Chapter 7 Summary

Cross Channel

Braithwaite is taking the ferry across the English Channel to France. He remarks that the light on the French side is picturesque, while the view from the English side is gloomy and monotonous. He wistfully recalls going into a French pharmacy with his wife. The pharmacien tenderly examined and cleaned the blister on his wife's foot and sold them a box of bandages. Emma Bovary's body is watched over by Homais—a pharmacien. Braithwaite promises the reader that he will tell three stories: Flaubert's, his own, and his wife's.

Flaubert, Braithwaite states, is remembered as a bourgeois "bourgeoisophobe," a fat, bald aesthete who disparaged democracy for raising the peasant to the "stupidity" of the middle class. Flaubert actively compiled but never published a dictionary of skewed definitions, clichés, and wry advice—the Dictionnaire des idées reçues. Braithwaite contemplates writing his own dictionary of received ideas regarding Flaubert. Of the author's role in his own work, Braithwaite compares Flaubert ("like God in his universe") and the moderns who offer ambiguous or multiple endings. In life, as Braithwaite had once told his wife, you make a decision and you end up where you are. After labeling a variety of possible kinds of endings, Braithwaite assumes the pose of a "hesitant narrator" and fumblingly terminates the section, arranging to meet the reader on the return ferry.

"How do we seize the past," begins the next section, and Braithwaite wonders if fat people used to be fatter or mad people madder. He insists on using terms that feel right to him, such as "adultery" rather than all the euphemisms that make light of the act. He notes that the closed carriage in which Emma Bovary was famously seduced was actually a cramped little coach.

Braithwaite gives a desultory description of himself in the form of a personal ad. He adds that his eyes are brown. He never killed a patient, wrote fake prescriptions, or molested females in his examination room. He enumerates the kinds of novels he would like to ban, at least temporarily. He ponders Flaubert's sexuality—he was "ambi-sexual," Braithwaite concludes. Admitting that he has digressed, he pleads embarrassment. He tells the reader that he was going to put his photograph on the cover, but he found that he hadn't had his picture taken in ten years.

Caroline, the niece, had adored Flaubert as a child, and he had raised her as a daughter. In her memoirs, she states that Flaubert regretted not marrying and having a family. Caroline married badly, however, and she ruined her uncle financially in order to save her husband's fortunes. Flaubert became a burden, and she started calling him "the consumer." Braithwaite listens to the rattle of two tables in the ferry bar and likens it to the call and response of a husband and wife at the end of a marriage, each bolted to their own spot on the floor. He declines to speak of his wife after all.