The theatre, he contended, served for railing at prejudices and, beneath the mask of pleasure, taught virtue.
Being a bookworm, most of what I know about the world has come from fiction. Tidbits of history and philosophy filed away in my mind’s cabinet for later.
Luckily for me, despite any unrealistic notions I may have vicariously collected, I have been able to take life as it is.
Unfortunately, Emma Bovary’s short and tragic life would be coloured by romances she would only truly experience in the florid passages of the books she read. She yearns to be a part of life beyond her social class, which she has only glimpsed briefly and has romanticised.
Emma unsuccessfully tries to superimpose fantasies of love and the idyllic life onto her own life with her husband, Charles, and her two lovers, Leon and Rodolphe. Eventually, her hopes for a different life would lead her into a very expensive relationship with a very seedy businessman, Lheureux.
What really stuck with me was the conversation between the bombast apothecary, Homais, and Abbè Bournisien about the dangers of ‘bad literature’.
‘Certainly,’ continued Homais, ‘there is bad literature as there is bad pharmacy, but to condemn in a lump the most important of the fine arts seems to me stupidity, a gothic idea, worthy of the abominable times that imprisoned Galileo.’
I’ve never thought of literature, or art in general, as needing to be useful. While reading has been more of an education to me than school, the idea of literature as needing to be a functional tool, to me, is an ugly one. I’m not knocking the potential historical or social importance of a work. I just don’t want it forgotten that works don’t only last for their intellectual importance, but also because they’re entertaining.
But what really bothers me about the discussion was the Abbe’s response; the idea of religious or political institutions using literature, and art in general, for their own ends and condemning art forms or works that don’t fit.
‘If the church has condemned the theatre, she must be right; we must submit to her decrees’.
Having said all that, I have to say that didn’t enjoy Flaubert’s literary swipe at the French bourgeoisie and I had to force myself all the way to its very depressing conclusion.
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