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Flaubert's "mystery play": a day in the life of Madame Bovary.

THE object of mystery plays was religious. Gustave Flaubert, it is often thought, was rather removed from any interest in religion and was, if anything, somewhat cynical about it. Studies have nevertheless demonstrated the rich resource that religion offered him for the composition of many of his works. (1) In his correspondence he noted how dogma served to express human feeling. For instance, concerning the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, he stated that the Catholic Church was right to affirm it since such a dogma "sums up the emotional life of the nineteenth century" (Wall 264).

Mystery plays were not foreign to Flaubert, for he had tried his hand at one with the composition of Smarh: An Old Mystery written in 1838-39. With Bibliomania, published in 1837, he tells the story of a former monk who has become a bookseller and who commits criminal acts to acquire the Mystery of St. Michael. Then, with The Temptation of Saint Anthony, written between 1848 and 1849, Flaubert approaches the genre again as he has saints, demons and others exchange words with the anchorite. After reading the Temptation to his friends Louis Bouilhet and Maxime du Camp, they suggested that he abandon the project because they sensed that he would not find a publisher. He did not, however, follow their advice because he eventually went on to write two more versions, the third of which he published in 1874. Madame Bovary was published in 1856, followed by other novels and his Three Tales (1877), stories about saints Julien l'Hospitalier, John the Baptist, and a pious woman who develops a close bond with her parrot with whom she associates the Holy Spirit.

I propose that, even before the composition of his tales, Madame Bovary did not completely break with the phantasmagoric world of heretics and apparitions found in the Temptation. That world exists in the shape of a mystery play within the story of his adulterous woman. In one of the conversations that the pharmacist Homais has with the pastor of Yonville, he reminds the priest that actors participated in the liturgy: "... Yes, they used to act right in the middle of the choir--put on farcical plays called mysteries. These often violated the laws of decency, I may say" (246). (2) The purpose of this essay is to explore the possibility that a mystery play is woven into the fabric of Madame Bovary.

Mystery plays would call upon the main characters of salvation history to represent one of its important moments. The usual characters would be Adam and Eve, the tricky serpent, Our Lady and her son Jesus. In this study I will examine one day in the life of Emma Bovary when she goes to church to find solace from her pastor. In taking the words of Homais seriously, I hope to indicate how different characters take on the role of God the Creator, Jesus, John the Baptist, women in search of healing, and disciples who are called together and then sent forth.

THE story of the sinful woman, of Emma's adultery, may seem to be banal. Reared on the farm and educated in the convent, she escapes the life that agriculture offers by marrying Charles Bovary, a young health officer whose first marriage has ended in the death of his wife Heloise. Marriage proves to be a disappointment for Emma. The couple leaves Tostes for Yonville in hope of a better life. Henry James remarks that their new neighbor, the talkative pharmacist Homais, is one of the few people Emma comes to know besides her lovers Rodolphe and Leon. The pharmacist and her husband provide Emma with the occasion for temptation and the ensuing adultery and financial ruin when they suggest that she go horse-back riding with the former and attend the opera in Rouen, where she will meet the latter. Eventually abandoned by her lovers, Emma loses hope and commits suicide.

Henry James ends his summary of the plot by saying that one might consider the tale to be "rather a vulgar tragedy" (99). Yet he recognizes that the story has meaning. "In spite of the elaborate system of portraiture to which she is subjected, in spite of being minutely described in all her attitudes and all her moods, from the hem of her garment to the texture of her fingernails, she remains a living creature, and as a living creature she interests us" (99). The remark about Emma's hem should not escape us. On the day that she seeks out Father Bournisien, the priest stumbles into her presence with his cassock "frayed at the hem ..." (126). The unraveled cloth, "effiloquee" (145), as much as the hem, offers an important thread or "fil" of the text that, we shall see, is important for its spiritual meaning in the mystery play.

This priest has frequently been seen in an unfavorable light. Baudelaire thought that the curd was no different from many priests: "... which one of us, in a more naive age and in troubled circumstances, did not find himself confronted with similarly incompetent priests?" (de Man 343). Sainte-Beuve notes that Emma tries "to confide in the well-meaning priest, M. Bournisien, a vulgar and crude man who has no inkling of the moral distress that confronts him" (de Man 332). Flaubert treats his curd less harshly. Writing to Louise Colet, Flaubert says that, when Emma meets the priest, he shows himself to be dirty and stupid. However, Flaubert adds that he is "quite a good fellow, even excellent" (Bruneau 2, 304-305; 13 April 1853).

As for the community of Yonville, opinions vary about the parish priest. Homais thinks that one should never consult priests and that they should be bled monthly. The pharmacist believes that Bournisien is uncivil, whereas the innkeeper Madame Lefrancois admires her pastor for having once helped the farmers. Bournisien has not alienated Emma; she turns to him for guidance.

Emma had once spoken to her maid Felicite about her troubled soul. Instead of following the servant's advice to talk to her husband, suddenly, on an April day, she takes the path to church to seek counsel from her pastor. However, children called in for catechism distract him during their conversation. So Emma returns home. Her daughter would like to come near her, but Emma wants to be left alone and pushes the child away, a gesture that links this scene to Emma's visit with the cure. The mother's rejection of her child entails another story that the pharmacist Homais relates about the dangers besetting children. Emma's search for spiritual enlightenment is thus intertwined with the experiences of children who either seek attention or who, like her daughter--and herself--are ignored by those whose words or attention they seek for healing their spiritual or affective wounds. The different paths that punctuate the priest's words or the narrator's description of Emma's search are closely bound together through Flaubert's recourse to religious language in its many facets and to his manipulation of time.

