For daring to peer into the heart of an adulteress and enumerate its contents with profound dispassion, the author of Madame Bovary was tried for "offenses against morality and religion." What shocks us today about Flaubert's devastatingly realized tale of a young woman destroyed by the reckless pursuit of her romantic dreams is its pure artistry: the poise of its narrative structure, the opulence of its prose (marvelously captured in the English translation of Francis Steegmuller), and its creation of a world whose minor figures are as vital as its doomed heroine. In reading Madame Bovary, one experiences a work that remains genuinely revolutionary almost a century and a half after its creation.
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First digital edition 2017 by Anna Ruggieri
We were in class when the head-master came in, followed by a“new fellow,” not wearing the school uniform, and aschool servantcarrying a large desk. Those who had been asleep wokeup, and every one rose as if just surprised at his work.
The head-master made a sign to us to sit down. Then, turning tothe class-master, he said to him in a low voice—
“Monsieur Roger, here is a pupilwhom I recommend to yourcare; he’ll be in the second. If his work and conduct aresatisfactory, he will go into one of the upper classes, as becomeshis age.”
The “new fellow,” standing in the corner behind thedoor so that he could hardly be seen, was acountry lad of aboutfifteen, and taller than any of us. His hair was cut square on hisforehead like a village chorister’s; he looked reliable, butvery ill at ease. Although he was not broad-shouldered, his shortschool jacket of green cloth with blackbuttons must have been tightabout the arm-holes, and showed at the opening of the cuffs redwrists accustomed to being bare. His legs, in blue stockings,looked out from beneath yellow trousers, drawn tight by braces, Hewore stout, ill-cleaned, hob-nailed boots.
We began repeating the lesson. He listened with all his ears, asattentive as if at a sermon, not daring even to cross his legs orlean on his elbow; and when at two o’clock the bell rang, themaster was obliged to tell him to fall into line withthe rest ofus.
When we came back to work, we were in the habit of throwing ourcaps on the ground so as to have our hands more free; we used fromthe door to toss them under the form, so that they hit against thewall and made a lot of dust: it was “the thing.”
But, whether he had not noticed the trick, or did not dare toattempt it, the “new fellow,” was still holding his capon his knees even after prayers were over. It was one of thosehead-gears of composite order, in which we can find traces of thebearskin, shako, billycock hat, sealskin cap, and cotton night-cap;one of those poor things, in fine, whose dumb ugliness has depthsof expression, like an imbecile’s face. Oval, stiffened withwhalebone, it began with three round knobs; then came in successionlozenges of velvet and rabbit-skin separated by a red band; afterthat a sort of bag that ended in a cardboard polygon covered withcomplicated braiding, from which hung, at the end of a long thincord, small twisted gold threads in the manner of a tassel. The capwas new; its peak shone.
“Rise,” said the master.
He stood up; his cap fell. The whole class began to laugh. Hestooped to pick it up. A neighbor knocked it down again with hiselbow; he picked it up once more.
“Get rid of your helmet,” saidthe master, who was abit of a wag.
There was a burst of laughter from the boys, which so thoroughlyput the poor lad out of countenance that he did not know whether tokeep his cap in his hand, leave it on the ground, or put it on hishead. He sat down again and placed it on his knee.
“Rise,” repeated the master, “and tell me yourname.”
The new boy articulated in a stammering voice an unintelligiblename.
The same sputtering of syllables was heard, drowned by thetittering of the class.
“Louder!”cried the master; “louder!”
The “new fellow” then took a supreme resolution,opened an inordinately large mouth, and shouted at the top of hisvoice as if calling someone in the word“Charbovari.”
A hubbub broke out, rose in crescendo with bursts of shrillvoices (they yelled, barked, stamped, repeated “Charbovari!Charbovari”), then died away into single notes, growingquieter only with great difficulty, and now and again suddenlyrecommencing along the line of a form whence rose here and there,like a damp cracker going off, a stifled laugh.
However, amid a rain of impositions, order was graduallyre-established in the class; and the master having succeeded incatching the name of “Charles Bovary,” having had itdictated to him, spelt out, and re-read, atonce ordered the poordevil to go and sit down on the punishment form at the foot of themaster’s desk. He got up, but before going hesitated.
“What are you looking for?” asked the master.
“My c-a-p,” timidly said the “newfellow,” casting troubled looksround him.
“Five hundred lines for all the class!” shouted in afurious voice stopped, like the Quos ego*, a fresh outburst.“Silence!” continued the master indignantly, wiping hisbrow with his handkerchief, which he had just taken from his cap.“As to you, ‘new boy,’ you will conjugate‘ridiculus sum’ ** twenty times.”
Then, in a gentler tone, “Come, you’ll find your capagain; it hasn’t been stolen.”
*A quotation from the Aeneid signifying athreat. **I am ridiculous.
Quiet was restored. Heads bentover desks, and the “newfellow” remained for two hours in an exemplary attitude,although from time to time some paper pellet flipped from the tipof a pen came bang in his face. But he wiped his face with one handand continued motionless, his eyes lowered.
In the evening, at preparation, he pulled out his pens from hisdesk, arranged his small belongings, and carefully ruled his paper.We saw him working conscientiously, looking up every word in thedictionary, and taking the greatest pains. Thanks, nodoubt, to thewillingness he showed, he had not to go down to the class below.But though he knew his rules passably, he had little finish incomposition. It was the cure of his village who had taught him hisfirst Latin; his parents, from motives of economy, having sent himto school as late as possible.
His father, Monsieur Charles Denis Bartolome Bovary, retiredassistant-surgeon-major, compromised about 1812 in certainconscription scandals, and forced at this time to leave theservice, had taken advantage of his fine figure to get hold of adowry of sixty thousand francs that offered in the person of ahosier’s daughter who had fallen in love with his good looks.A fine man, a great talker, making his spurs ring as he walked,wearing whiskers that ran into his moustache, his fingers alwaysgarnished with rings and dressed in loud colours, he had the dashof a military man with the easy go of a commercial traveller.
Once married, he lived for three or four years on hiswife’s fortune, dining well, risinglate, smoking longporcelain pipes, not coming in at night till after the theatre, andhaunting cafes. The father-in-law died, leaving little; he wasindignant at this, “went in for the business,” lostsome money in it, then retired to the country, where he thought hewould make money.
