Madame Bovary’s Daughter

Written by Linda Urbach
Review by Eileen Charbonneau

Picking up in 1852, a year after the shattering end of Flaubert’s famous novel, young Berthe is burying her father. She learns she is penniless, due to her notorious mother who “always wanted what she couldn’t have.” Her paternal grandmother takes her in, demanding that she earn her keep as a farm worker in the French countryside. Here Berthe meets the Impressionist Millet, who delights in using her as a model in his rural scenes.

But when her grandmother dies, Berthe is left again without resources. She begins her life as a cotton mill worker, under conditions that try her resilient spirit. When plucked from the line to work in Paris as a lady’s maid to the mill owner’s wife, a new life begins, fraught with sexual intrigue and debasement. But also a career in the silk fashion trade begins once Berthe meets and becomes indispensable to Charles Worth. She finds love too, with a painter, Armand, who also struggles with a childhood marred and loveless.

In a novel written in the clean Gallic style of the original, Madame Bovary’s daughter is a wonderful character, struggling to overcome her mother’s legacy and the expectations of her own fantasies. Berthe comes of age in a cruel world, haunted by memories of her mother. But she embraces her Armand in wonderfully rendered love scenes, and does not fear to be kind, either to fellow mill workers, or an ill boardinghouse guest who happens to be Levi Strauss on his way to the California gold fields. Through it all, Berthe expresses joie de vivre, never losing heart or hope as she forms her own destiny.