Madame bovary by Gustave Flaubert

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By Gustave Flaubert
Translated from the French by Eleanor Marx-Aveling

Part I

Chapter One
We were in class when the head-master came in, followed by a "new

fellow," not wearing the school uniform, and a school servant carrying a

large desk. Those who had been asleep woke up, and every one rose as if

just surprised at his work.

The head-master made a sign to us to sit down. Then, turning to the

class-master, he said to him in a low voice--

"Monsieur Roger, here is a pupil whom I recommend to your care; he'll be

in the second. If his work and conduct are satisfactory, he will go into

one of the upper classes, as becomes his age."
The "new fellow," standing in the corner behind the door so that he

could hardly be seen, was a country lad of about fifteen, and taller

than any of us. His hair was cut square on his forehead like a village

chorister's; he looked reliable, but very ill at ease. Although he was

not broad-shouldered, his short school jacket of green cloth with black

buttons must have been tight about the arm-holes, and showed at the

opening of the cuffs red wrists accustomed to being bare. His legs, in

blue stockings, looked out from beneath yellow trousers, drawn tight by

braces, He wore stout, ill-cleaned, hob-nailed boots.
We began repeating the lesson. He listened with all his ears, as

attentive as if at a sermon, not daring even to cross his legs or lean

on his elbow; and when at two o'clock the bell rang, the master was

obliged to tell him to fall into line with the rest of us.

When we came back to work, we were in the habit of throwing our caps on

the ground so as to have our hands more free; we used from the door to

toss them under the form, so that they hit against the wall and made a

lot of dust: it was "the thing."

But, whether he had not noticed the trick, or did not dare to attempt

it, the "new fellow," was still holding his cap on his knees even after

prayers were over. It was one of those head-gears of composite order, in

which we can find traces of the bearskin, shako, billycock hat, sealskin

cap, and cotton night-cap; one of those poor things, in fine, whose

dumb ugliness has depths of expression, like an imbecile's face. Oval,

stiffened with whalebone, it began with three round knobs; then came in

succession lozenges of velvet and rabbit-skin separated by a red band;

after that a sort of bag that ended in a cardboard polygon covered with

complicated braiding, from which hung, at the end of a long thin cord,

small twisted gold threads in the manner of a tassel. The cap was new;

its peak shone.

"Rise," said the master.
He stood up; his cap fell. The whole class began to laugh. He stooped to

pick it up. A neighbor knocked it down again with his elbow; he picked

it up once more.
"Get rid of your helmet," said the master, who was a bit of a wag.
There was a burst of laughter from the boys, which so thoroughly put the

poor lad out of countenance that he did not know whether to keep his cap

in his hand, leave it on the ground, or put it on his head. He sat down

again and placed it on his knee.

"Rise," repeated the master, "and tell me your name."
The new boy articulated in a stammering voice an unintelligible name.
The same sputtering of syllables was heard, drowned by the tittering 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 his voice as if calling someone

in the word "Charbovari."
A hubbub broke out, rose in crescendo with bursts of shrill voices (they

yelled, barked, stamped, repeated "Charbovari! Charbovari"), then died

away into single notes, growing quieter only with great difficulty, and

now and again suddenly recommencing 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 gradually re-established

in the class; and the master having succeeded in catching the name of

"Charles Bovary," having had it dictated to him, spelt out, and re-read,

at once ordered the poor devil to go and sit down on the punishment form

at the foot of the master's desk. He got up, but before going hesitated.
"What are you looking for?" asked the master.
"My c-a-p," timidly said the "new fellow," casting troubled looks round

"Five hundred lines for all the class!" shouted in a furious voice

stopped, like the Quos ego*, a fresh outburst. "Silence!" continued the

master indignantly, wiping his brow 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 cap again; it hasn't

been stolen."

*A quotation from the Aeneid signifying a threat.
**I am ridiculous.
Quiet was restored. Heads bent over desks, and the "new fellow" remained

for two hours in an exemplary attitude, although from time to time some

paper pellet flipped from the tip of a pen came bang in his face. But he

wiped his face with one hand and continued motionless, his eyes lowered.