But, as he knew no more about farming than calico, as he rodehis horses instead of sending them to plough, drank his cider inbottle instead of selling it in cask, ate the finest poultry in hisfarmyard, and greased his hunting-boots with the fat of his pigs,he was not long in finding out that he would do better to give upall speculation.
For two hundred francs a year he managed to live on the borderof the provinces of Caux and Picardy, in a kind of place half farm,half private house; and here, soured, eaten up with regrets,cursing his luck, jealous of everyone, he shut himself up at theage of forty-five, sick of men, he said, and determined to live atpeace.
His wife had adored him once on a time; she had bored him withathousand servilities that had only estranged him the more. Livelyonce, expansive and affectionate, in growing older she had become(after the fashion of wine that, exposed to air, turns to vinegar)ill-tempered, grumbling, irritable. She had suffered so muchwithout complaint at first, until she had seem him going after allthe village drabs, and until a score of bad houses sent him back toher at night, weary, stinking drunk. Then her pride revolted. Afterthat she was silent, burying her anger in a dumb stoicism that shemaintained till her death. She was constantly going about lookingafter business matters. She called on the lawyers, the president,remembered when bills fell due, got them renewed, and at homeironed, sewed, washed, looked after the workmen, paid the accounts,while he, troubling himself about nothing, eternally besotted insleepy sulkiness, whence he only roused himself to say disagreeablethings to her, sat smoking by the fire and spitting into thecinders.
When she had a child, it had to be sent out to nurse. When hecame home, the lad was spoilt as if he were a prince. His motherstuffed him with jam; his father let him run about barefoot, and,playing the philosopher, even said he might as well go about quitenaked like the young of animals. As opposed to the maternal ideas,he had a certain virile idea of childhood on which he sought tomould his son, wishing him to be brought up hardily, like aSpartan, to give him a strong constitution. He sent him to bedwithout any fire, taughthim to drink off large draughts of rum andto jeer at religious processions. But, peaceable by nature, the ladanswered only poorly to his notions. His mother always kept himnear her; she cut out cardboard for him, told him tales,entertained him with endless monologues full of melancholy gaietyand charming nonsense. In her life’s isolation she centeredon the child’s head all her shattered, broken littlevanities. She dreamed of high station; she already saw him, tall,handsome, clever, settled as an engineer or in the law. She taughthim to read, and even, on an old piano, she had taught him two orthree little songs. But to all this Monsieur Bovary, caring littlefor letters, said, “It was not worth while. Would they everhave the means to send him toa public school, to buy him apractice, or start him in business? Besides, with cheek a manalways gets on in the world.” Madame Bovary bit her lips, andthe child knocked about the village.
He went after the labourers, drove away with clods of earth theravens that were flying about. He ate blackberries along thehedges, minded the geese with a long switch, went haymaking duringharvest, ran about in the woods, played hop-scotch under the churchporch on rainy days, and at great fetes begged the beadle tolet himtoll the bells, that he might hang all his weight on the long ropeand feel himself borne upward by it in its swing. Meanwhile he grewlike an oak; he was strong on hand, fresh of colour.
When he was twelve years old his mother had her own way; hebeganlessons. The cure took him in hand; but the lessons were so shortand irregular that they could not be of much use. They were givenat spare moments in the sacristy, standing up, hurriedly, between abaptism and a burial; or else the cure, if he hadnot to go out,sent for his pupil after the Angelus*. They went up to his room andsettled down; the flies and moths fluttered round the candle. Itwas close, the child fell asleep, and the good man, beginning todoze with his hands on his stomach, was soon snoring with his mouthwide open. On other occasions, when Monsieur le Cure, on his wayback after administering the viaticum to some sick person in theneighbourhood, caught sight of Charles playing about the fields, hecalled him, lectured him for a quarter of an hour and tookadvantage of the occasion to make him conjugate his verb at thefoot of a tree. The rain interrupted them or an acquaintancepassed. All the same he was always pleased with him, and even saidthe “young man” had a very good memory.
*A devotion said at morning, noon, and evening, at thesound of a bell. Here, the eveningprayer.
Charles could not go on like this. Madame Bovary took strongsteps. Ashamed, or rather tired out, Monsieur Bovary gave inwithout a struggle, and theywaited one year longer, so that the ladshould take his first communion.
Six months more passed, and the year after Charles was finallysent to school at Rouen, where his father took him towards the endof October, at the time of the St. Romain fair.
It would now be impossible for any of us to remember anythingabout him. He was a youth of even temperament, who played inplaytime, worked in school-hours, was attentive in class, sleptwell in the dormitory, and ate well in the refectory. He had inloco parentis* a wholesale ironmonger in the Rue Ganterie, who tookhim out once a month on Sundays after his shop was shut, sent himfor a walk on the quay to look at the boats, and then brought himback to college at seven o’clock before supper. EveryThursday evening he wrote a long letter to his mother with red inkand three wafers; then he went over his history note-books, or readan old volume of “Anarchasis” that was knocking aboutthe study. When he went for walks he talked to the servant, who,like himself,came from the country.
*In place of a parent.
By dint of hard work he kept always about the middle of theclass; once even he got a certificate in natural history. But atthe end of his third year his parents withdrew him from the schoolto make him studymedicine, convinced that he could even take hisdegree by himself.
His mother chose a room for him on the fourth floor of adyer’s she knew, overlooking the Eau-de-Robec. She madearrangements for his board, got him furniture, table and twochairs,sent home for an old cherry-tree bedstead, and bought besides asmall cast-iron stove with the supply of wood that was to warm thepoor child.
Then at the end of a week she departed, after a thousandinjunctions to be good now that he was going to be left tohimself.
The syllabus that he read on the notice-board stunned him;lectures on anatomy, lectures on pathology, lectures on physiology,lectures on pharmacy, lectures on botany and clinical medicine, andtherapeutics, without counting hygiene and materia medica—allnames of whose etymologies he was ignorant, and that were to him asso many doors to sanctuaries filled with magnificent darkness.
He understood nothing of it all; it was all very well tolisten—he did not follow. Still he worked; he had boundnote-books, he attended all the courses, never missed a singlelecture. He did his little daily task like a mill-horse, who goesround and round with his eyes bandaged, not knowing what work he isdoing.