The episode opens with a description of nature and presents Emma at her window, a place which substitutes for theatre in the provinces. She has been observing her gardener Lestiboudois trim the boxwood and then she hears the ringing of the Angelus, the repeated celebration of the Incarnation: "Behold the Handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to thy word." The bell's toll reminds Emma of her convent days, and the images she recalls appropriately suggest a vision of the Virgin Mary, not unrelated to the dogma of the Assumption. Then, suddenly, Emma leaves home, for "without thinking about it, she took the path to the church" ("et ce fut sans en avoir conscience qu'elle s'achemina vers l'eglise" [143]). By inscribing the word path (chemin) in a verbal form (s'achemina), Flaubert prepares Father Bournisien's own statement about paths to the Lord.

On the way to church, Emma meets Lestiboudois who has just rung the bell and who now returns to his function as gardener. Once at the gate, she encounters a young boy and asks him about the whereabouts of the priest. His answer has a messianic ring to it: "He is going to come" ("Il va venir" [144]). Yet, when Father Bournisien does stumble out of the rectory, before he notices Emma standing by, he kicks a catechism book and complains, "No respect for anything" (126). Ironically, he himself has just shown disdain for this collection of sacred truths, which he then stuffs into his pocket.

An earlier figure of the young boy at the gate was played by the guide who would lead Charles to Monsieur Rouault who had broken his leg celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany. It was decided that a child would "be sent out to meet him, to show him the way to the farm and open the field gates" (14). When Charles does finally encounter this guide, the young man asks whether he is the doctor. In an early draft, the boy follows up Charles's unreported answer with words about his own expectations: "It has been quite some time that I have been hoping for you ..." ("Il y a joliment longtemps, que je suis a vous esperer ..." [sic] [Suffel 221, 28]). Waiting is a matter of hope. A conversation ensues or, rather, Charles listens to the "discourses" of the youngster ("L'officier de sante, chemin faisant, comprit aux discours de son guide que M. Rouault devait etre un cultivateur des plus aises" [70, emphasis added]). Besides writing the word in the plural, Flaubert reinforces the sense of the discourse when he writes that it is "along the way" or, literally, "way making" ("chemin faisant") that Charles understands the guide's words. The style of the sentence emphasizes the path taken since Flaubert places the adverb between the subject and the verb. Flaubert thus closely links the health officer to the way and to the understanding of particular discourses. And by listening to the guide sent to meet him and to show him the way by opening all barriers, Charles is closely allied to the prophet John the Baptist who runs ahead of him. We might recall the words of the Gospel of St. John:
 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and
 Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" He confessed,
 he did not deny, but confessed, "I am not the Christ." And they
 asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not."
 "Are you the prophet?" And he answered, "No." They said to him
 then, "Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us.
 What do you say about yourself?" He said, "I am the voice of one
 crying in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,' as
 the prophet Isaiah said." (John 1: 19-23; Oxford Bible 1285) (3)


The Messiah is the one who is going to come and whose way must be prepared. The priest's appearance before Emma is thus quite humorous.

During the conversation with Emma, Bournisien humorously states that Charles is the doctor of bodies and that he is one who cares for souls. His exchange with Emma presents a rather material aspect of his person. The children distract him from listening to her. One in particular catches his eye and provides him with the opportunity to demonstrate once again his sense of humor. He yells out the name of Riboudet and explains to Emma that this is not really the child's name.

The priest tells Emma: "That's the son of Boudet the carpenter; his parents don't bother him, they let him do as he likes. He'd learn fast if he wanted to: he's very bright" (127). The words "son of ... the carpenter ..." should echo for the reader an allusion to that other carpenter named Joseph whose son was also full of the Spirit. The Gospel of St. Luke records the reaction of Jesus's listeners to his reading of a passage from Isaiah. Jesus tells his audience that the scripture was fulfilled that day. Those listening wonder: "Is not this Joseph's son?" (Luke 4: 17-19; 4, 22; Oxford Bible 1247). In an early draft of Bovary, as Emma thinks of her education in the convent, of her reading about Paul and Virginie in the novel of that name, she mentions her childhood playmate, Isidore, "the son of the carpenter." But he was not the type to scale the heights for her: "He would not have been the one to carry her on his back across streams!" (Pommier-Leleu 184). Here Flaubert compresses the Christ figure and the bearer of Christ, Christopher, which he will eventually work into his Legend off St. Julien l'Hospitalier.

Flaubert alluded to the "son of the carpenter" in earlier writings. In the 1849 version of The Temptation of Saint Anthony, after the hermit calls upon Jesus, Son of God, Avarice reminds him that the Messiah "worked with his father to make farm instruments" (Masson 1, 424). In the definitive version of the Temptation, Flaubert has the Aged Ebionites say that they have known "the Carpenter's Son! ... He ... aided his father at his work without fear of the sharp tools, or gathered for his mother the skeins of dyed wool ..." (Olds 74).

