Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Wedding by Gustave Flaubert

The guests arrived early in their vehicles: one-horse carts, two-wheeled charabancs, old cabriolets lacking hoods, and delivery vans with leather curtains.  The young people from the nearest villages came in wagons in which they were standing in rows, holding on to the rails to keep from falling, moving at a trot and jolted about. They came from twenty-five miles off, from Goderville, Normanville, and Cany.  All the relatives from each side had been invited; they made up with estranged friends; they had written to long-lost acquaintances.

From time to time whiplashes could be heard from behind the hedge. Soon the gate would open and a cart would come in.  Galloping up to the foot of the steps, it would stop short and pour out its passengers, who would exit from each side rubbing their knees and stretching their arms.  The ladies, in bonnets, wore city-style dresses, gold watch chain capes with the ends tucked into their belts, or small colored scarves attached in back with a pin and revealing the napes of their necks.  The boys, dressed like their fathers, seemed uncomfortable in their new suits (many of them were wearing boots for the first time in their lives). At their sides you could see, not breathing a word, in the white dress of her first communion, some cousin or older sister, ruddy faced, bewildered, hair greases with rose pomade, and terribly frightened of soiling her gloves.

Since there weren’t enough stableboys to unhitch all the horses, the gentlemen rolled up their sleeves and attended to it themselves.  They wore, according to their social position, suits, frock coats, jackets, or waistcoats: good suits, which received all the care of the family and left the closet only for solemn occasions; frock coats with large tails floating in the wind, cylindrical collars, and pockets as big as sacks; jackets of coarse cloth, usually worn with caps that had copper rims on their visors; very short waistcoats, with two buttons in the back as close together as eyes and tails that looked as if they were carved from one piece of wood by a carpenter’s ax.  Still others (but these people, obviously, would eating at the lower end of the table) wore holiday blouses, with collars turned down over the shoulders, backs gathered in tiny pleats, and a very low waistline marked with a sewn-on belt.

And the shirts bulged over the chests like breastplates.  Everyone was freshly shorn, ears sticking out of heads. All were close shaven; some, having risen before dawn, and not seeing clearly how to shave, had diagonal gashes under their noses or, along the jaws, skinned-off areas the size of three-franc pieces, which had been inflamed by the open air on the way and which, with their pink patches, gave a marbled effect to all those fat, white, shiny faces.

The mayor’s chambers being a mile or so from the farm, they went there on foot and came back the same way after the ceremony at the church. The procession, at first holding together like a colored scarf waving in the countryside, all along the narrow path winding through the fields of unripe corn, soon grew longer and separated into different groups, many lagging behind to chat.  The fiddler led the way with his violin decorated with ribbon rosettes; the bride and the groom followed, then relatives and friends in no special order, and the children stayed in the rear, enjoying themselves by plucking the ears of young oat shoots of by playing games and hiding.  Emma’s dress, too long, was dragging a little at the bottom; she would stop once in a while to pick it up, and then, delicately, with her gloved fingers, she would pull off the blades of grass and thistle burrs while Charles would wait with empty hands until she had finished.

Old Rouault, a new silk hat on his head and the cuffs of his black suit covering his hands up to his fingernails, offered his arm to Madame Bovary senior. As for Monsieur Bovary senior, feeling contempt for all these people, he had come dressed simply in a single-breasted frock coat of a military cut and was telling off-color jokes to a fair-haired young farm girl.  She curtseyed and blushed and didn’t know what to answer.  The other wedding guests talked about business matters or played little pranks on one another, anticipating the gaiety in advance. By listening carefully one could still hear the fiddler scraping away as he continued to play along the road. When he noticed that they were far behind him, he stopped to catch his breath, waxed his bow thoroughly with resin so that the strings would respond better, and then began to walk again, raising and lowering the neck of his fiddle in order to keep good time for himself.  The noise of the instrument frightened the little birds away.

The table was set in the cart shed. On it there were four sirloins, six chicken fricassees, some stewed veal, three legs of lamb, and, in the middle, a fine roast suckling pig, flanked by four pork sausages and cooked with sorrel. In the corners there were decanters filled with brandy.  The bottled sweet cider was frothing thickly around the corks, and all the glasses had already been filled to the brim with wine.  Huge platters of yellow custard that quivered at the slightest movement of the table had the initials of the new couple traced on their smooth surface in arabesques of sugared almonds.

They had gone to Yvetot to find a baker for the pastry and the nougats. As he was a newcomer to the area, he had taken special pains; and he brought for desert with his own hands a layered cake that elicited loud  hurrahs. The base was a square of blue cardboard representing a temple with porticos and colonnades, and there were stucco statuettes all around it in niches papered with gilded stars. Then, on the second tier there was a turret of Savoy cake, surrounded by tiny fortifications in angelica, almonds, raisins, and orange segments; and finally, on the top layer, which was a green meadow on which there were rocks with candied lakes and boats of hazelnut shells, you could see a small Cupid, poised on a chocolate swing whose two posts ended in two real rosebuds, representing finials, at the summit.