In the evening, at preparation, he pulled out his pens from his desk,

arranged his small belongings, and carefully ruled his paper. We saw him

working conscientiously, looking up every word in the dictionary, and

taking the greatest pains. Thanks, no doubt, to the willingness he

showed, he had not to go down to the class below. But though he knew his

rules passably, he had little finish in composition. It was the cure

of his village who had taught him his first Latin; his parents, from

motives of economy, having sent him to school as late as possible.

His father, Monsieur Charles Denis Bartolome Bovary, retired

assistant-surgeon-major, compromised about 1812 in certain conscription

scandals, and forced at this time to leave the service, had taken

advantage of his fine figure to get hold of a dowry of sixty thousand

francs that offered in the person of a hosier'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 always garnished with rings and dressed in loud colours,

he had the dash of a military man with the easy go of a commercial


Once married, he lived for three or four years on his wife's fortune,

dining well, rising late, smoking long porcelain pipes, not coming in

at night till after the theatre, and haunting cafes. The father-in-law

died, leaving little; he was indignant at this, "went in for the

business," lost some money in it, then retired to the country, where he

thought he would make money.

But, as he knew no more about farming than calico, as he rode his horses

instead of sending them to plough, drank his cider in bottle instead of

selling it in cask, ate the finest poultry in his farmyard, 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 up all speculation.
For two hundred francs a year he managed to live on the border of

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 the age of forty-five,

sick of men, he said, and determined to live at peace.
His wife had adored him once on a time; she had bored him with a

thousand servilities that had only estranged him the more. Lively once,

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 much without complaint at

first, until she had seem him going after all the village drabs, and

until a score of bad houses sent him back to her at night, weary,

stinking drunk. Then her pride revolted. After that she was silent,

burying her anger in a dumb stoicism that she maintained till her death.

She was constantly going about looking after business matters. She

called on the lawyers, the president, remembered when bills fell due,

got them renewed, and at home ironed, sewed, washed, looked after the

workmen, paid the accounts, while he, troubling himself about nothing,

eternally besotted in sleepy sulkiness, whence he only roused himself

to say disagreeable things to her, sat smoking by the fire and spitting

into the cinders.

When she had a child, it had to be sent out to nurse. When he came home,

the lad was spoilt as if he were a prince. His mother stuffed him

with jam; his father let him run about barefoot, and, playing the

philosopher, even said he might as well go about quite naked like the

young of animals. As opposed to the maternal ideas, he had a certain

virile idea of childhood on which he sought to mould his son, wishing

him to be brought up hardily, like a Spartan, to give him a strong

constitution. He sent him to bed without any fire, taught him to drink

off large draughts of rum and to jeer at religious processions. But,

peaceable by nature, the lad answered only poorly to his notions. His

mother always kept him near her; she cut out cardboard for him, told him

tales, entertained him with endless monologues full of melancholy gaiety

and charming nonsense. In her life's isolation she centered on the

child's head all her shattered, broken little vanities. She dreamed of

high station; she already saw him, tall, handsome, clever, settled as

an engineer or in the law. She taught him to read, and even, on an old

piano, she had taught him two or three little songs. But to all this

Monsieur Bovary, caring little for letters, said, "It was not worth

while. Would they ever have the means to send him to a public school, to

buy him a practice, or start him in business? Besides, with cheek a man

always gets on in the world." Madame Bovary bit her lips, and the child

knocked about the village.

He went after the labourers, drove away with clods of earth the ravens

that were flying about. He ate blackberries along the hedges, minded the

geese with a long switch, went haymaking during harvest, ran about in

the woods, played hop-scotch under the church porch on rainy days, and

at great fetes begged the beadle to let him toll the bells, that he

might hang all his weight on the long rope and feel himself borne upward

by it in its swing. Meanwhile he grew like an oak; he was strong on

hand, fresh of colour.

When he was twelve years old his mother had her own way; he began

lessons. The cure took him in hand; but the lessons were so short and

irregular that they could not be of much use. They were given at spare

moments in the sacristy, standing up, hurriedly, between a baptism and

a burial; or else the cure, if he had not to go out, sent for his pupil

after the Angelus*. They went up to his room and settled down; the

flies and moths fluttered round the candle. It was close, the child

fell asleep, and the good man, beginning to doze with his hands on his

stomach, was soon snoring with his mouth wide open. On other occasions,

when Monsieur le Cure, on his way back after administering the viaticum

to some sick person in the neighbourhood, caught sight of Charles

playing about the fields, he called him, lectured him for a quarter of

an hour and took advantage of the occasion to make him conjugate his

verb at the foot of a tree. The rain interrupted them or an acquaintance

passed. All the same he was always pleased with him, and even said the

"young man" had a very good memory.