After scolding Boudet verbally, the pastor tells Emma, "... sometimes I say "mon Riboudet'--Mont Riboudet! Ha! Ha! The other day I told my little joke to the bishop. He laughed. He was good enough to laugh ..." (127). Given the repetition of "mon Riboudet" [my Riboudet] next to "Mont Riboudet" [Mount Riboudet] followed by the title for the bishop, "Monseigneur" (145), there may yet be, at least on Flaubert's part, another joke, especially since he has "Monseigneur" or "My Lord" laugh about it. The inclusion of the words for laughter ("qui en a ri ... il a daigne en rire...." [145]) as a response of the Lord Bishop, meaning and sounds originally applied to Riboudet, would seem to include, for a reader, Mon(t)Seigneur. In the end, one comes back to the original Boudet, this son of the carpenter.

The pun has elicited much commentary, especially that of critic Tony Tanner. He mistakenly ascribes the pun to Lestiboudois: "When Emma, in a period of early crisis when she realizes she is only acting at being the happy wife, goes to the church to seek advice from Lestiboudois, he not only misreads her spiritual malaise as some kind of physical upset but wanders off into fatuous irrelevancies ..." (Tanner 323). The pun would indicate the community's desire to be humorous, and the gardener's "nonjoke" would be one instance of a "loss of the sense of context ..." (Tanner 325). Of course, context is as important as is the teller of the pun. And as Elissa Marder has observed, Lestiboudois does not relate it: he never speaks in the novel (170).

However, Tanner's mistake is informative. Lestiboudois and Bournisien complement one another in this Mystery Play because they give meaning to each other or perform the same tasks. In the introductory lines on Yonville, Flaubert has the priest speak first, and he does so to Lestiboudois. "'You are feeding on the dead, Lestiboudois!' Monsieur le curd told him, one day" (83). Flaubert thus has the pastor provide the meaning to the work of his speechless gardener. The priest refers to the double profit that this guardian, gardener and sacristan makes off the dead. Although this remark is not a pun, it is significant that the first mentioned farmer of Yonville, where the land is said to be poor for cultivation, should make any profit at all.

Bournisien shares in this function of Gardener, at least in the depiction the narrator gives of him. After the priest has related his pun to Emma, the children continue to distract him as they misbehave in the church sanctuary. Bournisien runs over and places them "on the stone floor of the choir, pushing them down as though he were trying to plant them there" (128). Their conduct has interrupted his remarks to Emma about superstitious parishioners. Resuming the conversation, he says, "As we were saying, farmers have plenty of troubles" (128). He may personally affirm this because he had once helped to harvest the hay. On another level, through the portrayal of his own behavior, Bournisien plays the role of a not-so-gentle planter.

When Emma tries to react to his words, the priest talks about another group, the working class in cities. He tells Emma about the hardships he knows some have laced, "mothers of families, good women, true saints, who didn't even have a crust of bread" (128). This pastor realizes what may nourish his parishioners or, at least, the women among them whom he classifies into three groups. The last he partly defines through a lack: they haven't any bread. In the French original, Flaubert has Bournisien break up his comment with the words "... I assure you ..." ("... je vous assure ..." [146]). Only after this thoughtful remark does the priest finally canonize the women and declare them to be true or "veritable" saints.

THERE is a celebrated text that Flaubert may have relied upon in order to have his pastor talk about saints who have no bread:
 And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre
 and Sidon. And he entered a house, and would not have any one
 know it; yet he could not be hid. But immediately a woman, whose
 little daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit, heard of him,
 and came and fell down at his feet. Now the woman was a Greek,
 a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon
 out of her daughter. And he said to her, "Let the children first be
 fed, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to
 the dogs." But she answered him, "Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs
 under the table eat the children's crumbs." And he said to her, "For
 this saying you may go your way; the demon has left your
 daughter." And she went home, and found the child lying in bed,
 and the demon gone. (Mark 7: 24-30; Oxford Bible 1223) (4)


Jesus cures the woman's daughter because of the verbal exchange. The heart of that encounter has to do, not with a crust of bread, but its crumbs. This mother knows the value of bread and how to use it to her advantage--and veritably so--in language, something for which she becomes, like a saint, celebrated. Flaubert has a disappointed Emma mumble, "Oh, my God! ... My God!" (128). Sensing that Emma is ill, this Healer of Yonville suggests that she return home. Jesus had also told the Syrophoenician woman to return home.

The priest resumes his role as pastor and turns back to the waiting children. Time preoccupies him, time that is never early enough or that needs to be exact. He tells Emma: "We can't begin too soon to steer their young souls in the Lord's path--indeed it's what he Himself tells us to do, through the mouth of his divine Son" (129). ("Ces pauvres enfants! On ne saurait les diriger trop tot dans la voie du Seigneur, comme, du reste, il nous l'a recommande lui-meme par la bouche de son divin Fils" [147]). Bournisien speaks about the Lord three times: the path of the Lord, he Himself, the Son. The antecedent of he Himself is the Lord but then the priest refers to His divine Son whom he has just quoted. Jesus refers to himself as the Way in the Gospel of John. (5) Jesus tells the apostle Thomas, who doesn't know where the Savior is going, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6; Oxford Bible 1306). We find Jesus's words about letting little children approach him in the synoptic Gospels. Here is St. Mark:
 And they were bringing children to him, that he might touch
 them; and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it he
 was indignant, and said to them, "Let the children come to me, do
 not hinder them: for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I
 say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a
 child shall not enter it." And he took them in his arms and blessed
 them, laying his hands upon them. (Mark 10: 13-16: Oxford Bible
 1227-28)