To spare him expense his mother sent him every week bythecarrier a piece of veal baked in the oven, with which he lunchedwhen he came back from the hospital, while he sat kicking his feetagainst the wall. After this he had to run off to lectures, to theoperation-room, to the hospital, and return to his homeat the otherend of the town. In the evening, after the poor dinner of hislandlord, he went back to his room and set to work again in his wetclothes, which smoked as he sat in front of the hot stove.
On the fine summer evenings, at the time when the close streetsare empty, when the servants are playing shuttle-cock at the doors,he opened his window and leaned out. The river, that makes of thisquarter of Rouen a wretched little Venice, flowed beneath him,between the bridges and the railings, yellow, violet, or blue.Working men, kneeling on the banks, washed their bare arms in thewater. On poles projecting from the attics, skeins of cotton weredrying in the air. Opposite, beyond the roots spread the pureheaven with the red sun setting. How pleasant it must be at home!How fresh under the beech-tree! And he expanded his nostrils tobreathe in the sweet odours of the country which did not reachhim.
He grew thin, his figure became taller, his face took a saddenedlook that made it nearly interesting.Naturally, throughindifference, he abandoned all the resolutions he had made. Once hemissed a lecture; the next day all the lectures; and, enjoying hisidleness, little by little, he gave up work altogether. He got intothe habit of going to the public-house, and had a passion fordominoes. To shut himself up every evening in the dirty publicroom, to push about on marble tables the small sheep bones withblack dots, seemed to him a fine proof of his freedom, which raisedhim in his own esteem. It was beginning to see life, the sweetnessof stolen pleasures; and when he entered, he put his hand on thedoor-handle with a joy almost sensual. Then many things hiddenwithin him came out; he learnt couplets by heart and sang them tohis boon companions, becameenthusiastic about Beranger, learnt howto make punch, and, finally, how to make love.
Thanks to these preparatory labours, he failed completely in hisexamination for an ordinary degree. He was expected home the samenight to celebrate his success. He started on foot, stopped at thebeginning of the village, sent for his mother, and told her all.She excused him, threw the blame of his failure on the injustice ofthe examiners, encouragedhim a little, and took upon herself to setmatters straight. It wasonly five years later that Monsieur Bovaryknew the truth; it was old then, and he accepted it. Moreover, hecould not believe that a man born of him could be a fool.
So Charles set to work again and crammed for his examination,ceaselessly learning all the old questions by heart. He passedpretty well. What a happy day for his mother! They gave a granddinner.
Where should he go to practice? To Tostes, where there was onlyone old doctor. For a long time Madame Bovary had been on thelook-out for hisdeath, and the old fellow had barely been packedoff when Charles was installed, opposite his place, as hissuccessor.
But it was not everything to have brought up a son, to have hadhim taught medicine, and discovered Tostes, where he could practiceit; he must have a wife. She found him one—the widow of abailiff at Dieppe—who was forty-five and had an income oftwelve hundred francs. Though she was ugly, as dry as a bone, herface with as many pimples as the spring has buds, Madame Dubuc hadno lack of suitors. To attain her ends Madame Bovary had to oustthem all, and she even succeeded in very cleverly baffling theintrigues of a port-butcher backed up by the priests.
Charles had seen in marriage the advent of an easier life,thinking he would be more free to do as he liked with himself andhis money. But his wife was master; he had to say this and not saythat in company, to fast every Friday, dress as she liked, harassat her bidding those patients who did not pay. She opened hisletter, watched his comings and goings, and listened at thepartition-wall when women came to consult him in his surgery.
She must have her chocolate every morning, attentions withoutend. She constantly complained of her nerves, her chest, her liver.The noise of footsteps made her ill; when people left her, solitudebecame odious to her; if they came back, it was doubtless to seeher die. When Charles returned in the evening, she stretched forthtwo long thin arms from beneath the sheets, put them round hisneck, and having made him sit down on the edge of the bed, began totalk to him of her troubles: he was neglecting her, he lovedanother. She had been warned she would be unhappy; and she ended byasking him for a dose of medicine and a little more love.
One night towards eleven o’clock they were awakened by thenoise of a horse pulling up outside their door. The servant openedthe garret-window and parleyed for some time with a man in thestreet below. He came for the doctor, had a letter for him. Natasiecame downstairs shivering and undid the bars and bolts one afterthe other. The man left his horse, and, following the servant,suddenly came in behind her. He pulled out from his wool cap withgrey top-knots a letter wrapped up in a rag and presenteditgingerly to Charles, who rested on his elbow on the pillow toread it. Natasie, standing near the bed, held the light. Madame inmodesty had turned to the wall and showed only her back.
This letter, sealed with a small seal in blue wax, beggedMonsieur Bovary to come immediately to the farm of the Bertaux toset a broken leg. Now from Tostes to the Bertaux was a goodeighteen miles across country by way of Longueville andSaint-Victor. It was a dark night; Madame Bovary junior was afraidof accidents for her husband. So it was decided the stable-boyshould go on first; Charles would start three hours later when themoon rose. A boy was to be sent to meet him, and show him the wayto the farm, and open the gates for him.
Towards four o’clock in the morning,Charles, well wrappedup in his cloak, set out for the Bertaux. Still sleepy from thewarmth of his bed, he let himself be lulled by the quiet trot ofhis horse. When it stopped of its own accord in front of thoseholes surrounded with thorns that are dugon the margin of furrows,Charles awoke with a start, suddenly remembered the broken leg, andtried to call to mind all the fractures he knew. The rain hadstopped, day was breaking, and on the branches of the leaflesstrees birds roosted motionless, theirlittle feathers bristling inthe cold morning wind. The flat country stretched as far as eyecould see, and the tufts of trees round the farms at long intervalsseemed like dark violet stains on the cast grey surface, that onthe horizon faded into the gloom of the sky.
Charles from time to time opened his eyes, his mind grew weary,and, sleep coming upon him, he soon fell into a doze wherein, hisrecent sensations blending with memories, he became conscious of adouble self, at once student and married man, lying in his bed asbut now, and crossing the operation theatre as of old. The warmsmell of poultices mingled in his brain with the fresh odour ofdew; he heard the iron rings rattling along the curtain-rods of thebed and saw his wife sleeping. As hepassed Vassonville he came upona boy sitting on the grass at the edge of a ditch.
“Are you the doctor?” asked the child.
And on Charles’s answer he took his wooden shoes in hishands and ran on in front of him.
