I recently watched the BBC-TV miniseries version of ‘Madame Bovary’ (2000) and found myself re-thinking my opinion of Emma Bovary. Years ago when I read (and heard about) ‘Madame Bovary,’ the focus of all the attention was on how scandalous she was. She was a woman who dreamt of a grander life than that which she was living. In order to fulfill part of her longing for something more, she had adulterous affairs that allowed her to escape the reality of her situation. She also spent money wildly, that she didn’t have, in order to fill that void deep within. She was never satisfied, always wanting more. More stimuli, more emotions, more feeling, more grandeur, more more more. Nothing would ever be enough. Was this the result of her dreams and childhood indulgences? Or could it have been the result of an inner struggle of self-love and acceptance? Or both?
Emma Bovary is a great example of what has happened to much of our society over the past decades. We have come to a place where we are constantly searching for more, for external approval and for greater degrees of stimulation. We have become numb to what was once considered good, and now long for things that are thought of as incredible. We consume beyond our means, and we are feeling the effects of that life of indulgence today. The question remains, however, what prompted this behavior in the first place? Are we a society that has no love of self? Are we lost?
I won’t presume to answer those questions. I’m just me and can only speak for myself. I know, firsthand, what it feels like to be lost. And I related fully with Emma’s desire for more. Halle Berry gave an award-winning performance of a woman who wanted “to feel” in ‘Monster’s Ball.’ And while her performance was raw and bold, I remember speaking to many people shortly thereafter who said they could relate to her emotions – though perhaps not as thoroughly as she portrayed them. So – what is it that keeps us searching, consuming and longing for that which we don’t have? From my experience, it’s the fear of looking at ourselves fully and learning the depth of our denial. It’s when that veil comes down that we finally see what we’re feeling, deep within. It’s what Emma Bovary saw in the final scenes of the miniseries.
Her desperation to maintain the façade she had created was palpable. She shared with us her raw emotions while pleading for assistance to save the identity she had created in order to feel viable and necessary in this world; in order to feel like she had any value at all. And that is what makes the story so tragic. Rather than looking at Madame Bovary as a scandalous villain, I now choose to see her as a victim of a lack of self-love. She felt no worth except in the eyes of others. She experienced little pleasure except through external actions and stimuli. Emma Bovary was uncomfortable in her own skin. In the end, that would be her undoing. When she finally had no other alternative but to be herself, she was unable to do so, and took her own life. Her tried and true methods of escape had finally failed her, and she was left with the only other means of escape she knew: death.
The message I now get from this masterpiece is the importance of self-love above all things. There will always be millions of reasons and methods of escape available to those who seek them: drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, internet, etc. Escape is easy; it’s living authentically that’s hard – until one day, when it’s not. And that’s the greatest lesson I have learned in this lifetime. Living authentically as who I am brings me more joy, peace, love and serenity than any escape ever could. I, therefore, send a wish to all the Emma Bovary’s out there, whether male or female, that they too can learn this lesson and embrace themselves fully with unconditional love and understanding.
In love and light,