Although the word path is not used in this context, it seems to be the only one where Jesus talks about letting children come to him. Even the word "voie" or path ("Lord's path": "la voie du Seigneur" [147]) is another pun since it also phonetically means "voice" [voix]. Flaubert further plays upon this pun when, instead of writing the word "voix" or "voice," he pens in the word "mouth" or "bouche." Given the context, this last word almost jumps out at one, indeed, has a voice of its own as it emphasizes the physical side of the Lord who would speak to children. The curd is not quite playing the role of a gentle Savior or kind priest who, according to the first Temptation, inspires children to lower their voice when he is near ("When he comes by, children lower their voice" Masson 1,384). On the contrary, Bournisien threatens to box Riboudet's ears and he even brings down upon the students a hailstorm of slaps. Chastisement is in place. Homais reminds the priest later in his conversation about theatre that it has a purpose in the development of morals: "Castigat ridendo mores. Monsieur Bournisien" (243). Catechism class and the theatre are excellent schools for teaching.

Time is also an important subject of the class. Flaubert carefully prepared for this direction of children toward the Lord, and none too soon. The bell ringer sounds out the Angelus earlier and thus celebrates the Incarnation at a different time as it also calls children together in order to hear words about the Lord. And though Lestiboudois may advance the time according to his whim, the instruction will not always end any sooner. Bournisien prefaces his anxiety about placing children early enough in the Lord's path by telling Emma that duty would have him return to the children and "look after" them (129). Eleanor Aveling's translation of the French text ("il faut que j'expedie rues garnements" [147]) contains a certain perspective on the assembled children. She translates the word "garnements" as "'good-for-nothings" (125). Calling the children rascals may surprise Madame Bovary. Yet she had already heard the priest yell at Riboudet and call him a good-for-nothing or "galopin," and he emphasized it by saying the child was a bad one (145). The emphasis calls for a second look at the word "galopin" as it also means messenger or "a young boy charged with commissions" (Petit Robert 767). Geoffrey Wall's rendering of the verb underlines a particular task of this pastor: "I must dispatch these rascals of mine ..." (91). The duty of sending forth one's messengers or good-for-nothings preoccupies Bournisien. None too quickly--for the verb "expedier" also has that connotation--he must send forth the rascals on their own path and have them participate in his mission of spreading the Good News. (6)

Time clearly preoccupies the priest. The time for First Communions "will be here soon: it will be on us before we know it" (129). Given the preceding missioning of the "rascals," could this possibly be an allusion to what we call the Last Supper? The young boy's answer to Emma, that the priest, or Messiah, is going to come ("il va venir") is taken up again in the plural form for the communions that "will be here" ("Voila les premieres communions qui vont venir" [147; emphasis added]). Time also makes itself felt in that the children are kept longer for catechism from the moment a certain feast or event has occurred: The pastor tells Emma: "Time's so short I always keep them an extra hour on Wednesdays after Ascension." (129). Catechism lasts longer from the moment of the Ascension. And in the priest's only reported use of Latin, he keeps them "recta" or punctually ("a partir de l'Ascension, je les tiens recto tousles mercredis une heure de plus" [147; emphasis added]). Bournisien and Creator Lestiboudois are thus experts at setting time or displacing it. Paths away from the Lord are also part of the Mystery that includes, none too early and never too late, the missioning of the Apostles, the Last Supper, and the Ascension of the Lord. In spite of all the distractions, catechism class still takes place. Even St. Paul gets a timely mention in the first part of the encounter since the priest reminds Emma that, according to the Apostle, "We're born to suffer" and then he asks her Charles's opinion about it (127).

In one draft for this scene, after writing that the children will be kept an hour extra, Flaubert wrote: "it is no small affair to separate the chaff from the bad grain" ("ce n 'est pas une petite affaire que de vanner l'ivraie du mauvais grain"). However, "mauvais" is barred and above it is placed the word "bon" or "good" (G 223 2 264 verso). In another variation we find: "a partir [word difficult to decipher].... Je les tiens recta tousles mercredis une heure de plus. [ce n 'est pas une petite affaire que de vanner l'ivraie du bon grain]" (G 223 2 271 vo). One must separate the chaff from the grain. In this particular draft Flaubert also has the priest mention that "it is never too early to look after these poor children, even though they may be sweet, like little angels" ("car ces pauvres enfants, qu'ils soient doux, comme des petits anges, on ne saurait s'y prendre trop tot" [G 223 2, 271 vo]). The feast he mentions is not yet the Ascension but Quasimodo Sunday. The play on the word "voie" is not yet evident: "In order to lead them to God, as our divine Savior has recommended it to us" ("Pour les conduire a Dieu, comme nous l'a recommande lui-meme notre divin Sauveur" (Madame Bovary G 223 2, 271 vo). (7) And although Flaubert did not keep the allusion to the threshing of the good from the bad in this context, it seems that this task would cast Bournisien in the role of Our Lord, the Priest.