The general practitioner, riding along, gathered from hisguide’s talk that Monsieur Rouault must be one of thewell-to-do farmers.
He had broken his leg the evening before on his way home from aTwelfth-night feast at a neighbour’s. His wife had been deadfor two years. There was with him only hisdaughter, who helped himto keep house.
The ruts were becoming deeper; they were approaching theBertaux.
The little lad, slipping through a hole in the hedge,disappeared; then he came back to the end of a courtyard to openthe gate. The horse slipped onthe wet grass; Charles had to stoopto pass under the branches. The watchdogs in their kennels barked,dragging at their chains. As he entered the Bertaux, the horse tookfright and stumbled.
It was a substantial-looking farm. In the stables, over thetopof the open doors, one could see great cart-horses quietlyfeeding from new racks. Right along the outbuildings extended alarge dunghill, from which manure liquid oozed, while amidst fowlsand turkeys, five or six peacocks, a luxury in Chauchois farmyards,were foraging on the top of it. The sheepfold was long, the barnhigh, with walls smooth as your hand. Under the cart-shed were twolarge carts and four ploughs, with their whips, shafts andharnesses complete, whose fleeces of blue wool were getting soiledby the fine dust that fell from the granaries. The courtyard slopedupwards, planted with trees set out symmetrically, and thechattering noise of a flock of geese was heard near the pond.
A young woman in a blue merino dress with three flounces came tothe threshold of the door to receive Monsieur Bovary, whom she ledto the kitchen, where a large fire was blazing. The servant’sbreakfast was boiling beside it in small pots of all sizes. Somedamp clothes were drying inside the chimney-corner. The shovel,tongs, and the nozzle of the bellows, all of colossal size, shonelike polished steel, while along the walls hung many pots and pansin which the clear flame of the hearth, mingling with the firstrays of the sun coming in through the window, was mirroredfitfully.
Charles went up the first floor to see the patient. He found himin his bed, sweating under his bed-clothes, having thrown hiscotton nightcap right away from him. He was a fat little man offifty, with white skin and blue eyes, the forepartof his head bald,and he wore earrings. By his side on a chair stood a large decanterof brandy, whence he poured himself a little from time to time tokeep up his spirits; but as soon as he caught sight of the doctorhis elation subsided, and instead of swearing, as he had been doingfor the last twelve hours, began to groan freely.
The fracture was a simple one, without any kind ofcomplication.
Charles could not have hoped for an easier case. Then calling tomind the devices of his masters at the bedsides of patients, hecomforted the sufferer with all sorts of kindly remarks, thosecaresses of the surgeon that are like the oil they put onbistouries. In order to make some splints a bundle of laths wasbrought up from the cart-house. Charles selected one,cut it intotwo pieces and planed it with a fragment of windowpane, while theservant tore up sheets to make bandages, and Mademoiselle Emmatried to sew some pads. As she was a long time before she found herwork-case, her father grew impatient; she didnot answer, but as shesewed she pricked her fingers, which she then put to her mouth tosuck them. Charles was surprised at the whiteness of her nails.They were shiny, delicate at the tips, more polished than the ivoryof Dieppe, and almond-shaped. Yet her hand was not beautiful,perhaps not white enough, and a little hard at the knuckles;besides, it was toolong, with no soft inflections in the outlines.Her real beauty was in her eyes. Although brown, they seemed blackbecause of the lashes, and her look came at you frankly, with acandid boldness.
The bandaging over, the doctor was invited by Monsieur Rouaulthimself to “pick a bit” before he left.
Charles went down into the room on the ground floor. Knives andforks and silver goblets were laid for two on a little table at thefoot of a huge bed that had a canopy of printed cotton with figuresrepresenting Turks. There was an odour of iris-root and damp sheetsthat escaped from a large oak chest opposite the window. On thefloor in corners were sacks of flour stuck upright in rows. Thesewere the overflow from the neighbouring granary, to which threestone steps led. By way of decoration for the apartment, hanging toa nail in the middle of the wall, whose green paint scaled off fromthe effects of thesaltpetre, was a crayon head of Minerva in goldframe, underneath which was written in Gothic letters “Todear Papa.”
First they spoke of the patient, then of the weather, of thegreat cold, of the wolves that infested the fields at night.
Mademoiselle Rouault did not at all like the country, especiallynow that she had to look after the farm almost alone. As the roomwas chilly, she shivered as she ate. This showed something of herfull lips, that she had a habit of biting when silent.
Her neck stood out from a white turned-down collar. Her hair,whose two black folds seemed each of a single piece, so smooth werethey, was parted in the middle by a delicate line that curvedslightly with the curve of the head; and, just showing the tip ofthe ear, it was joined behind in a thick chignon, with a wavymovement at the temples that the country doctor saw now for thefirst time in his life. The upper part of her cheek wasrose-coloured. She had, like a man, thrust in between two buttonsof her bodice a tortoise-shell eyeglass.
When Charles, after bidding farewell to old Rouault, returned tothe room before leaving, he found her standing, her foreheadagainst the window, looking into the garden, where the bean propshad been knocked down by the wind. She turnedround. “Are youlooking for anything?” she asked.
“My whip, if you please,” he answered.
He began rummaging on the bed, behind the doors, under thechairs. It had fallen to the floor, between the sacks and the wall.Mademoiselle Emma saw it, and bent overthe flour sacks.
Charles out of politeness made a dash also, and as he stretchedout his arm, at the same moment felt his breast brush against theback of the young girl bending beneath him. She drew herself up,scarlet, and looked at him over her shoulderas she handed him hiswhip.
Instead of returning to the Bertaux in three days as he hadpromised, he went back the very next day, then regularly twice aweek, without counting the visits he paid now and then as if byaccident.
Everything, moreover, went well; the patient progressedfavourably; and when, at the end of forty-six days, old Rouault wasseen trying to walk alone in his “den,” MonsieurBovarybegan to be looked upon as a man of great capacity. Old Rouaultsaid that he could not have been cured better by the first doctorof Yvetot, or even of Rouen.
