Madame Bovary’s Daughter by Linda Urbach
Bantam Paperback, 512 pages
ISBN 13: 978-0385343879
Review copy provided by the author, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:
Picking up after the shattering end of Gustave Flaubert’s classic, Madame Bovary, this beguiling novel imagines an answer to the question Whatever happened to Emma Bovary’s orphaned daughter?
One year after her mother’s suicide and just one day after her father’s brokenhearted demise, twelve-year-old Berthe Bovary is sent to live on her grandmother’s impoverished farm. Amid the beauty of the French countryside, Berthe models for the painter Jean-François Millet, but fate has more in store for her than a quiet life of simple pleasures. Berthe’s determination to rise above her mother’s scandalous past will take her from the dangerous cotton mills of Lille to a convent in Rouen to the wealth and glamour of nineteenth-century Paris. There, as an apprentice to famed fashion designer Charles Frederick Worth, Berthe is ushered into the high society of which she once only dreamed. But even as the praise for her couture gowns steadily rises, she still yearns for the one thing her mother never had: the love of someone she loves in return.
Brilliantly integrating one of classic literature’s fictional creations with real historical figures, Madame Bovary’s Daughter is an uncommon coming-of-age tale, a splendid excursion through the rags and the riches of French fashion, and a sweeping novel of poverty and wealth, passion and revenge.
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert caused quite a stir over a hundred years ago in Paris, as it gave us the uninhibited housewife’s struggle to always want more than what she was given. Madame Bovary caused a scandal with her adultery, and died a young woman. Shortly after, her doting husband followed her to the grand mausoleum. This left their daughter, Berthe, a penniless orphan. And this is where author Linda Urbach picks up the story as she brings us the tale of Berthe’s life in Madame Bovary’s Daughter.
With great attention to period detail, the author recreated Berthe’s world in France as she struggled to find her place in the world. Berthe is young, but intelligent, and yet the author had the young girl making decisions as a young girl would, even though I wished Berthe would wise up at times. Those times were very hard for her, and she just wanted a normal, decent life for herself. That was not in the cards, though, as her grandmother reduced her to a slave and later Berthe toiled in a textile mill.
Berthe’s only female friend was a thief, but Berthe managed to maintain a friendly relationship with a painter. He introduced to the world of art, and this opened up her creativity. She later found herself suggesting fabrics and designs to friends of her employer, and managed to work her way up slowly in society. How she got there was a struggle that was at times difficult to bear, as she underwent much hardship since her story began. But throughout her story, we witness Berthe becoming a young woman, never quite losing her girlish impetuousness, but finally managing to make wise decisions.
Madame Bovary’s Daughter is not a quick light-hearted read, as it can be depressing and disheartening And even though my psyche railed against the poor decisions of Berthe, I always wanted to keep reading and see how she would get out of her current predicament. As a pretty young girl, Berthe attracted the attentions of many (female and male), thus there were several sexual situations and they could get graphic. These scenes add to the authenticity of the plight of Berthe as she attempts to make her life better than her own mother’s was. At 500 pages, this novel took me 3 days to read, which means I found it very hard to put down. A very intriguing story, and Gustave Flaubert would be proud to have Berthe’s voice finally on paper, as well as an additional understanding of Gustave’s original characters.