When the cure finally attends to his students, the one reported question he asks them concerns baptism. Significantly, the allusion to grain and chaff may also be about this sacrament, one that provides a perspective on gardening. St. John the Baptist speaks: "... and do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father,' for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees: every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." If Bournisien were to have his way, children would be turned into stones. St. John continues: "I baptize yon with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry: he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3: 9-12; Oxford Bible 1174). This particular gathering of wheat may have inspired Flaubert to have the innkeeper tell a critical Homais that the pastor helped bring in the straw: "... he carried as many as six bundles at a time--that shows you how strong he is" (88). And, in the mystery play, it may show some other meaning related to the final harvest.

BEFORE Emma returns home, she glances at the priest: "Emma watched him as he disappeared between the double line of pews, treading heavily, his head slightly bent to one side, his half-open hands held with palms outward" (129). Her perspective of this vanishing figure contrasts strongly with his arrival. The "double line" evokes another departure, for the priest's leaning head, slightly open hands and heavy feet suggest Jesus on the day of his Ascension ("And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes ..." Acts of the Apostles 1 : 9-10; Oxford Bible 1317). Writing about different details in the representation of the Ascension, Louis Reau mentions that the emphasis might be on the trace that the feet of Jesus leave on the ground or rather on the whole body in its movement of flight. Here Flaubert inscribes both aspects with the heavy steps, "pas lourds," that the "Priest" takes and with the description of his head and hands. In travel notes on Palestine, Flaubert describes his visit to the mosque of the Ascension: "one shows a rock surrounded by stones, on which believers see the mark of Jesus's foot; it is at this spot that he left to ascend into heaven" (Masson 2, 609). (8)

In a letter to Louise Colet, Flaubert depicts a variant of the Ascension of Jesus. Flaubert tells her that his friend Louis Bouilhet merits the literary glory befitting martyrs. "One ascends with a crown of thorns, pierced heart, bleeding hands and a radiant face" (Bruneau 2, 446; 30 September 1853). One of many representations of the Ascension may be seen at the entrance to St. Pierre de Montmartre or in many stained-glass windows where, for the depiction of his departure, Jesus is presented with palms turned outward.

Flaubert's description of the pastor's heavy steps when he leaves Emma also recalls his entrance when, with his foot, he kicked the catechism book. His words and awkward movement may allude to yet another text on the importance of knowing what may be in one's path. In the scene of the devil's temptation of Jesus in the desert, one of the exchanges concerns respect. The evil spirit would have Our Lord throw himself from the pinnacle of the temple so that angels would come to his rescue: "On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone" (Matthew 4: 6; Oxford Bible 1174). The response regarding respect is thus quite poignant, especially with the catechism in tatters.

Emma, on the other hand, is compared to a statue: "Then she turned stiffly, like a statue on a pivot" (129). The contrast is momentary since Emma then takes the path home ("et prit le chemin de sa maison" [147; emphasis added]). She had taken it unconsciously to see her pastor and now the image gives closure to the exchange she had hoped to have with him. As she leaves the church grounds, the interplay of voices that sound out possible paths also spells out an attempt to communicate: "Behind her she heard the booming voice of the priest and the lighter voices of the boys" (129). The priest is asking the children whether they are Christians and, finally, "What is a Christian?" (129). The answer is threefold: "A Christian is one who, after being baptised ... baptised ... baptised ..." (129). The ellipsis that forms the answer to the pastor's question might allude to another missioning of the Apostles that takes place after the Resurrection. A threefold baptism forms an essential part of Jesus's last teaching: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20; Oxford Bible 1212).

The day for placing children on the Lord's path has not yet ended. Once at home, Emma goes up to her room. The furniture offers an atmosphere of serenity and stability, but interiorly she is troubled. Emma is not alone: "Then little Berthe was in front of her, tottering in her knitted shoes between the window and the sewing table, trying to reach her mother and catch hold of the ends of her apron strings" (130). ("Berthe ... essayait de se rapprocher de sa mere pour lui saisir, par le bout, les rubans de son tablier" [146]). Instead of welcoming Berthe, Emma tells her: "Let me alone!" She even pushes the child away. This does not discourage Berthe who moves even closer and turns to her mother "with her big blue eyes, and a thread of saliva dripped from her lip onto the silk of the apron." And again Emma cries out, "Let me alone!" Although Emma doesn't accompany this verbal response with a gesture, the expression on her face is enough to make Berthe cry. As though twice were not enough, Emma, a third time, shouts out to her screaming daughter, "Won't you let me alone!" (130) Emma shoves Berthe away and causes the child to fall against a chest of drawers. She cuts her cheek and begins to bleed ("... au pied de la commode, contre la patere du cuivre; elle s'y coupa la joue, le sang sortit" [148]). To describe the blood flowing from Berthe's cheek, Flaubert uses the words "filet" and "decoulait," images of a flowing stream. The mark of saliva eventually leads to the presence of blood, due to a mother who, according to Bargues-Rollins, is "exasperated by her failure to find comfort from her cure" (Bargues-Rollins 109).

Only moments ago did Bournisien tell Emma about placing children in the path of the Lord. Now Flaubert casts her in the role of a potentially welcoming caregiver. Yet she rejects Berthe repeatedly with the same words. And in a gesture that imitates her daughter's own, Emma calls for help as she reaches for the bell rope and breaks it. Had she allowed the child to approach, she would not have had to ring the bell. Just as Emma begins to curse, Charles appears on the scene. She finds other words and commands him to be a spectator: "'Look what's happened, darling,' she said, in an even voice. 'The baby fell down and hurt herself playing'" (130). ("Regarde donc, cher ami, lui dit Emma d'ume voix tranquille: voila la petite qui, en jouant, vient de se blesser par terre" [148]). Berthe has been playing, and Emma, assuming a tone of voice so different from the one she might have used to curse herself, is no less an actress in this spectacle where the words "joue" (cheek) and "en jouant" (playing) complement each other.