As to Charles, he did not stop to ask himself why it was apleasure to him to go to the Bertaux. Had he done so, he would, nodoubt, have attributed his zeal to the importance of the case, orperhaps to the money he hoped to make by it. Was it for this,however, that his visits to the farm formed a delightful exceptionto the meagre occupations of his life? On these days he rose early,set off at a gallop, urging on his horse, then got down to wipehisboots in the grass and put on black gloves before entering. Heliked going into the courtyard, and noticing the gate turn againsthis shoulder, the cock crow on the wall, the lads run to meet him.He liked the granary and the stables; he liked old Rouault,whopressed his hand and called him his saviour; he liked the smallwooden shoes of Mademoiselle Emma on the scoured flags of thekitchen—her high heels made her a little taller; and when shewalked in front of him, the wooden soles springing up quicklystruck with a sharp sound against the leather of her boots.
She always accompanied him to the first step of the stairs. Whenhis horse had not yet been brought round she stayed there. They hadsaid “Good-bye”; there was no more talking. The openair wrappedher round, playing with the soft down on the back of herneck, or blew to and fro on her hips the apron-strings, thatfluttered like streamers. Once, during a thaw the bark of the treesin the yard was oozing, the snow on the roofs of the outbuildingswasmelting; she stood on the threshold, and went to fetch hersunshade and opened it. The sunshade of silk of the colour ofpigeons’ breasts, through which the sun shone, lighted upwith shifting hues the white skin of her face. She smiled under thetender warmth, and drops of water could be heard falling one by oneon the stretched silk.
During the first period of Charles’s visits to theBertaux, Madame Bovary junior never failed to inquire after theinvalid, and she had even chosen in the book that she kepton asystem of double entry a clean blank page for Monsieur Rouault. Butwhen she heard he had a daughter, she began to make inquiries, andshe learnt the Mademoiselle Rouault, brought up at the UrsulineConvent, had received what is called “a goodeducation”; and so knew dancing, geography, drawing, how toembroider and play the piano. That was the last straw.
“So it is for this,” she said to herself,“that his face beams when he goes to see her, and that heputs on his new waistcoat at the risk of spoiling it with the rain.Ah! that woman! That woman!”
And she detested her instinctively. At first she solaced herselfby allusions that Charles did not understand, then by casualobservations that he let pass for fear of a storm, finally by openapostrophes to which he knew not what to answer. “Why did hego back to the Bertaux now that Monsieur Rouault was cured and thatthese folks hadn’t paid yet? Ah! it was because a young ladywas there, some one who know how to talk, to embroider, to bewitty. That was what he cared about; he wanted town misses.”And she went on—
“The daughter of old Rouault a town miss! Get out! Theirgrandfather was a shepherd, and they have a cousin who was almosthad up at the assizes for a nasty blow in a quarrel. It is notworth while making such a fuss, or showing herself at church onSundays in a silkgown like a countess. Besides, the poor old chap,if it hadn’t been for the colza last year, would have hadmuch ado to pay up his arrears.”
For very weariness Charles left off goingto the Bertaux. Heloisemade him swear, his hand on the prayer-book, that he would go thereno more after much sobbing and many kisses, in a great outburst oflove. He obeyed then, but the strength of his desire protestedagainst the servility of his conduct; and he thought, with a kindof naive hypocrisy, that his interdict to see her gave him a sortof right to love her. And then the widow was thin; she had longteeth; wore in all weathers a little black shawl, the edge of whichhung down between her shoulder-blades; her bony figure was sheathedin her clothes as if they were a scabbard; they were too short, anddisplayed her ankles with the laces of her large boots crossed overgrey stockings.
Charles’s mother came to see them from time to time, butaftera few days the daughter-in-law seemed to put her own edge onher, and then, like two knives, they scarified him with theirreflections and observations. It was wrong of him to eat somuch.
Why did he always offer a glass of something to everyone whocame?What obstinacy not to wear flannels! In the spring it cameabout that a notary at Ingouville, the holder of the widowDubuc’s property, one fine day went off, taking with him allthe money in his office. Heloise, it is true, still possessed,besides a share in a boat valued at six thousand francs, her housein the Rue St. Francois; and yet, with all this fortune that hadbeen so trumpeted abroad, nothing, excepting perhaps a littlefurniture and a few clothes, had appeared in the household. Thematter hadto be gone into. The house at Dieppe was found to beeaten up with mortgages to its foundations; what she had placedwith the notary God only knew, and her share in the boat did notexceed one thousand crowns. She had lied, the good lady! In hisexasperation, Monsieur Bovary the elder, smashing a chair on theflags, accused his wife of having caused misfortune to the son byharnessing him to such a harridan, whose harness wasn’t worthher hide. They came to Tostes. Explanations followed. There werescenes.Heloise in tears, throwing her arms about her husband,implored him to defend her from his parents.
Charles tried to speak up for her. They grew angry and left thehouse.
But “the blow had struck home.” A week after, as shewas hanging up some washing in her yard, she was seized with aspitting of blood, and the next day, while Charles had his backturned to her drawing the window-curtain, she said, “OGod!” gave a sigh and fainted. She was dead! What a surprise!When all was over at the cemetery Charles went home. He found noone downstairs; he went up to the first floor to their room; sawher dress still hanging at the foot of the alcove; then, leaningagainst the writing-table, he stayed until the evening, buried in asorrowful reverie. She had loved himafter all!
One morning old Rouault brought Charles the money for settinghis leg—seventy-five francs in forty-sou pieces, and aturkey. He had heard of his loss, and consoled him as well as hecould.
“I know what it is,” said he,clapping him on theshoulder; “I’ve been through it. When I lost my deardeparted, I went into the fields to be quite alone. I fell at thefoot of a tree; I cried; I called on God; I talked nonsense to Him.I wanted to be like the moles that I saw on the branches, theirinsides swarming with worms, dead, and an end of it. And when Ithought that there were others at that very moment with their nicelittle wives holding them in their embrace, I struck great blows onthe earth with my stick. I was pretty wellmad with not eating; thevery idea of going to a cafe disgusted me—you wouldn’tbelieve it. Well, quite softly, one day following another, a springon a winter, and an autumn after a summer, this wore away, piece bypiece, crumb by crumb; it passed away,it is gone, I should say ithas sunk; for something always remains at the bottom as one wouldsay—a weight here, at one’s heart. But since it is thelot of all of us, one must not give way altogether, and, becauseothers have died, want to die too. You must pull yourself together,Monsieur Bovary. It will pass away. Come to see us; my daughterthinks of you now and again, d’ye know, and she says you areforgetting her. Spring will soon be here. We’ll have somerabbit-shooting in the warrens to amuse you a bit.”
