I just finished watching Madame Bovary. I have read the Gustave Flaubert novel twice — once as a teenager, having much compassion for a young girl trapped in pastoral solitude and then again as adult, confounded by the interconnection between fate and desire.
If you’re not familiar with the fate of Emma Bovary, here is a quick summary. Emma was educated in a convent in Latin, music, art, etc so so she be a proper gentlemen’s wife. Once her education was over, she was sent back to her dad’s farm and she married the first doctor she met, thinking she would have a grand, fancy life. But marriage to a country doctor didn’t suit her so she started spending cash. Lots of cash. I mean, if you have to live in an ugly house shouldn’t you have pretty curtains and pretty shoes? She took on a lover but spurned him then took on another lover who dumped her right before they were to run away together. Please note: continual spending of cash. All of this, in addition to a quack surgery, she helped ruin her husband’s practice. Not a good scene so she took back up with lover number one and spent even more cash travelling out of town to see him. She mortgaged her and her husband out of house and home. She tried to get money to pay off debt collectors from first lover. No luck. Tried with second lover. No luck either. Her family was evicted from their house. Almost pimped herself out with another debt collector but chose to kill herself by taking arsenic, instead. Voila!
Seeing this again, I can only hear what people said upon MB’s publication — see what happens when you educate women? They are never satisfied with a respectable matronly life. They desire clothes and shoes and fancy dinners and passionate romance.
Wouldn’t 19th century France had a lot to say about Sex and the City?
I am torn by Emma Bovary — isn’t a girl allowed some dreams and aspirations — the idea that you can grow up in Conroe but end up living in NYC and Miami? To her critics, though, shouldn’t a girl be thankful for what she has?
Of course, Emma Bovary is in absolute contrast to Bella Cullen (Twilight), who I wrote about last week. While Emma can visualize the life that she wants from her house to her clothes to the music that plays when she walks in the room, Bella has absolutely no goals. She’s like, hanging out all the time. So while Emma is tortured to the point that she makes endless bad decisions in an effort to move forward, Bella has things happen around her and to her. She’s like an action magnet while Emma longs for it with every fiber of her being.
And so it is here that I must bring up the ancient philosophical dialogue between Plato and Buddha.
In the Platonic Dialogues we learn about the concept of the “forms” which are the ideal manifestations of various concepts and objects. For example, there is a form “Beauty” in which all people are striving towards. No girl can ever be perfectly beautiful but she can certainly try – see Emma and Carrie Bradshaw’s shoe closet and you know what I’m saying. For Platonists there is a constant striving toward a goal – a closer and close approximation to that which is considered perfect.
In Buddhism, on the other hand, the concept of “perfect” is non-existent. Instead, things simply exist as they are and we are to embrace what is – in its imperfection – as perfect.
Needless to say, these ideas are very much in opposition to each other.
So, first we have Emma Bovary whose concept of “life” and “success” is so vivid that any and all practicalities are abandoned in her pursuit for her goals.
And for Bella? She accepts her dysfunctional menage a trois with Edward and Jacob and understands that life will continue to move forward whether she goes to college and declares a major or not.
To me, personally, neither of these avenues seem to satisfy. I certainly don’t want to risk everything for an aspiration that may or may not make me happy. On the other hand, it is just not in my personality to not be insanely goal driven. And even though most of the time I realize that my plans will change, I am always forging my way forward.
I think that the best way to summarize this middle ground would be the Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
So, this Thanksgiving I am thankful that I am given the opportunity to choose a life that makes sense to me – neither static nor constantly moving, neither dictated nor unexpressed. I am thankful that my entire person cannot be encapsulated by my shoe collection though I love pretty things. I am thankful that I was given an education not so I can be a doctor (or vampire’s wife) but so I can create something in this world that is uniquely mine.
I am most thankful that perfection is elusive so I can be content with what I have though I can always dream of more.