Madame Bovary’s Daughter by Linda Urbach
Published by Bantam, an imprint of Random House
Berthe Bovary is perhaps one of the most interesting characters in Madame Bovary, if only by the virtue of being one of the least developed. Finding herself a penniless orphan at the end of her parents’ story, Berthe goes off to her grandmother’s house and then to a workhouse, and then Flaubert feels no need to tell us anything else about her.
It is at this point that Linda Urbach picks up Berthe’s story, beginning with her moving to her grandmother Bovary’s house. Urbach balances the beginning of her story quite well, addressing both Berthe’s current situation and some of the background of her parents’ story. In fact, Berthe’s memories lend additional depth and meaning to moments of Emma’s story, such as the moment when Emma is effectively dumped by her first lover.
“Felicite gave Berthe one of the apricots to eat. Beautiful as it was to the eye, the flesh of the fruit was pulpy and strangely without flavor or sweetness.” -p. 108
Berthe is an engaging character, and her story is an interesting one. As a young woman finding her footing, it follows very well from her mother’s story that she would be attracted to the world of fashion, growing up surrounded by Emma Bovary’s beautiful clothing and then going to having nothing. Unfortunately, Madame Bovary’s Daughter suffered a bit from the at malady of historical fiction where the character becomes involved in every major advancement in his or her field.
“What followed was to be known thereafter as the world’s first fashion show. After much commotion, Worth’s models came out one by one, dressed in his most recent creations.” -p. 391
Of course, Berthe’s character is associated with this leader in the world of fashion at the time, but that doesn’t go quite far enough to explain just how influential she is claimed to be.
That historical fiction foible notwithstanding, Madame Bovary’s Daughter is a fun book that provides some much needed closure to Berthe’s story. Recommended.
Nicole and I had the opportunity to speak with Linda for our most recent episode\ of What’s Old is New, a show about Madame Bovary.What’s Old is New.
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