ophelinhap

Literature, poetry, lots of books and just some stuff I write

The disadvantages of a (very) bovaristic education

I blame it on my mum, seriously.

She used to read to me poetry by Prévert, Jimenez, Pablo Neruda. She handed me her first copy of Love Story, worn with dog-ears, re-readings and tears.

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I was young and naïve. I should have known better, but I didn’t.

So, no surprises here: I developed that dangerous reading condition also known as bovarism (many thanks, good old Flaubert), textually transmissible, almost impossible to cure.

This worrisome condition, named after Flaubert’s flighty heroine Emma Bovary (more on this a bit later) can be described as a hopeless restlessness caused by the (huge) gap between one’s expectations and one’s (boring, normal, plain) life. Wannabe heroines with a thing for romance stand a very high risk of developing it.

I’ll walk you through my bovaristic education, hoping there’s still time left for you to run away from it and sell seashells on the seashore instead.

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Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë

I dived into romantic books. I walked the Yorkshire moors with Cathy and Heathcliff, hiding in the kitchen with Nellie and thinking that yes, I wanted what Cathy had: I wanted to love someone who was totally got me, who was me, who shared my soul. I called her the biggest fool for marrying Linton, I cried my eyes out when she died and Heatchliff started banging his head against a tree, shouting that he couldn’t live without his life, or without its soul.

Wuthering Heights was, to my untrained heart, the apotheosis of everything romantic: it was fire, it was passion, it was tragic. It was beautiful. I am afraid it drove me to the conclusion that love, to be great, had to be unhappy, challenged, unrequited.

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Emma Bovary, Gustave Flaubert

Whilst I didn’t have much sympathy for the likings of Emma Bovary – vain, indecisive, boring, delusional, dull, quite your regular Plane Jane – I thought I understood how she must have felt. She yearned for something more – even if she didn’t quite know what this was. She wanted to be swept off her feet, to feel beautiful and precious and unique, to listen to the wild beat of her heart, to receive passionate, desperate missives written by lovesick gentlemen who simply couldn’t live without her. She didn’t want to make room for tedium in her life (of which she had plenty, with good old plain no-surprises Charlie). She wanted to be constantly in love, as simple as that, but she was silly and she went for the wrong guys and…well, you know the rest.

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Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak

On the other hand, I loved Lara from Doctor Zhivago (yeah, my mum’s favourite book AND movie). Ms Antipova was a down-to-earth, no-nonsense heroine who knew was she wanted – Yuri Zhivago – and tried to create sort of a life for the two of them, even if she was married to the ruthless Antipov/Strelnikov and he was married with kids to Tonia, his best friend and the mother of his kids. I admit that agreeing to leave Varikino with evil former-love Komarovsky while Yuri was playing make-believe with her (deep down, she must have known proud Zhivago would have never accepted the help of a man he despised) was kind of short-sighted, bordering on stupid (especially considering she was pregnant with Zhivago’s kid), akin to Ilse leaving Rick to save her husband in Casablanca; however, you’d have to agree with me the ending of David Len’s movie is simple heart-breaking (Zhivago thinking he has seen her from a tram and running after her until his heart fails him and he dies).

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Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

What really got me was Anna Karenina. I was fifteen at the time and going through my first heartbreak. I had tried to smoke a cigarette, as I thought it would make me look tragic and grown up, but it simply made me nauseous and dizzy; therefore, I decide to go through heartache and the first – of many to come – bout of insomnia of my life by embarking in a major reading project. I thought she was the heroine by excellence: smart, literate and beautiful, loving mother and bored wife. I could see why she fell for Vronskj, even if he then proved to be just a vain gigolo, unworthy of the depths of Anna’s heart and affection. I cold picture her in a ballroom, black dress and white beautiful arms and dark curls, outshining effortlessly the much plainer Kitty and defying the prejudices of a very stale Russian society. I cried my eyes out when Anna, stylish as always but destroyed by life, flung herself under a train, and Vronskj’s mother had the guts to comment that she had the ending she deserved, ugly as the life she led.

What I realised just much later on, after a couple of re-readings and (several) heartbreaks, was that Anna was unhappy most of her time with Vronskj, she missed her son an awful lot and was condemned to die by a society who pat men on the shoulders and kept an eye closed on their liaisons, but was unforgiving when it came to women.

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I might have also realised that Cathy from Wuthering Heights was spoiled and childish and Heathcliff obsessed and vengeful, Emma Bovary even more stupid than I thought, Lara and Yuri should have run abroad together and Anna Karenina should have ditched both husband and lover and started a new life with her kids somewhere sunny, like Spain or Portugal.

I might have realised all that, deep down; however, bovarism made me a hopeless, old-style romantic, and all of the above books (but Emma Bovary) still make me cry.

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I blame it on a precocious exposure to romance and well, on my mum.

Soundtrack: Wicked game, Chris Isaak

 

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One comment on “The disadvantages of a (very) bovaristic education

  1. Pingback: Gli svantaggi di un’educazione (molto) bovaristica – Impressions chosen from another time

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