1279

I chose:

  • Down Among the Women by Fay Weldon – tells the story of three generations of women living in 1950s England. Each of them is unhappy and unfulfilled  with their restricted lives. As the blurb states: all are ‘discontented in various ways until they recognise that what they think they want is not what they need’.
  • Writing For Their Lives: The Modernist Women 1910-1940 by Gillian Hanscombe and Virginia L. Smyers – a detailed analysis of female writers, such as Dorothy Richardson, Djuna Barnes, Marianne Moore and Mina Loy who ‘were at the forefront of literary experimentation’. They are reinstated alongside such figures as James Joyce and Ezra Pound, highlighting that their work was just as innovative and influential as their male counterparts. As someone who only knows Virginia Woolf when it comes to female modernist writers I feel like this book will be very informative (as well as damaging for my bank balance!).
  • Beyond Power: On Women, Men and Morals by Marilyn French – after reading The Women’s Room at the beginning of the year I am drawn to the rest of French’s work. In this non-fiction book French asks the question: ‘how is it that a relative handful of men have come to have such complete power over the lives of hundreds of millions of men and women?’
  • Spare Rib, January 1986 – I chose this copy of Spare Rib simply because it has an interview with Keri Hulme, the writer of the Man Booker Prize winning novel, The Bone People. I have had this book on my shelf for quite a while now so this interview should be a good accompaniment when I get round to reading it!

‘Madame Bovary’ Read Along!

I seem to be a bit late to the party, but the Madame Bovary read along – hosted by CJ at ebookclassics and Juliana at Cedar Station – has gained a lot of interest in fellow bloggers, which makes it an exciting one to be a part of! I read Gustave Flaubert’s masterpiece in my second year of university, when we were studying The Novel, and I absolutely adored it. Flaubert is such a wonderful writer (even in translation) and it has been one of my goals in life to learn French just so I can read Madame Bovary in the original. It is  also on my Classics Club List to re-read, so now is the perfect opportunity to pick it up once again.

The schedule is as follows:

Part One – April 10, 2014

Part Two – April 20, 2014

Part Three – April 30, 2014

Each week Juliana or CJ will host thoughts and discussion questions.

I can’t wait to hear what other people will think of Madame Bovary!

Classics Club Spin Fail!

Today is the deadline for posting about our Classics Club Spin result, which was announced two months ago, and I am afraid to say that I completely failed. I was meant to read Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God, which I realised was actually the third (not the second) novel in Achebe’s African Trilogy. This then meant that I had to read No Longer At Ease as well as my Classics Spin. However, as soon as I started reading that I realised I couldn’t really remember much of his most successful and well-known book, Things Fall Apart. By this point I was really not in the mood to read all three books when I had so much more on my shelves I preferred! I would say I feel guilty about not completing my Classics Spin, but the truth is I have read some wonderful books over the past couple of months that I’m not too bothered. I will have to pick my Spin list more carefully next time!

‘Patience’ by John Coates

IMG_1211

‘Edward had made his wishes quite clear on two or three subjects. The most important of these was sons. His wife was to go on having babies until she produced a son – or even two sons – for the number was a minor matter compared to the gender. When Star was born he had said Poor old girl, better luck next time. And with Sue it was, I say, old thing, don’t make a habit of this. And with Sal, with rather a gloomy expression, Another of them, what! So that Patience had untruthfully said she was sorry, and must have looked so submissive that he had kissed her as briskly as ever and immediately said Never mind; we’ll try again’.

Patience, John Coates, Pg.31

Although Persephone Books generally concern themselves with publishing lesser-known female authors of the twentieth century, or the lesser-known works of established female authors, Patience is, in fact, an exception in that it is written by the male author, John Coates. In 1953, the year of its publication, the preface by Maureen Lipman informs us that Patience was banned in Ireland – ‘This is such a naughty book’ (Patience, pg.vi). And this is indeed a very naughty book if you consider the era of the 1950s and the fact that it is about a young, married, Catholic woman.

Patience Gathorne-Galley is a 28 year-old woman married to the older, non-Catholic Edward. They have three beautiful, healthy daughters. Yet, as the above quote makes clear, daughters were secondary-beings compared to the prospect of producing a son, an heir. Patience’s duties as a wife are quite clear and she follows them unquestioningly. She is the quietly submissive wife men such as Edward – a patronisingly, bum-patting old man – can only dream of acquiring. Yet men like Edward like to venture outside of the home on occasion – as Lionel, Patience’s strict Catholic brother, will relish telling her one afternoon over tea.

‘She must love Edward very much’, Patience murmured.

‘Why?’

‘Well, to do that if she isn’t married to him. And not taking any money either’.

Patience, John Coates, Pg.12

Continue reading

‘The Gathering’ by Anne Enright

IMG_2192

‘I would like to write down what happened in my grandmother’s house the summer I was eight or nine, but I am not sure if it really did happen. I need to bear witness to an uncertain event. I feel it roaring inside me – this thing that may not have taken place. I don’t even know what name to put on it. I think you might call it a crime of the flesh, but the flesh is long fallen away and I am not sure what hurt may linger in the bones’.

The Gathering, Anne Enright, Pg. 1

Anne Enright’s Man Booker Prize winning novel, The Gathering, brings together the Hegarty family clan who have all gathered for the wake of their beloved son and brother, Liam. Found dead on the shores of Brighton beach, his death comes as a shock and a revelation to the sibling closest to him, Veronica. Written from her perspective, we witness a grieving process which forces Veronica to step back into the hauntingly uncertain past to grasp and gather the strands of her brother’s – and, by extension, the Hegarty’s – frayed life. This means travelling back to the summer she and Liam had to stay at her grandmother, Ada’s, house when they were both eight and nine years old and it even stretches before that, to the possible history between her grandmother and her husband’s mysterious friend, Lambert Nugent.

‘It does not matter. I do not know the truth, or I do not know how to tell the truth. All I have are stories, night thoughts, the sudden convictions that uncertainty spawns. All I have are ravings more like’.

The Gathering, Anne Enright, Pg.2

What I loved about Enright’s novel was the stark reality and bleakness of it. Veronica (or perhaps it’s Enright, herself) is so acutely aware of the limitations in her knowledge and the distortions of her childhood memory that much of the book is based on guesswork. It is only about two-thirds through The Gathering that we are confronted with the bitter truth of what happened the summer Liam and Veronica were eight and nine years old, respectively (if we haven’t already guessed). Yet, by this point, the truth becomes a somewhat irrelevant factor in the tragic life of Liam Hegarty.

Continue reading