Charles followed his advice. He went back to the Bertaux. Hefound all as he had left it, that is to say, as it was five monthsago. The pear trees were already in blossom, and Farmer Rouault, onhis legs again, came and went, making the farm more full oflife.
Thinking it his duty to heap the greatest attention upon thedoctor because of his sad position, he begged him not to take hishat off, spoke to him in an undertone as if he had been ill, andeven pretended to be angry because nothing rather lighter had beenprepared for him than for the others, such as a little clottedcream or stewed pears. He told stories. Charles found himselflaughing, but the remembrance of his wife suddenly coming back tohim depressed him. Coffee was brought in; he thought no more abouther.
He thought less of her as he grew accustomed to living alone.The new delight of independence soon made his loneliness bearable.He could now change his meal-times, go in or out withoutexplanation, and when he was very tired stretch himself at fulllength on his bed. So he nursed and coddled himself and acceptedthe consolations that were offered him. On the other hand, thedeath of his wife had not served him ill in his business, since fora month people had been saying, “The poor young man! what aloss!” His name had been talked about, his practice hadincreased; and moreover, he could go to the Bertaux just as heliked. He had an aimless hope, and was vaguely happy; he thoughthimself better looking as he brushed his whiskers beforethelooking-glass.
One day he got there about three o’clock. Everybody was inthe fields. He went into the kitchen, but did not at once catchsight of Emma; the outside shutters were closed. Through the chinksof the wood the sun sent across the flooring long fine rays thatwere broken at the corners of the furniture and trembled along theceiling. Some flies on the table werecrawling up the glasses thathad been used, and buzzing as they drowned themselves in the dregsof the cider. The daylight that camein by the chimney made velvetof the soot at the back of the fireplace, and touched with blue thecold cinders. Between the window and the hearth Emma was sewing;she wore no fichu; he could see small drops of perspiration on herbare shoulders.
After thefashion of country folks she asked him to havesomething to drink. He said no; she insisted, and at lastlaughingly offered to have a glass of liqueur with him. So she wentto fetch a bottle of curacao from the cupboard, reached down twosmall glasses, filled one to the brim, poured scarcely anythinginto the other, and, after having clinked glasses, carried hers toher mouth. As it was almost empty she bent back to drink, her headthrown back, her lips pouting, her neck on the strain. She laughedat getting none of it, while with the tip of her tongue passingbetween her small teeth she licked drop by drop the bottom of herglass.
She sat down again and took up her work, a white cotton stockingshe was darning. She worked with her head bent down; she did notspeak, nor did Charles. The air coming in under the door blew alittle dust over the flags; he watched it drift along, and heardnothing but the throbbing in his head and the faint clucking of ahen that had laid an egg in the yard. Emma from time to time cooledher cheeks with the palms of her hands, and cooled these again onthe knobs of the huge fire-dogs.
She complained of suffering since the beginning of the seasonfrom giddiness; she asked if sea-baths would do her any good; shebegan talking ofher convent, Charles of his school; words came tothem. They went up into her bedroom. She showed him her oldmusic-books, the little prizes she had won, and the oak-leafcrowns, left at the bottom of a cupboard. She spoke to him, too, ofher mother, of the country, and even showed him the bed in thegarden where, on the first Friday of every month, she gatheredflowers to put on her mother’s tomb. But the gardener theyhad never knew anything about it; servants are so stupid! She wouldhave dearly liked, if only for the winter, to live in town,although the length of the fine days made the country perhaps evenmore wearisome in the summer. And, according to what she wassaying, her voice was clear, sharp, or, on a sudden all languor,drawn out in modulations that ended almost in murmurs as she spoketo herself, now joyous, opening big naive eyes, then with hereyelids half closed, her look full of boredom, her thoughtswandering.
Going home at night, Charles went over her words one by one,trying to recall them, to fill out their sense, that he might pieceout the life she had lived before he knew her. But he never saw herin his thoughts other than he had seen her the first time, or as hehad just left her. Then he asked himself what would become ofher—if she would be married, and to whom! Alas! Old Rouaultwas rich, and she!—so beautiful! But Emma’s face alwaysrose before his eyes, and a monotone, like the humming of a top,sounded in his ears, “If you should marry after all! If youshould marry!” At nighthe could not sleep; his throat wasparched; he was athirst. He got up to drink from the water-bottleand opened the window. The night was covered with stars, a warmwind blowing in the distance; the dogs were barking. He turned hishead towards the Bertaux.
Thinking that, after all, he should lose nothing, Charlespromised himself to ask her in marriage as soon as occasionoffered, but each time such occasion did offer the fear of notfinding the right words sealed his lips.
Old Rouault would not have beensorry to be rid of his daughter,who was of no use to him in the house. In his heart he excused her,thinking her too clever for farming, a calling under the ban ofHeaven, since one never saw a millionaire in it. Far from havingmade a fortune by it, thegood man was losing every year; for if hewas good in bargaining, in which he enjoyed the dodges of thetrade, on the other hand, agriculture properly so called, and theinternal management of the farm, suited him less than most people.He did not willingly take his hands out of his pockets, and did notspare expense in all that concerned himself, liking to eat well, tohave good fires, and to sleep well. He liked old cider, underdonelegs of mutton, glorias* well beaten up. He took his meals in thekitchen alone, opposite the fire, on a little table brought to himall ready laid as on the stage.
*A mixture of coffee and spirits.
When, therefore, he perceived that Charles’s cheeks grewred if near his daughter, which meant that he would propose for heroneof these days, he chewed the cud of the matter beforehand. Hecertainly thought him a little meagre, and not quite the son-in-lawhe would have liked, but he was said to be well brought-up,economical, very learned, and no doubt would not make too manydifficulties about the dowry. Now, as old Rouault would soon beforced to sell twenty-two acres of “his property,” ashe owed a good deal to the mason, to the harness-maker, and as theshaft of the cider-press wanted renewing, “If he asks forher,” he said tohimself, “I’ll give her tohim.”
At Michaelmas Charles went to spend three days at theBertaux.
The last had passed like the others in procrastinating from hourto hour. Old Rouault was seeing him off; they were walking alongthe road full of ruts; they were about to part. This was the time.Charles gave himself as far as to the corner of the hedge, and atlast, when past it—
“Monsieur Rouault,” he murmured, “I shouldlike to say something to you.”
