Writer's Rehab #22: Madame Finale

Madame Bovary is done.

With a pair of deaths, and Emma's was a chapter excruciatingly long, I feel this sense of calm and beauty about the entire experience. In a way, it feels like one of those 80's slasher horror flicks where this puritanical notion of punishment is handed down for anyone with a vice gets killed in the worst way possible - with the slasher taking the role of divine punishment of society's ills and vices.

Charles' end was both merciful and in a way tragic and beautiful in all the same. A shame, but society was to blame for his misfortune. Success had he, yet he could not see. Hers were sins of vanity. The way she lived life, on its surface and never underneath, begot constant misery, debt, and the self-inflicted wounds of regret.

Yet, she had everything with a child, doctor husband, and a life that was secure in every way except the one in her mind. She could have been the talk of the town, the matron of any social circle she wished to mother, and a leader in the town's well-to-do hen-pecking circles of wealthy and secretly powerful women that ran everything despite being the ones wearing the skirts. These were those days, do not try to color them with the false notions of today's easy to fade pigments and artificial colors.

Those who cannot understand history and the way things were cannot live in the world of today. As writers we immerse ourselves in truths, how were those days? What was it like? How did people act? How do we reflect these facts and use them to tell a story that has both meaning and consequence?

This story lives in that time and it is both colored by it and reflective of the moments of which it was inspired. Yet there are truths here. Living a life consumed by juvenile fantasies, such as Emma's desire to live a life torn from the pages of a romance book. Her rejection of community and motherhood. Her refusal to grow up and become a responsible woman.

There comes a point in life where you throw your toys away or pass them down to the next generation. She never could like I feel a lot of people in this day cannot. While a little bit of escape is good, living a life devoted to it is not, because you shall never live in this great and wonderful world of ours. Emma's life is a tale of this, and I suspect this is why this book was so read back in the days when high schools took it upon themselves to educate you for adulthood, the responsibilities and bad parts, and that price we pay for the joyous freedoms that getting past the age of one-eight bestows to us.

There is a line here between fantasy and reality. An eternal struggle we have as humans to dream and live life, versus the slow march towards death which shall always win in the end. We want to believe in the feelings of which we have are greater than death, but they are not. We reject the end because it cannot be, an unknown, the last stop, and the final act of all of the sum of efforts of our lives.

All we did was for nothing?

Was it?

We cannot believe this, for it would invalidate all we are yet to do.

We live, we love, and we "do" all of what we do in spite.

We believe in fantasies. We live in our dreams. We have to, because otherwise we would let death have an early victory. And that is not humankind's nature. We build worlds. We create families. We take sounds and symbols and turn them into language. We take ideas and dreams and turn them into futures.

But as is the story of Madame Bovary, if all one does is live in dreams, nothing real shall ever be made. We could dream about the beautiful house we wish to live in forever, but if we never break ground and hammer nails into wood, that house shall never be built. Emma died still dreaming, which is a sin. She was a victim of others, who took advantage of her dreams, yet she never learned that lesson past the first time it happened. There was this film adaptation of the book which merged the two men into one almost-perfect male-lover character, and I feel that simplification misses this important point.

She never learned the first lesson. Those men used her because she never wizened up. If she wanted to become a true madame and player of men, she should have gotten on top and used them - but she did not and could not play that game because of her ignorance. These fantasies, these fake worlds of words and perfect happenstance - they ruled her dreams as if she had seen a postcard and said, "I want to live there."

Yet she had no plan to do so when she got there, and I suspect she had no real desire to other than seeing grass greener afar than up close. She could not help herself, and the reader for all the hope we invest in characters could not either.

And the deaths which end this book of Charles and Emma are beautiful things, both punishment and mercy. Their stories are over. This is now a time to move on, rather than live in the past.

I was spending a lot of time staring at sunsets after I finished this book. It did have this profound effect on me I probably have yet to understand, a feeling of peace with myself and hope for the future. An understanding of death and finality. A sincere recognition for the power of the moment of now, and the ability to take dreams and make them real.

And not just to live a life lost in these dreams, for their vaporous nature leads to that listless life of being lost in the fog.

Mine is to dream of tangible things, and to make them come about via sweat, nail, hammer, and hard work. To make the unreal a reality. To write that next chapter. To escape this haunted world of endless dreaming and to be someone real and who builds things in the real world, real dreams, and things upon which I can point to and say:

"I built that."