*A devotion said at morning, noon, and evening, at the sound

of a bell. Here, the evening prayer.

Charles could not go on like this. Madame Bovary took strong steps.

Ashamed, or rather tired out, Monsieur Bovary gave in without a

struggle, and they waited one year longer, so that the lad should take

his first communion.

Six months more passed, and the year after Charles was finally sent to

school at Rouen, where his father took him towards the end of October,

at the time of the St. Romain fair.
It would now be impossible for any of us to remember anything about him.

He was a youth of even temperament, who played in playtime, worked in

school-hours, was attentive in class, slept well in the dormitory,

and ate well in the refectory. He had in loco parentis* a wholesale

ironmonger in the Rue Ganterie, who took him out once a month on Sundays

after his shop was shut, sent him for a walk on the quay to look at

the boats, and then brought him back to college at seven o'clock before

supper. Every Thursday evening he wrote a long letter to his mother with

red ink and three wafers; then he went over his history note-books, or

read an old volume of "Anarchasis" that was knocking about the 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 the class; once

even he got a certificate in natural history. But at the end of his

third year his parents withdrew him from the school to make him study

medicine, convinced that he could even take his degree by himself.

His mother chose a room for him on the fourth floor of a dyer's she

knew, overlooking the Eau-de-Robec. She made arrangements for his

board, got him furniture, table and two chairs, sent home for an old

cherry-tree bedstead, and bought besides a small cast-iron stove with

the supply of wood that was to warm the poor child.
Then at the end of a week she departed, after a thousand injunctions to

be good now that he was going to be left to himself.

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, and therapeutics,

without counting hygiene and materia medica--all names of whose

etymologies he was ignorant, and that were to him as so many doors to

sanctuaries filled with magnificent darkness.

He understood nothing of it all; it was all very well to listen--he did

not follow. Still he worked; he had bound note-books, he attended all

the courses, never missed a single lecture. He did his little daily task

like a mill-horse, who goes round and round with his eyes bandaged, not

knowing what work he is doing.
To spare him expense his mother sent him every week by the carrier a

piece of veal baked in the oven, with which he lunched when he came back

from the hospital, while he sat kicking his feet against the wall.

After this he had to run off to lectures, to the operation-room, to the

hospital, and return to his home at the other end of the town. In the

evening, after the poor dinner of his landlord, he went back to his

room and set to work again in his wet clothes, which smoked as he sat in

front of the hot stove.

On the fine summer evenings, at the time when the close streets are

empty, when the servants are playing shuttle-cock at the doors, he

opened his window and leaned out. The river, that makes of this quarter

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 the water. On poles projecting

from the attics, skeins of cotton were drying in the air. Opposite,

beyond the roots spread the pure heaven with the red sun setting. How

pleasant it must be at home! How fresh under the beech-tree! And he

expanded his nostrils to breathe in the sweet odours of the country

which did not reach him.
He grew thin, his figure became taller, his face took a saddened look

that made it nearly interesting. Naturally, through indifference, he

abandoned all the resolutions he had made. Once he missed a lecture; the

next day all the lectures; and, enjoying his idleness, little by little,

he gave up work altogether. He got into the habit of going to the

public-house, and had a passion for dominoes. To shut himself up every

evening in the dirty public room, to push about on marble tables the

small sheep bones with black dots, seemed to him a fine proof of his

freedom, which raised him in his own esteem. It was beginning to see

life, the sweetness of stolen pleasures; and when he entered, he put

his hand on the door-handle with a joy almost sensual. Then many things

hidden within him came out; he learnt couplets by heart and sang them to

his boon companions, became enthusiastic about Beranger, learnt how to

make punch, and, finally, how to make love.