They ate until evening. When they grew tired of sitting, they went for walks in the yard or played a game of quoits in the barn, then came back to the table. Toward the end, a few fell asleep and snored.  But everyone revived during coffee; the sang, performed feats of strength, lifted weights, played a game called “went under your thumbs,” tried to lift carts on their shoulders, made coarse jokes, kissed the women.  The horses, gorged to the nostrils with oats, could barely be squeezed into their shafts when it was time to leave late in the evening; they kicked and reared and broke their harnesses, while their masters swore or laughed; and all night long in the moonlight there were runaway carriages galloping along the roads, plunging into ditches, jolting over tall piles of stones, and bumping into the embankments, with women leaning out of the doors to grasp the reins.

Those who remained at Les Bertaux spent the night drinking in the kitchen.  The children had fallen asleep under the benches.

The bride begged her father to be spared the customary wedding-night jokes.  Nevertheless, a fishmonger cousin of theirs (the same who had brought a pair of soles as a wedding gift) was about to spit water through the keyhole when old Rouault arrived just in time to stop him, and explained to him that his son-in-law’s dignified position did not permit such impertinences.  The cousin gave in only reluctantly to these arguments.  Inwardly he accused Rouault of being conceited, and we went to join in a corner four or five other guests who, having by chance received the end cuts of meat several times in a row while at the table, had also decided that they had been badly treated and were whispering guardedly against their host and wishing him evil.

Madame Bovary senior had not unclenched her teeth all day long.  She had not been consulted about her daughter-in-law’s dress, nor about the wedding arrangements. She went to bed early.  Her husband, instead of following her, sent off to Saint-Victor for some cigars and smoked until daybreak, all the while drinking grogs of kirsch, a mixture unknown to the company, which raised him even higher in their esteem.

Charles was humorless; he did not shine during the evening. He replied stolidly to the witty remarks, puns, double entendre jokes, compliments, and broad remarks that they seemed to feel called upon to direct at him from the soup coarse on.

The next day, however, he seemed to be a new man.  It was he who could have been taken for the virgin of the night before, rather than the bride, whose self-control gave no opportunity for conjecture.  Even the most daring jokesters were silenced, and they looked at her with bewilderment when she passed near them.

But Charles hid nothing.  He called her “my wife,” spoke to her in familiar terms, asked everyone where she was, sought her everywhere, and frequently drew her into the yard, where he could be seen from afar, between the trees, putting his arm around her waist, leaning towards her as e walked, and burying his face in the tucker of her bodice.  .  .

Madame Bovary


  1. “Here I point out two things, gentlemen: a painting which is admirable with respect to talent, but a painting which is abominable from the point of view of morality. Yes, Monsieur Flaubert knows how to beautify his paintings with all the resources of art, but without the circumspection of art. With him there is no reticence, no veil; he shows nature in all its nudity, in all its coarseness! Here is another passage:

    ‘They knew each other too well to feel those mutual revelations of possession that multiply its joys a hundredfold. She was as sated with him as he was tired of her. Emma was finding in adultery all the banalities of marriage.’

    Banalities of marriage, poetry of adultery! Sometimes it is the defilement of marriage, sometimes it is the banalities, but it is always the poetry of adultery. You see, gentlemen, the situations Monsieur likes to portray, and unhappily he portrays them all too well.”- Speech for the Prosecution

  2. He (Rodolphe) had heard all these things so many times that they no longer held any interest for him. Emma resembled all his old mistresses, and the charm of novelty, falling away little by little like articles of clothing, revealed in all its nakedness the eternal monotony of passion, which always assumes the same forms and speaks the same language. This man, who was so experienced in love, could not distinguish the dissimilarity in the emotions behind the similarity of expressions. He couldn’t really accept Emma’s lack of guile, having heard similar sentences from the mouths of venal and immoral women. One should be able to tone down, he thought, those exaggerated speeches that mask lack of feeling – as if the fullness of the soul did not sometimes overflow into the emptiest of metaphors. No one can express the exact measure of his needs, or conceptions, or sorrows. The human language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out a tune for a dancing bear, when we hope with our music to move the stars.

    But with that superior critical ability of those who hold themselves back from any and all involvements, Rodolphe found other pleasures to exploit in this love. He discarded the last shreds of modesty and treated her without consideration, making her into something compliant and corrupt. It was an idiotic, one-sided attachment, filled with admiration for him, and sensual satisfaction for herself. She was in a blissful state of numbness. Her soul sank deeper into this inebriation and was drowned in it, shriveled up like the Duke of Clarence in his butt of malmsey.

    Madame Bovary’s manner changed as a result of her constant indulgence in love. Her gaze became bolder, her talk freer. She even had the audacity to parade with Monsieur Rodolphe, a cigarette in her mouth, “as if to defy everyone.” Finally, those who were still in doubt doubted no more when she was seen one day, stepping down from the Hirondelle, wearing a masculine-styled, tight-fitting waistcoat. .

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