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Fans of Flaubert's Madame Bovary will want to read this reimagination of one of literature's most famous failures, Charles Bovary. Part fiction, part philosophy, Charles Bovary, Country Doctor is also a book about love.
Charles Bovary, Country Doctor is one of the most unusual projects in twentieth-century literature: a novel-essay devoted to salvaging poor bungler Charles Bovary, the pathetic, laughable, cuckolded husband of Madame Bovary and the heartless creation of Gustave Flaubert. As a once-promising novelist who was tortured by the Nazis and survived a year in Auschwitz, author Jean Améry had a particular sympathy for the lived experience of vulnerability, affliction, and suffering, and in this book—available in English for the first time—he asserts the moral claims of Dr. Bovary. What results is a moving paean to the humanity of Charles Bovary and to the supreme value of love.
In this polemic novel-essay, Austrian-born philosopher Am ry (On Suicide: A Discourse on Voluntary Death) makes a forceful if overheated case that Madame Bovary's Charles Bovary is ill-served not only by his adulterous wife but also by Gustave Flaubert, the novel's author. Am ry (1912 1978) gives voice to Charles as he mourns the death of Emma Bovary, whom he loves and desires even more after her death. This is a different Charles than the one in Flaubert's novel: more self-aware, suspicious, poetic, and passionate. He is not always convincing: "I feel others' lust in my own base body, against all precepts of the bourgeoisie and conjugal honor." Apart from these monologues, the book includes a critical disquisition, peppered with the occasional abstruse formulation, on the failures of Madame Bovary as a realist novel. First, Am ry contends that Flaubert lets Charles live and die "improbably," that the country doctor's blind trust beggars belief. Second, he argues that this crime against realism stems from the author's prejudices against the petite bourgeoisie, and that this crime is in part political: Charles, fictional though he may be, has been denied the rights of liberty, equality, and fraternity "inscribed in the principles of 1789." Am ry's broadside, however, fails to create a more compelling Charles or successfully indict Flaubert. What it does do is raise thorny questions about an author's responsibility toward his characters, even or especially the secondary ones, making it an object of interest for certain readers.