Thanks to these preparatory labours, he failed completely in his

examination for an ordinary degree. He was expected home the same night

to celebrate his success. He started on foot, stopped at the beginning

of the village, sent for his mother, and told her all. She excused

him, threw the blame of his failure on the injustice of the examiners,

encouraged him a little, and took upon herself to set matters straight.

It was only five years later that Monsieur Bovary knew the truth; it was

old then, and he accepted it. Moreover, he could 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 passed pretty

well. What a happy day for his mother! They gave a grand dinner.
Where should he go to practice? To Tostes, where there was only one old

doctor. For a long time Madame Bovary had been on the look-out for his

death, and the old fellow had barely been packed off when Charles was

installed, opposite his place, as his successor.

But it was not everything to have brought up a son, to have had him

taught medicine, and discovered Tostes, where he could practice it;

he must have a wife. She found him one--the widow of a bailiff at

Dieppe--who was forty-five and had an income of twelve hundred francs.

Though she was ugly, as dry as a bone, her face with as many pimples as

the spring has buds, Madame Dubuc had no lack of suitors. To attain her

ends Madame Bovary had to oust them all, and she even succeeded in

very cleverly baffling the intrigues of a port-butcher backed up by the

Charles had seen in marriage the advent of an easier life, thinking he

would be more free to do as he liked with himself and his money. But his

wife was master; he had to say this and not say that in company, to fast

every Friday, dress as she liked, harass at her bidding those patients

who did not pay. She opened his letter, watched his comings and goings,

and listened at the partition-wall when women came to consult him in his

She must have her chocolate every morning, attentions without end. She

constantly complained of her nerves, her chest, her liver. The noise of

footsteps made her ill; when people left her, solitude became odious to

her; if they came back, it was doubtless to see her die. When Charles

returned in the evening, she stretched forth two long thin arms from

beneath the sheets, put them round his neck, and having made him sit

down on the edge of the bed, began to talk to him of her troubles: he

was neglecting her, he loved another. She had been warned she would be

unhappy; and she ended by asking him for a dose of medicine and a little

more love.

Chapter Two

One night towards eleven o'clock they were awakened by the noise of

a horse pulling up outside their door. The servant opened the

garret-window and parleyed for some time with a man in the street below.

He came for the doctor, had a letter for him. Natasie came downstairs

shivering and undid the bars and bolts one after the other. The man left

his horse, and, following the servant, suddenly came in behind her. He

pulled out from his wool cap with grey top-knots a letter wrapped up in

a rag and presented it gingerly to Charles, who rested on his elbow on

the pillow to read it. Natasie, standing near the bed, held the light.

Madame in modesty had turned to the wall and showed only her back.

This letter, sealed with a small seal in blue wax, begged Monsieur

Bovary to come immediately to the farm of the Bertaux to set a broken

leg. Now from Tostes to the Bertaux was a good eighteen miles across

country by way of Longueville and Saint-Victor. It was a dark night;

Madame Bovary junior was afraid of accidents for her husband. So it was

decided the stable-boy should go on first; Charles would start three

hours later when the moon rose. A boy was to be sent to meet him, and

show him the way to the farm, and open the gates for him.

Towards four o'clock in the morning, Charles, well wrapped up in his

cloak, set out for the Bertaux. Still sleepy from the warmth of his bed,

he let himself be lulled by the quiet trot of his horse. When it stopped

of its own accord in front of those holes surrounded with thorns that

are dug on the margin of furrows, Charles awoke with a start, suddenly

remembered the broken leg, and tried to call to mind all the fractures

he knew. The rain had stopped, day was breaking, and on the branches

of the leafless trees birds roosted motionless, their little feathers

bristling in the cold morning wind. The flat country stretched as far as

eye could see, and the tufts of trees round the farms at long intervals

seemed like dark violet stains on the cast grey surface, that on the

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, his recent

sensations blending with memories, he became conscious of a double

self, at once student and married man, lying in his bed as but now, and

crossing the operation theatre as of old. The warm smell of poultices

mingled in his brain with the fresh odour of dew; he heard the iron

rings rattling along the curtain-rods of the bed and saw his wife

sleeping. As he passed Vassonville he came upon a 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 his hands and ran on

in front of him.

The general practitioner, riding along, gathered from his guide's talk

that Monsieur Rouault must be one of the well-to-do farmers.

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