They stopped. Charles was silent.
“Well, tell me your story. Don’t I know all aboutit?” said old Rouault, laughing softly.
“Monsieur Rouault—Monsieur Rouault,” stammeredCharles.
“I ask nothing better”, the farmer went on.“Although, no doubt, the little one is of my mind, still wemust ask her opinion. So you get off—I’ll go back home.If it is ‘yes’, you needn’t return because of allthe people about, and besides it would upset her too much. But sothat you mayn’t be eating your heart, I’ll open widethe outer shutter of the window against the wall; you can seeitfrom the back by leaning over the hedge.”
And he went off.
Charles fastened his horse to a tree; he ran into the road andwaited. Half an hour passed, then he counted nineteen minutes byhis watch. Suddenly a noise was heard against the wall; the shutterhad been thrown back; the hook was still swinging.
The next day by nine o’clock he was at the farm. Emmablushed as he entered, and she gave a little forced laugh to keepherself in countenance. Old Rouault embraced his futureson-in-law.The discussionof money matters was put off; moreover, there wasplenty of time before them, as the marriage could not decently takeplace till Charles was out of mourning, that is to say, about thespring of the next year.
The winter passed waiting for this. Mademoiselle Rouault wasbusy with her trousseau. Part of it was ordered at Rouen, and shemade herself chemises and nightcaps after fashion-plates that sheborrowed. When Charles visited the farmer, the preparations for thewedding were talked over; they wondered in what room they shouldhave dinner; they dreamed of the number of dishes that would bewanted, and what should be entrees.
Emma would, on the contrary, have preferred to have a midnightwedding with torches, but old Rouault could not understand such anidea. So there was a wedding at which forty-three persons werepresent, at which they remained sixteen hours at table, began againthe next day, and to some extent on the days following.
The guests arrived early in carriages, in one-horse chaises,two-wheeled cars, old open gigs, waggonettes with leather hoods,and the young people from the nearer villages in carts, in whichthey stood up in rows, holding on to the sides so as not to fall,going at a trot and well shaken up. Some came from a distance ofthirty miles, from Goderville, from Normanville, and from Cany.
All the relatives of both families had been invited, quarrelsbetween friends arranged, acquaintances long since lost sight ofwritten to.
From time to time one heard the crack of a whip behind thehedge; then the gates opened, a chaise entered. Galloping up to thefoot of the steps, it stopped short and emptied its load. They gotdown from all sides, rubbing knees and stretching arms. The ladies,wearing bonnets, had on dresses in the town fashion, gold watchchains, pelerines with the ends tucked into belts, or littlecoloured fichus fastened down behind with a pin, and that left theback of the neck bare. The lads, dressed like their papas, seemeduncomfortable in their new clothes (many that day hand-sewed theirfirst pair of boots), and by their sides, speaking never a work,wearing the white dress of their first communion lengthened for theoccasion were some big girls of fourteen or sixteen, cousins orelder sisters no doubt, rubicund, bewildered, their hair greasywith rose pomade, and very much afraid of dirtying their gloves. Asthere were not enough stable-boys to unharness all the carriages,the gentlemen turned up their sleeves and set about it themselves.According to their different social positions they wore tail-coats,overcoats, shooting jackets, cutaway-coats; fine tail-coats,redolent of family respectability, that only came out of thewardrobe on state occasions; overcoats with long tails flapping inthe wind and round capes and pockets like sacks; shooting jacketsof coarse cloth, generally worn with a cap with a brass-bound peak;very short cutaway-coats with two small buttons in the back, closetogether like a pair of eyes, and the tails of which seemed cut outof one piece by a carpenter’s hatchet. Some, too (but these,you may be sure, would sit at the bottom of the table), wore theirbest blouses—that is to say, with collars turned down to theshoulders, the back gathered into small plaits and the waistfastened very low down with a worked belt.
And the shirts stood out from the chests like cuirasses!Everyone had just had his hair cut; ears stood out from the heads;they had been close-shaved; a few, even, who had had to get upbefore daybreak, and not beenable to see to shave, had diagonalgashes under their noses or cuts the size of a three-franc piecealong the jaws, which the fresh air en route had enflamed, so thatthe great white beaming faces were mottled here and there with reddabs.
The mairie wasa mile and a half from the farm, and they wentthither on foot, returning in the same way after the ceremony inthe church. The procession, first united like one long colouredscarf that undulated across the fields, along the narrow pathwinding amid the green corn, soon lengthened out, and broke up intodifferent groups that loitered to talk. The fiddler walked in frontwith his violin, gay with ribbons at its pegs. Then came themarried pair, the relations, the friends, all following pell-mell;the children stayed behind amusing themselves plucking thebell-flowers from oat-ears, or playing amongstthemselves unseen.Emma’s dress, too long, trailed a little on the ground; fromtime to time she stopped to pull it up, and then delicately, withher gloved hands, she picked off the coarse grass and thethistledowns, while Charles, empty handed, waited till she hadfinished. Old Rouault, with a new silk hat and the cuffs of hisblack coat covering his hands up to the nails, gave his arm toMadame Bovary senior.As to Monsieur Bovary senior, who, heartilydespising all these folk, had come simply in a frock-coat ofmilitary cut with one row of buttons—he was passingcompliments of the bar to a fair young peasant. She bowed, blushed,and did not know what to say. The other wedding guests talked oftheir business or played tricks behind each other’s backs,egging one another on in advance to be jolly. Those who listenedcould always catch the squeaking of the fiddler, who went onplaying across the fields. When he saw that the rest were farbehind he stopped to take breath, slowly rosined his bow, so thatthe strings should sound more shrilly, then set off again, by turnslowering and raising his neck, the better to mark time for himself.The noise of the instrument drove away the little birds fromafar.
