Authors: Linda Urbach
Madame Bovary's Daughter
is a work of fiction. All incidents and dialogue, and all characters, with the exception of some well-known historical and public figures, are products of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Where real-life historical or public figures appear, the situations, incidents, and dialogue concerning those persons are entirely fictional and are not intended to depict actual events or to change the entirely fictional nature of the work. In all other respects, any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
A Bantam Books Trade Paperback Original
Copyright Â© 2011 by Linda Spring Urbach
Reading group guide copyright Â© 2011 by Random House, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Bantam Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
and the rooster colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Madame Bovary's daughter : a novel / Linda Urbach.
1. Young womenâFranceâFiction. 2. FashionâFranceâHistoryâ
Fiction. 3. Paris (France)âFiction. I. Flaubert, Gustave, 1821â1880.
Madame Bovary. II. Title.
813'.6âdc22Â Â Â Â Â Â 2010053286
Cover images: Ryan McVay/Getty Images (woman),
Ricardo Demurez/Trevillion Images (background)
She hoped for a son; he would be strong and dark; she would call him George; and this idea of having a male child was like an expected revenge for all her impotence in the past.â¦ She gave birth on a Sunday at about six o'clock, as the sun was rising
“It is a girl!” said Charles
She turned her head away and fainted
AS ANY DAUGHTER EVER CURSED WITH A MOTHER SUCH AS
hers? A self-centered, social-climbing, materialistic, coldhearted, calculating adulteress. Oh, yes, and she disliked children, too.
Everyone in the village of Yonville and the city of Rouen and all the towns in between knew the story of her mother's disastrous affairs; her wastrel ways; her total disregard for her husband, his reputation, and his finances. And her complete disinterest in Berthe, her only child. It was her mother's friend, Madame Homais, who put it into words for Berthe on the day of her father's funeral. Yes, even at her father's funeral they were still gossiping about her mother, who had poisoned herself almost a year before.
“Your poor, dear mother. She always wanted what she couldn't have,” Madame Homais said as she pulled a comb through Berthe's long snarled hair. Berthe hadn't brushed her hair in weeks or possibly even months, ever since her father had fallen ill. “And what she had, she didn't want. As for your papa, all he wanted was just a little of her love.
, what a rat's
nest.” She untangled the comb from the girl's hair, then gave Berthe a gentle push. “Now go and put on your best dress.” Did she know that Berthe only had two dresses to her name? Neither could be described as “best.” All the pretty dresses that she had once owned had been sold months before. There was nothing left but the house, and that was going to be auctioned off in an effort to make a small dent in her father's enormous debt.
It was a beautiful spring day. Much too beautiful a day on which to be buried. The bright sun shone down on the small market town. Surrounded by pastureland on one side and the Rieule river on the other, Yonville boasted one main street. Lining the street and the large square were a chemist's shop, a blacksmith's shop, a simple vegetable market, the town hallâdesigned by a Parisian architect who favored the Greek Revival styleâand the almost famous Lion d'Or Inn. On cramped side streets were the residential houses. It was a snug, self-contained little village only twenty-four miles from Rouen.
The entire village attended Charles Bovary's funeral. He had been, after all, the town physician. And beyond that, the villagers had great sympathy for him. He had died quite simply of a broken heart and everyone knew it. Berthe kept her head down so she wouldn't see all the people staring at her with their sad eyes.
They just want to see me cry
, she thought. But she wouldn't cry. She couldn't cry. On what was supposed to be the saddest day of her life she felt only a paralyzing, numbing fear. She looked down at her hands. Her nails were bitten to the quick and she had never been a nail-biter.
She knew that being orphaned was not an unusual situation. How many times had her father told her about the many orphans who littered the land as a result of sickness, war, or the
normal hardships of a poverty-stricken life? But Berthe wasn't an ordinary twelve-year-old orphan, as people of the village kept reminding her. She was the progeny of the most scandalous woman who ever lived.
“How will the poor thing make her way in the world?” she heard someone whisper behind her.
“Perhaps, like mother like daughter,” said her companion.
“Don't forget her father. He was a decent man, after all.”
“Much good that did.”
“She has the beginnings of her mother's beauty. That in itself does not bode well.”
“She is a strange child. But is it any wonder? With a mother like that?”
Berthe shot a look at the woman. She wanted to scream
I'm not a strange child
, and tear the hypocritical mourning veil off the woman's head. Where were the reassuring words? Weren't they supposed to tell her everything was going to be fine? She looked around. All she saw was a row of black-clad womenâa line of crows shaking their heads in disapproval. Her terror grew. She felt as if she were taking the last steps to her own funeral.
Suddenly she was visited by the image of both her parents' deaths: her mother from self-administered poison and her father from a self-acknowledged broken heart. She saw her mother in those last moments, her pale waxen features, her eyes covered with a kind of second skin, her mouth, that black poisoned hole sucking in air, and her curled hands picking aimlessly at the sheets. Her father sitting under the oak tree, his head bent, his eyes half open, his jaw unhinged. Dead to the worldâand to his only daughter, who had come out to the garden to wake him for a dinner he would never eat.
So strong, so vivid was this image of her dead parents that she
felt herself gag. She thought she was going to be sick in front of everybody. Sweat broke out on her forehead and she wiped it away with the back of her hand.
“Stand strong, dear child, it will all be over soon,” said Madame Homais, taking her wet hand and squeezing it tight.
After Emma Bovary died her husband spent a fortune on designing and building an elaborate granite mausoleum complete with cherubs and crucifixes. He had even begged money off his good friend Monsieur Homais with the promise that he would repay the loan in a timely fashion. How he was going to do that was a mystery, considering the fact that he had already pawned his instruments and medical books. Monsieur Homais was ignorant of this and assumed that Charles would be back on his feet as soon as his mourning period was over. It was never over.
As they drew nearer to the mausoleum, Monsieur Homais looked up at his friend's final resting place. He shook his head sadly. “This could have been Madame Homais's much-wished-for third bedroom,” he muttered to Berthe. It was a good thing his wife had no knowledge of her husband's loan.
The crows continued to rustle their black capes and whisper in all-too-audible tones as Berthe passed by, following her father's coffin.
“She spent all his money on herself,” one said.
“And someone else,” said another. “Don't forget the Someone Else.”
“No one is about to forget that little piece of scandal.”
“You know there were two.”
“Oh, yes. Do you remember young Monsieur LÃ©on?”
“But he left town.”
“He may have left town, but he didn't leave her.”