The violence Emma exhibits towards her daughter is unexpected. Since Emma herself is surprised by Charles's appearance, she lies to him about what has happened and tells him to look at his bleeding daughter. While Charles may see the result of Emma's violence, the reader-spectator has heard the repeated words of rejection and the command to also look seriously at what has happened and what is happening, because Emma is lying. Let's turn to the Gospel of Mark:
 And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. And
 there was a woman who had had a flow of blood for twelve years,
 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent
 all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had
 heard the reports about Jesus, and came up behind him in the
 crowd and touched his garment. For she said, "If I touch even his
 garments, I shall be made well" And immediately the hemorrhage
 ceased; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.
 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from
 him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, "Who
 touched my garments?" And his disciples said to him, "You see
 the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, 'Who touched
 me?'" And he looked around to see who had done it. But the
 woman, knowing what had been done to her, came in fear and
 trembling and fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.
 And he said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in
 peace, and be healed of your disease." (Mark 5: 24-34; Oxford
 Bible 1220)


In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke we read that the woman touches the "fringe of his garment"(Matthew 9: 20; Oxford Bible 1181; Luke 8: 44: Oxford Bible 1255). According to the Gospel of Mark, many people seeking a cure asked Jesus to let them touch just the fringe, "and as many as touched it were made well" (Mark 6: 56; Oxford Bible 1222). Thus this part of the fabric was especially meaningful for the sick in search of healing. They were attracted to it for a reason: "Pious Jews wore a fringe on their clothing [Numbers 15: 38-41], provided with a purple string that recalled the commandments of God" (Oxford Bible note c, 1448). In the Book of Numbers:
 The Lord said to Moses, "Speak to the people of Israel, and bid
 them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout
 their generations, and to put upon the tassel of each corner a cord
 of blue; and it shall be to you a tassel to look upon and remember
 all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after
 your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to go
 after wantonly. So you shall remember and do all my commandments,
 and be holy to your God. I am the Lord your God, who
 brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the
 Lord your God." (Numbers 15: 37-41; Oxford Bible 184)


Realizing that something has happened, Jesus reacts with questions and, after the truthful response of the woman, he recognizes the role her faith has played. The woman had come up from behind; Berthe appears rather suddenly before Emma: "Then little Berthe was in front of her, tottering in her knitted shoes between the window and the sewing table, trying to reach her mother" (130). Unlike the woman in Mark's Gospel, Berthe is rejected but, like her. is intent on reaching out. Emma is just as insistent in wanting to be left alone. The woman with the issue of blood tells Jesus the truth; Emma lies to Charles about what happened. Moments later, left alone, a contemplative Emma looks at her daughter. "Berthe had stopped sobbing" (131). The French word for "sobbing" includes a notation of blood or "sang": "'Berthe, en effet, ne sanglotait phts" (148). (9) Emma considers her child with much disdain, wondering how she could have become upset for so little. Her repeated rejection of Berthe ("Leave me"--"Laisse-moi'" [148]) stands in sharp contrast to the desire of Jesus ("Let the children come to me"--"Laissez venir a moi les petits enfants" [Marc 10: 14; Ostervald 828]).

After Charles has mended Berthe's cheek, he returns to the pharmacy. Homais detains him there in order to cheer him up. Yet he talks about the dangers besetting children, some of which may come from distracted household servants. "Madame Homais could speak from experience, bearing as she did to this day on her chest the marks of a panful of burning coals that a cook had dropped inside her pinafore when she was small" (131). From then on her parents took every care to keep sharp instruments away form her: iron grills covered the windows and bars protected her from the fireplace. Iron grills, "des grilles en fer" ... enfer: hell (149). Homais says that he tried to convince his wife not to be overly protective of their children. Nevertheless, supervision is necessary: a guard has been enlisted to watch over any movement of freedom the children might express. The tension between freedom and surveillance is at stake. Who is this guardian? Flaubert's use of the word "surveillant" to designate someone who watches over another may indicate Leon, a boarder in the Homais household who eventually becomes Emma's second lover (149). Homais had interrupted Emma and Leon in their first conversation with each other. The pharmacist wanted to assure her that the young clerk had quite a voice: "What about the other day, my friend? You were singing L'Ange gardien in your room--it was delightful. I heard you from the laboratory; you rendered it like a real actor" (94). This role of Guardian Angel, sung and acted, was appropriate for Leon.

The accident during Madame Homais's childhood gives closure to the day when children should be called to catechism, well received and watched over. The events also put into play their guardians, be it a priest, a mother, or a servant. The images used to describe their interaction, or lack of one, are at once troubling and theatrical.

