The Beauty of the Mundane in Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary
In Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, it is difficult to know what to think of Monsieur Binet and his lathe. His constant devotion to such an unrewarding pursuit would seem to act as the bourgeois backdrop to Emma Bovary’s quest for eternal passion and excitement, a polar opposite with which Emma can stand in sharp contrast. However, it turns out that Binet and his lathe have more in common with Emma and her rampant desires than what would first appear obvious. Binet’s lathe still serves as a background with which to compare Emma’s quest for love and riches, but instead of acting as a complete antithesis to everything she does, the lathe is meant to be subtly different from Emma’s quest, and therefore highlights that specific trait.
At first, the lathe appears to represent the opposite of everything Emma strives for in her life. She is constantly looking for new and exciting things to do to make her life more adventurous. Meanwhile, Binet wants no part in this search for deeper fulfillment, instead he spends "Sundays, morning and night, and afternoons, if the weather was bright…bent at his lathe, making [a] monotonous snoring droning noise" (79).1 While the lathe is depicted as being boring, having a sound that would put people asleep, Binet focuses mindlessly on it for hours, the empty escapism it provides seems to be part of what draws him to it.
Although Binet may be drawn to his lathe because of its monotony, it does not seem likely that Emma would find the same type of drudgery in her quest. However, her dreams have much of the same repetitiveness that Binet’s lathe has. This can be seen from an early age in the novels that she reads:
…about love, lovers, loving, martyred maidens swooning in secluded lodges, postilions slain every other mile, horses ridden to death on every page, dark forests, aching hearts, promising, sobbing, kisses and tears, little boats by moon-light, nightingales in the grove, gentlemen brave as lions, tender as lambs, virtuous as a dream, always well dressed, and weeping pints. (28)
In this one sentence Flaubert not only gives example of how the works are repetitive, with similar plots, and dying horses "on every page," but he also manages to capture the clichéd, melodramatic style of romance novels that makes them all seem the same. The repetitiveness extends into real life as well, as Emma’s love affairs constantly lose their fire and begin to become routine, or, as Rodolphe notes, "the charm of novelty, falling down slowly like a dress, expose[s] only the eternal monotony of passion, always the same forms and the same language (154).
The feeling of superiority that the lathe gives Binet fits more obviously with Emma’s action and character. He uses his lathe "with the jealousy of an artist and the egoism of a bourgeois" (60). He feels that his craftsmanship and dedication to the lathe make him superior to those deprived...