The Kugelmass Episode

by Woody Allen

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Charles Bovary Emma Bovary’s husband Charles is a doctor whom Kugelmass calls a ‘‘lacklustre little paramedic’’ who is ‘‘ready to go to sleep by ten’’ while Emma wants to go out dancing. Emma refers to her husband sarcastically as ‘‘Mr. Personality.’’ He falls asleep during dinner as she is talking about the ballet.

Emma Bovary Emma Bovary is the title character of Gustave Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary, into whose world Kugelmass gets transported by The Great Persky. In Allen’s story she speaks in the ‘‘same fine translation as the paperback’’ version of the novel before she suddenly acquires a twentieth-century New York way of speaking. She is much like she is in the Flaubert novel: beautiful and spoiled, interested in material possessions, irresponsible, bored with her bourgeois existence, looking for love and excitement. She detests her marriage and life in the country and is enthralled by Kugelmass’s stories of Broadway nightlife, fast cars, Hollywood, and TV. She and Kugelmass begin a torrid affair when he visits her in the pages of the novel, but she soon wants to visit New York and begin an acting career. In New York, she goes out on the town with Kugelmass and buys new clothes to take home, another sign of her shallowness and interest in material possessions. When she finds herself unable to get back to the novel, she complains to Kugelmass that watching TV all day is boring; she wants to take a class or get a job. She then locks herself in the bathroom and refuses to come out. Selfish and vapid, Emma Bovary is a parody of the demanding mistress as well as of the air-headed aspiring actress searching for fame and fortune.

The Great Persky The Great Persky is the magician who transports Kugelmass into Emma Bovary’s world using a badly lacquered, cheap-looking Chinese cabinet. Persky, an unsuccessful entertainer, is described as short, thin, and waxy-looking, and lives in a brokendown apartment house. The fact that he is a magician reinforces the theme of reality versus illusion in the story, and he also is a parody of a two-bit entertainer that used to be a staple on Vaudeville. Persky is also a satire of the quintessential New York Jew; he uses colorful colloquial expressions and has a pessimistic but relaxed outlook on life. When Kugelmass asks Persky if being transported in the cabinet is safe, he says, ‘‘Safe. Is anything safe in this crazy world?’’ When his cabinet malfunctions and Kugelmass is distressed, Persky is not overly worried and tells Kugelmass to relax and to get help for his personal anxiety. He can’t help in that area, Persky says, because ‘‘I’m a magician, not an analyst.’’

Professor Fivish Kopkind The professor is Kugelmass’s colleague, a professor of comparative literature at the City College of New York. Kugelmass says Kopkind, who has always been jealous of him, has identified him as the sporadically appearing character in Madame Bovary and has threatened to tell everything to Kugelmass’s wife.

Kugelmass A humanities professor at the City College of New York, Kugelmass is bored with his humdrum life and is transported to the pages of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary , where he has an affair with the title character. Kugelmass is described as aging and ‘‘bald and hairy as a bear,’’ and he thinks, mistakenly, that he has ‘‘soul.’’ He is distrustful, pessimistic city man who races around town trying to get what he wants; he is forever in pursuit of something better. He is drawn in the Jewish tradition of the schlemiel—a hapless bungler who gets caught up in an awful...

(This entire section contains 1060 words.)

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and absurd situation beyond his control, a powerless man at odds with his environment. But he is also an irresponsible, selfish, shallow man who wants a lot for very little—he wants to escape his humdrum life and unhappy marriage, but not at the expense of his career or marriage. After The Great Persky transports Kugelmass to Yonville, and he begins an affair with Emma Bovary, he can’t believe his luck and is happy for a while; he has never been particularly successful (he failed Freshman English). He thinks that he deserves happiness after all his ‘‘suffering,’’ and when he begins an affair with Emma thinks he ‘‘has the situation knocked.’’ But when things start to go wrong and Persky cannot get Emma back to Yonville, Kugelmass starts to panic. He takes to drink and wants to escape again, this time either by suicide or moving to Europe. After Persky finally returns Emma to the Flaubert novel after her New York interlude, Kugelmass repents and says he has learned his lesson. But three weeks later he is asking Persky again to transport him into another fictional realm. Kugelmass is like many Allen heroes—a nervous, inept New York Jew who hopes for the best but also worries constantly, thinks he has a situation ‘‘knocked,’’ then finds himself in trouble that he cannot handle. But he doesn’t learn from his mistakes, because the call of flesh is more powerful than that of his head. Kugelmass is also very much like Emma of Flaubert’sMadame Bovary in that he is dissatisfied, selfish, and irresponsible, and has a ridiculous idealized notion of love and romance.

Daphne Kugelmass Daphne is Kugelmass’s current, and second, wife. Kugelmass considers her an ‘‘oaf’’ and a ‘‘troglodyte’’ who had promise (and money) but has now grown fat. She is demanding and spends her time doing mundane tasks—looking for bathroom accessories, for example. She suspects that her husband has a ‘‘chippie’’ on the side, senses his tension, but never catches on to his affair.

Dr. Mandel Dr. Mandel is Kugelmass’s analyst. Kugelmass confides to Dr. Mandel that he needs to have an affair, but the doctor tells him his problems run much deeper and that what he needs is to express his feelings. He says he has no overnight cure for Kugelmass because ‘‘I’m an analyst, not a magician.’’

Rodolphe Rodolphe is Emma Bovary’s lover in the novel Madame Bovary. Kugelmass wants to get into the novel before Emma meets Rodolphe because he can’t compete with him; he is fashion magazine material. Rodolphe is from the landed gentry, he says, and has nothing better to do than flirt and ride horses.




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