Emma Bovary and the Covent School
Emma Bovary; intelligent, spoiled, and utterly obsessed with material concerns, is ironically placed by her father into a convent school where she fails to learn the lesson that would be most useful in her life: how to seek fulfillment through her platonic side. The convent section is very important because it will set the stage for all of Emma’s material obsessions and spiritual failures throughout the story.
The entirety of Madame Bovary is diffused with a sense of hopelessness; the world is uncaring, fate is cruel, and God, if he exists at all, is painfully unsympathetic. This diffusion is carried out by the narrator, Flaubert, who seats himself on the empty observation post of god and regales us with this story in a matter of fact, scientifically cold way which fits so perfectly with the era’s transition to secularity.
It is quite funny then, that this detached narrator informs us of Emma’s early life at the convent; a place that should distance its inhabitants from the material world. Here, despite the wishes of the nuns, she finds sensual pleasures instead of the spiritual ones she should have been seeking.
Flaubert says that “…she gradually succumbed to the mystic languor which she breathed in with the perfumes of the alter, the coolness of the water in the holy-water fonts, the radiance of the candles.” (Flaubert, 30)
Here, in the midst of a convent, a place devoted to prayer and spirituality, Emma still manages to miss everything of importance and instead focuses on the peripheral trappings of religious life. During sermons, she finds herself ignoring the words and gazing at illustrated books, fixating her mind in a romantic realm of religious heroes and saints, but ignoring everything that those heroes would have held dear, as well as the point of the sermons themselves.
Ever seeking the dramatic, she attempts to fast, seeks a noble vow to fulfill, invents sins at confession, and generally seeks the thrills of emotion and experience at every turn. Not content with peace, she goes so far as to find fault with the tranquility of the countryside, thinking the havoc...