Madame Bovary And You

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La Maison Française

La Maison Française

Tulane Chair of French Studies Vaheed Ramazani presented his paper, “Irony and Fetish in Madame Bovary,” last evening at La Maison Française. Bwog sent new inductee Romane Thomas to report on the event, and she came back a little changed.

In a tiny room on the French House’s second floor (or, la maison for the intimes), faced by a small audience of students, professors, and French lit lovers who eyed the wine at the center of the table, perched Vaheed Ramazani, ready to present his eloquent paper analyzing Madame Bovary. Author of The Free Indirect Mode: Flaubert and the Poetics of Irony and Writing in Pain: Literature, History, and the Culture of Denial, Ramazani is an Iranian-American writer with a PhD from the University of Virginia. He also happens to be obsessed with Emma Bovary and her search for meaning.

Ramazani led a discussion full of passion for the French culture and raised some compelling points about littérature :

  • From Madame Bovary to “The Affair” or “Scandal,” adultery seems a topic of timeless fascination. Ramazani suggested that adultery in Madame Bovary is a way for the protagonist to escape boredom of rural France and for Flaubert’s readers (mostly women) to live vicariously through Emma’s sin.
  • Ramazani pointed out that all literature is a reaction to an event or a trend. To him, “literature has no origin in reality,” but rather seeks to copy reality and react to it. In Flaubert’s book, the past century is depicted as a golden age free of the problems brought about by urban living. The nostalgia for easier times causes Emma’s boredom and her constant search for meaning. Seems to us like she suffers from a serious case of mal du siècle, or maybe just first world problems?
  • Madame Bovary has been adapted into movies that never do the job. Film, Ramazani remarked, is a flawed mode of expression for Madame Bovary since so much of the book is based on Emma’s internal dialogue.
  • Just like a hardcore Harry Potter fan with too much merch (is there ever really too much?), Emma of Madame Bovary takes her romance novels very seriously. She attempts to recreate these novels in her life, and who can blame her? No one wants to be a muggle. Unfortunately, as Ramazani said, “there is a little of Emma in each of us.”

During the Q&A portion of the event, a discussion arose (in a slightly incomprehensible Frenglish) around the sexy topic of “adultère.” Although Ramazani’s writings are not easy reads, they are fascinating analyses of a popular romantic book, the equivalent of which can only be our century’s very own Twilight. Ramazani was very open to comments. Instead of a static lecture, he provided the chance for people to share their views and observations on his paper and on Flaubert’s work. A spontaneous conversation about modern adaptations of Madame Bovary (which do NOT do justice to the book) eventually ensued, and included a discussion on the significance of new TV series like “The Affair” and “Black Mirror,” and the constant search for excitement in life (most probably a result of all the wine).

La Maison will host a book launch panel discussion regarding religion, secularism, and constitutional democracy, on February 1st, from 6-8 pm.

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