APRON strings are only part of the fabric that relates Emma to the caregiver. There are other materials that, later in the narration, move Emma positively. These have to do with her ritual anointings and thus, again, with Bournisien. In the first anointing, she is happy only to be able to see the fabric of her pastor's robe: "Just the sight of his cassock she found comforting" (240). In the second, the emphasis is again on seeing: "She slowly turned her face, and seemed overjoyed at suddenly seeing the purple stole--doubtless recognizing, in this interval of extraordinary peace, the lost ecstasy of her first mystical flights and the first visions of eternal bliss" (368). This particular experience of Emma contrasts with her meeting the cure on the day of the Angelus when, the narrator noted: "the black cloth of his cassock, shiny at the elbows and frayed at the hem, seemed paler" in the glow of the setting sun (126). Cassock or stole, the meaning of the cloth Emma sees is priestly. The sight of the stole should comfort her as much as does the cassock or some part of it. The stole is the garment and symbol of the priest. The word has its roots in the Greek and means "long robe" ("stole 'longue robe'" [Petit Robert 634]). Be it through seeing or touching, the object Emma's eyes settle upon is a specific fabric of the priestly garment in its avatars, in full dress, in stole or, in its frayed aspect, like a ribbon or string ("effiloquee par le bas" [145]).' (10)

The fabric of the mystery play relies upon the hem of a dress and its ribbons. This was itself carefully prepared for in the description of the church when the narrator spoke about the end of the bell ringing: "the heavy rope that hung down from the top of the bell tower and trailed on the ground was swaying ever more slowly" (126). Not one of the children playing nearby grabbed it as did a younger Charles Bovary: "on important feast-days ... he could hang with his full weight from the heavy rope and feel it sweep him off his feet as it swung in its arc" (9). The offer of the rope, like the circuit of Emma's dress for a mature Charles, or the dangling ribbons for baby Berthe, should sweep one away. Like some umbilical cord, it should connect one to the matrix or to the Master and be a source of comfort and joy.

Although speechless, Lestiboudois is another master of space and time. He doesn't hesitate to extend his theatrical commerce beyond the sanctuary to the Country Fair by taking chairs from the church and renting them as seats to the crowd that has gathered. In the process of substitution that critics have noticed in Madame Bovary, Lestiboudois may even relay for yet another architect of time and space, the doctor who preceded Charles in Yonville and who had spent much money on his home and garden. This doctor had fled Yonville in time for the Bovarys to settle in the house he vacated. Flaubert leaves it to Homais to reveal the name of Charles's predecessor. The revelation spells out the origin of another name and story: Yanoda is, as Marc Girard has written, an anagram for Adonay (44). Adonai. He is quite a doctor and an extravagant God and gardener.

I believe that this gardener also symbolizes Flaubert, the writer or playwright whose voice should not be heard in the literary work. In the image of Yanoda, he has arranged space and time for having children called to hear words about their Lord in the sanctuary. From the moment of Emma's arrival at church she witnessed a lack of respect. And the distraction the children caused Bournisien was itself pictured as a game. Kneeling down and leaning on one another, they "fell down like the Capuchins of a stack of cards" (145). The allusion to Capuchin monks is a trace of Yonville-l'Abbaye, the description of which was given in a parenthesis: "(even the ruins of the ancient Capuchin abbey from which it derives its name are no longer there)" (79). The bad behavior of the catechism students doesn't seem to scandalize Emma. In the days following her arrival at the convent school, the Ursuline sisters, "in order to amuse her, led her to the chapel" ("qui, pour l'amuser, la conduisaient dans la chapelle" [70]). This is not quite good conduct. Yet, on the other hand, the nuns' behavior is quite normal. The pharmacist alluded to the fact that the farces or mystery plays performed in the sanctuary were frequently questionable. Perhaps for that reason religious dramas came slowly to be produced at the porch of the church.

On this particular April day, the mystery play has its own time and space. Taking the path to Yonville's church, Emma responds, without knowing why, to the same calling that beckons the young boys to class and for whom the path turns out to be quite significant. Gardener and priest also show or expatiate on the importance of the timing: never too early. By having the youngsters then play in the sanctuary of the church and await their teacher, Flaubert anticipates Homais's remark regarding the space where the mystery play was produced. The catechism class, of which the reader hears one question and only part of an answer, has nevertheless offered the students the proper space in which to play and act, to have adequate experience in handling the missal, climbing into the pulpit or wandering into the confessional, that is, in opening the book for the celebration of the Eucharist, preaching the word, or hearing confessions--necessary training for their mission for which only a pair of sandals are to be taken and which they wear.

Custom may have Emma sit at her window to watch people walk down the street of her boring village. Yet, on this April day, the creator of the mystery play offers Madame Bovao, another perspective, for Flaubert places her at a window that is garden side or "cote jardin," that is, stage right, to watch Lestiboudois at work trimming the boxwood and then to take paths to the Lord. Such a theatrical move, along with copious scriptural allusions, should change a reader's perspective and have one question the observation of Henry James, previously cited, that in Madame Bovary we are only reading a vulgar tragedy.

Notes

(1) The publications of Florence Emptaz, Yvonne Bargues-Rollins and Beryl Schlossman locus on religious motifs in Madame Bovary as well as on the importance of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Several studies that treat religion or myth in Flaubert's work or the writer's interest in the Psalms are those of Raymonde Debray-Genette, F. Lecercle, Jacques Neefs, Suzanne Toulet, Carla Peterson, and Lucette Czyba. In A Gustave Flaubert Encyclopedia, no mention is made of Madame Bovary under the entry for the Bible.