The table was laid under the cart-shed. On it were foursirloins, six chicken fricassees, stewed veal, three legs ofmutton, and in the middle a fine roast suckling pig, flanked byfour chitterlings with sorrel. At thecorners were decanters ofbrandy. Sweet bottled-cider frothed round the corks, and all theglasses had been filled to the brim with wine beforehand. Largedishes of yellow cream, that trembled with the least shake of thetable, had designed on their smooth surface the initials of thenewly wedded pair in nonpareil arabesques. A confectioner of Yvetothad been intrusted with the tarts and sweets. As he had only justset up on the place, he had taken a lot of trouble, and at desserthe himself brought in a set dish that evoked loud cries ofwonderment. To begin with, at its base there was a square of bluecardboard, representing a temple with porticoes, colonnades, andstucco statuettes all round, and in the niches constellations ofgilt paper stars; then onthe second stage was a dungeon of Savoycake, surrounded by many fortifications in candied angelica,almonds, raisins, and quarters of oranges; and finally, on theupper platform a green field with rocks set in lakes of jam,nutshell boats, and a small Cupid balancing himself in a chocolateswing whose two uprights ended in real roses for balls at thetop.
Until night they ate. When any of them were too tired ofsitting, they went out for a stroll in the yard, or for a game withcorks in the granary, andthen returned to table. Some towards thefinish went to sleep and snored. But with the coffee everyone wokeup. Then they began songs, showed off tricks, raised heavy weights,performed feats with their fingers, then tried lifting carts ontheir shoulders,made broad jokes, kissed the women. At night whenthey left, the horses, stuffed up to the nostrils with oats, couldhardly be got into the shafts; they kicked, reared, the harnessbroke, their masters laughed or swore; and all night in the lightof the moon along country roads there were runaway carts at fullgallop plunging into the ditches, jumping over yard after yard ofstones, clambering up the hills, with women leaning out from thetilt to catch hold of the reins.
Those who stayed at the Bertaux spent the night drinking in thekitchen. The children had fallen asleep under the seats.
The bride had begged her father to be spared the usual marriagepleasantries. However, a fishmonger, one of their cousins (who hadeven brought a pair of soles for his wedding present), began tosquirt water from his mouth through the keyhole, when oldRouaultcame up just in time to stop him, and explain to him thatthe distinguished position of his son-in-law would not allow ofsuch liberties. The cousin all the same didnot give in to thesereasons readily. In his heart he accused old Rouault of beingproud, and he joined four or five other guests in a corner, whohaving, through mere chance, been several times running served withthe worst helps of meat, also were of opinion they had been badlyused, and were whispering about their host, and with covered hintshoping he would ruin himself.
Madame Bovary, senior, had not opened her mouth all day. She hadbeen consulted neither as to the dress of her daughter-in-law norasto the arrangement of the feast; she went to bed early. Herhusband, instead of following her, sent to Saint-Victor for somecigars, and smoked till daybreak, drinking kirsch-punch, a mixtureunknown to the company. This added greatly to the considerationinwhich he was held.
Charles, who was not of a facetious turn, did not shine at thewedding. He answered feebly to the puns, doubles entendres*,compliments, and chaff that it was felt a duty to let off at him assoon as the soup appeared.
The next day, on the other hand, he seemed another man. It washe who might rather have been taken for the virgin of the eveningbefore, whilst the bride gave no sign that revealed anything. Theshrewdest did not know what to make of it, and they looked at herwhen she passed near them with an unbounded concentration of mind.But Charles concealed nothing. He called her “my wife”,tutoyed* her, asked for her of everyone, looked for her everywhere,and often he dragged her into the yards, where he couldbe seen fromfar between the trees, putting his arm around her waist, andwalking half-bending over her, ruffling the chemisette of herbodice with his head.
*Used the familiar form of address.
Two days after the wedding the married pair left. Charles,onaccount of his patients, could not be away longer. Old Rouaulthad them driven back in his cart, and himself accompanied them asfar as Vassonville. Here he embraced his daughter for the lasttime, got down, and went his way. When he had gone about a hundredpaces he stopped, and as he saw the cart disappearing, its wheelsturning in the dust, he gave a deep sigh. Then he remembered hiswedding, the old times, the first pregnancy of his wife; he, too,had been very happy the day when he had taken her from her fatherto his home, and had carried her off on a pillion, trotting throughthe snow, for it was near Christmas-time, and the country was allwhite. She held him by one arm, her basket hanging from the other;the wind blew the long lace of her Cauchois headdress so that itsometimes flapped across his mouth, and when he turned his head hesaw near him, on his shoulder, her little rosy face, smilingsilently under the gold bands of her cap. To warm her hands she putthem from time to time in his breast. How long ago it all was!Their son would have been thirty by now. Then he looked back andsaw nothing on the road. He felt dreary as an empty house; andtender memories mingling with the sad thoughts in his brain, addledby the fumes of the feast, he felt inclined for a moment to take aturn towards the church. As he was afraid, however, that this sightwould make him yet more sad, he went right away home.
Monsieur and Madame Charles arrived at Tostes about sixo’clock.
The neighbors came to the windows tosee their doctor’s newwife.
The old servant presented herself, curtsied to her, apologisedfor not having dinner ready, and suggested that madame, in themeantime, should look over her house.
The brick front was just in a line with the street, or ratherthe road. Behind the door hung a cloak with a small collar, abridle, and a black leather cap, and on the floor, in a corner,were a pair of leggings, still covered with dry mud. On the rightwas the one apartment, that was both diningand sitting room. Acanary yellow paper, relieved at the top by a garland of paleflowers, was puckered everywhere over the badly stretched canvas;white calico curtains with a red border hung crossways at thelength of the window; and on the narrow mantelpiece a clock with ahead of Hippocrates shone resplendent between two platecandlesticks under oval shades. On the other side of the passagewas Charles’s consulting room, a little room about six paceswide, with a table, three chairs, and an office chair. Volumes ofthe “Dictionary of Medical Science,” uncut, but thebinding rather the worse for the successive sales through whichthey had gone, occupied almost along the six shelves of a dealbookcase.
The smell of melted butter penetrated through the walls when hesaw patients, just as in the kitchen one could hear the peoplecoughing in the consulting room and recounting their histories.
Then, opening on the yard, where the stable was, came a largedilapidated room with a stove, now used as a wood-house,cellar, andpantry, full of old rubbish, of empty casks, agriculturalimplements past service, and a mass of dusty things whose use itwas impossible to guess.
The garden, longer than wide, ran between two mud walls withespaliered apricots, to a hawthornhedge that separated it from thefield. In the middle was a slate sundial on a brick pedestal; fourflower beds with eglantines surrounded symmetrically the moreuseful kitchen garden bed. Right at the bottom, under the sprucebushes, was a cure in plaster reading his breviary.
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