And Madame Bovary Essay, Research Paper
The Influence of Reading on Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary
Reading provides an escape for people from the ordinariness of everyday
life. Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina, dissatisfied with their lives pursued
their dreams of ecstasy and love through reading. At the beginning of both
novels Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary made active decisions about their future
although these decisions were not always rational. As their lives started to
disintegrate Emma and Anna sought to live out their dreams and fantasies through
reading. Reading served as morphine allowing them to escape the pain of everyday
life, but reading like morphine closed them off from the rest of the world
preventing them from making rational decisions. It was Anna and Emma’s loss of
reasoning and isolation that propelled them toward their downfall.
Emma at the beginning of the novel was someone who made active
decisions about what she wanted. She saw herself as the master of her destiny.
Her affair with Rudolphe was made after her decision to live out her fantasies
and escape the ordinariness of her life and her marriage to Charles. Emma’s
active decisions though were based increasingly as the novel progresses on her
fantasies. The lechery to which she falls victim is a product of the
debilitating adventures her mind takes. These adventures are feed by the novels
that she reads.
They were filled with love affairs, lovers, mistresses, persecuted
ladies fainting in lonely country houses, postriders killed at every relay,
horses ridden to death on every page, dark forests, palpitating hearts, vows,
sobs, tears and kisses, skiffs in the moonlight, nightingales in thickets, and
gentlemen brave as lions gentle as lambs, virtuous as none really is, and always
ready to shed floods of tears.(Flaubert 31.)Footnote1
Emma’s already impaired reasoning and disappointing marriage to Charles
caused Emma to withdraw into reading books, she fashioning herself a life based
not in reality but in fantasy.
Anna Karenina at the begging of Tolstoy’s novel was a bright and
energetic women. When Tolstoy first introduces us to Anna she appears as the
paragon of virtue, a women in charge of her own destiny.
He felt that he had to have another look at her- not because she was
very beautiful not because of her elegance and unassuming grace which was
evident in her whole figure but because their was something specially sweet and
tender in the expression of her lovely face as she passed him. (Tolstoy
In the next chapter Anna seems to fulfill expectations Tolstoy has
aroused in the reader when she mends Dolly and Oblonskys marriage. But Anna like
Emma has a defect in her reasoning, she has an inability to remain content with
the ordinariness of her life: her marriage to Karenin, the social festivities,
and housekeeping. Anna longs to live out the same kind of romantic vision of
life that Emma also read and fantasized about.
Anna read and understood everything, but she found no pleasure in
reading, that is to say in following the reflection in other people’s lives. She
was to eager to live herself. When she read how a heroine of a novel nursed a
sick man, she wanted to move about the sick room with noiseless steps herself.
When she read how Lady Mary rode to hounds and teased her sister-in-law,
astonishing everyone by her daring, she would have liked to do the same.
Anna Karenina was a romantic who tried to make her fantasies a reality.
It was for this reason she had an affair with Vronsky. Like Emma her decisions
were driven by impulsiveness and when the consequences caught up with her latter
in the novel she secluded herself from her friends, Vronsky, and even her
children. Anna and Emma both had character flaws that made them view the world
as fantasy so that when their fantasy crumbled they resorted to creating a new
fantasy by living their lives through the books they read.
Books allowed Emma Bovary to withdraw from her deteriorating life. They
allowed her to pursue her dreams of love, affairs, and knights; from the
wreckage of her marriage with Charles. Emma’s, experience at La Vaubyessard
became a source of absurd fantasy for Emma, and ingrained in her mind that the
world that the novel’s she read depicted was with in her reach.
She devoured without skipping a word, every article about first nights
in the theater, horse races and soirees; she was interested in the debut of
every new sing, the opening of every new shop. She new the dress of the latest
fashions and the addresses of every new tailor, the days when one went to the
Bois or the Opera. (Flaubert 55.)
This passage shows the absolute absurdity of Emma’s obsession with
reading. Emma while living in her remote French village in her mind was living
out the life of a Parisian. As Emma decisions continued to sink her further into
debt and deceit she began to live more and more through the novels she read. Her
affair with Leon was undertaken partially to fulfill the fantasies of the novels
she read. The room she rented for her rendezvous with Leon she decorated in the
opulence that her novels bespoke, and she spent vast sums of money to continue
the fantasy the novels she read described. Emma’s continued detachment with
reality made her unable to make rational decisions or even allow her to deal
with her problems. The fantasy in which she lived made her unable to take action
She blamed Leon for her disappointed hopes, as though he had betrayed
her; and she even wished for a catastrophe that would bring about their
separation, since she did not have the courage to take any action herself.
Finally, Emma lost all control over her life as she became instead of
the active character in the novel merely the observer of the consequences of her
actions. And like the heroines of the novels she read she saw her only salvation
would be through a dramatic suicide. Emma’s obsession with reading lead her to
make decisions that escalated her unhappiness and further paralyzed her from
dealing with reality.
Anna Karenina like Emma Bovary turned to novels to provide an escape
from her unhappy life. Anna wracked with guilt over abandoning Seryozha and
shunned by society turned to morphine and reading to provide a fantasy life when
her own life was crumbling around her. When Anna and Vronsky’s relationship
further disintegrated in the novel Anna turned more inward. She ventured with
Vronsky to Italy to try to repair their relationship and then to a country
estate. The country estate was lavish but for Anna it was a lonely place.
Anna devoted as much time to her appearance, even when they had no
visitors, and she read a great deal, both novels and serious books that happened
to be in fashion. She ordered all the books that received good notices in the
foreign papers and periodicals they subscribed to and read them with the
attention that is only possible in seclusion. (Tolstoy 640.)
Anna’s relationship with Vronsky continued to crumble. But both Anna
and Vronsky were unable to take action to do anything either to save their
relationship or deal with her divorce with Karenin. Anna like Emma became so
trapped in her fantasy world she was unable to deal with reality. Anna in the
last parts of the novels watches as her life disintegrates but she continues to
take no action as she delves into the morphine and novels that provide a
palliative for reality. It is critical to realize that both Anna and Emma are
aware that they are living in fantasy, and is precisely because they are aware
of reality that they despair and kill themselves when they see that they have in
their minds no escape from their troubles. Both Anna and Emma also attempt to
use reason to escape from their problems, “Yes I am very troubled and reason was
given to us to escape from our troubles,” says Anna Karenina. But both Anna and
Emma’s reason is so distorted by the fantasy in which they live that they see
littl e escape from life but through death.
Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary live out their dreams and fantasies
through reading novels which serve as palliatives for their painful lives.
Reading novels is not the primary theme in their lives nor is it the primary
reason they kill themselves. But their use of reading as an escape from reality
is critical to Anna and Emma’s characters. It is Anna and Emma’s reading of
novels which allows them to abandon their husbands and pursue their fantasies
both in life and in their minds. It is reading which prevents them from using
reason to correct their troubles. It is reading which distorts their reality and
forces them to become dissatisfied and bored with the ordinary pleasures of life.
Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary are books ironically about the dangers of
Flaubert, Gustave. MADAME BOVARY. trans. Lowell Bair. New York: Bantam Books,
Tolstoy, Leo. ANNA KARENINA. trans. David Magarshack. New York: Signet Classic,