(2) For Madame Bovary, quotations in English come from the translation of Francis Steegmuller. I also quote from the French edition of Jacques Suffel. Quotations from the correspondence are drawn from the editions of Jean Bruneau, Geoffrey Wall and Francis Steegmuller. I refer to Lafcadio Hearn's translation of The Temptation of Saint Anthony edited by Marshall Olds and indicated by Olds. Quotations from Bernard Masson's edition of Flaubert's complete works are indicated by Masson. Translations of the Bruneau and Suffel editions are my own as are those of other French texts. Biblical quotations are from the Oxford Bible.

(3) In Herodias, before John the Baptist is beheaded, in the course of castigating possible listeners, he exclaims: "When will you come, you for whom l hope? In anticipation, all people kneel down, and your rule will be eternal, Son of David!" ("Quand viendras-tu, toi que j'espere? D'avance, tousles peuples s'agenouillent, et ta domination sera eternelle, Fils de David!" [M 2, 193]). Alter John's execution, two of his disciples search out Phanuel: "Just as the sun was rising, two men, formerly sent by Iaokanann, appeared, with the answer that was hoped for for such a long time. They shared it with Phanuel, who was overjoyed to hear it" ("A l'instant ou se levait le soleil, deux hommes. expedies autrefois par Iaokanann, survinrent, avec la response si longtemps esperee" [M 2, 198]). The "'answer" is in reference to the Baptist's request concerning Jesus: "Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another'" (Matthew 11: 2-3; Bruneau 1184). Jesus's answer, that the blind shall see, and the lame shall walk, will be later found in Homais's article on Hippolyte's supposed cure. In his tale about John the Baptist, Flaubert uses once again the Biblical text and language to describe the One who is to come and who, like the Lord's precursor, sends forth his disciples.

(4) In the 1849 version of the Temptation, Flaubert alludes to this Gospel episode. Logic tells St. Anthony, "Why didn't he want to heal the daughter of the Canaanite woman'?" (M 1,425).

(5) In the third version of the Temptation, Flaubert has Arius include the way as a name of Jesus (Olds 71).

(6) In the third version of the Temptation, Hilarion notes the differences between the missioning of the disciples as related in the synoptic Gospels: "According to Luke and Matthew, the apostles should take with them neither money nor scrip for their journey--not even sandals nor staff; in Mark, on the contrary, Jesus bids them take nothing with them, except sandals and a staff. I am thereby bewildered!" (Olds 52). Hilarion faithfully reports the Gospel texts except for one detail. In Matthew and Mark, the disciples are forbidden to have two tunics; Luke doesn't mention the garment (Mark 6: 8-9: Matthew 10:9-11; Luke 10: 4)--of course, Dr. Lariviere will charge Homais with "his mission" ("sa mission" 469) and be sent to Emma's deathbed. It is not said whether the pharmacist undertook his responsibility by imitating the doctor's students, by wearing--as they did--his kind of cloak.

(7) In A Simple Heart, Madame Aubain's son finally finds his place in life after having held several positions: it is "suddenly, through an inspiration of heaven, that he had discovered his way: the registration office!" ("tout h coup, par une inspiration du ciel, il avait decouvert sa voie: l'enregistrement!" [M 2, 176]). Flaubert traces Paul Aubain's true vocation upon the experience of St. Paul along the road to Damascus. The Apostle was looking for anyone belonging to the Way. "'and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him. And he tell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'" (Acts 9:3-4 : Oxford Bible 1329). Paul the Apostle persecutes those of the Way (la voie), those believing in Jesus, until he hears the voice from heaven. In a way, it seems, Paul Aubain also finds his voice, but the sudden discovery would have him become rather sedentary.

(8) Yvonne Bargues-Rollins comments on Bournisien's disappearing into the church: "This posture, worthy of medieval sculptures, recalls that of Christ on the cross in a state of powerlessness, but could also evoke the menacing gesture of Death who grabs the living or invites him to follow" (Bargues-Rollins 155-156).

(9) Allusions to the woman suffering from the hemorrhage occur twice in the third Temptation. Hilarion talks to Anthony about details of Scripture that vary from one Gospel to another and that would challenge the omniscience of Jesus: "At the contact of the woman who had an issue of blood, Jesus turned and said: 'Who hath touched my garments?' He did not know, then, who had touched him?" (Olds 52). Later Eusebius of Caesarea tells the saint about a memorial statue of Jesus: "a certain statue of stone which, some say, was erected by the Woman healed of the issue of blood. But time has gnawed the face of the statue, and the rains have worn the inscription away" (Olds 75).

(10) The Gospels frequently report the crowd's desire to touch Jesus. In Flaubert's Herodias we read that Jacob, "having a sick daughter, went to Capharnaum, in order to beg the Master to heal her. The Master had answered, 'Return home, she is healed!' And he had found her at the entrance to the house, having got out of bed when the sun dial marked the third hour, at the precise time he had approached Jesus." Yet the Pharisees cannot admit to any miraculous healing: "to heal without seeing or touching was an impossible thing, unless Jesus resorted to demons" (M 2, 196).

Works Cited

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Crouzet, Michel. "'Ecce' Homais." Revue d'Histoire litteraire de la France (nov.-dec. 1989): 980-1014.

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Publication:Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature
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Date:Jan 1, 2005
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