Guest / Limited Access /
How Books Helped Save My Soul
How Books Helped Save My Soul

I had never thought of myself as someone capable of an affair.

Sure, even as a Christian I had traded in some biblical teachings for a more up-to-date morality. But "thou shalt not commit adultery" happened to be one teaching I agreed with, so it remained in my moral repertoire.

Then I read Madame Bovary, the 19th-century French classic by Gustave Flaubert. The truth was laid out starkly on the pages: In Emma Bovary, an adulteress and, ultimately, a self-murderer, I saw myself. Not in her depraved actions, but in her way of thinking, which led to those very horrific acts.

The starry-eyed Emma dreamed of marrying a dreamy man and living a dreamy life in a dreamy place. She thought life was supposed to resemble the torrid romances and love poems she had read while cloistered in a convent as a schoolgirl.

Real life caught her unawares.

The novel caught me unawares, too. Unaware of how many of my expectations for my new marriage were as rooted in fantasy as Emma's were. Unaware of how such unrealistic assumptions steal away the pleasures of everyday life. Flaubert's skillful artistry made plain to me, even more importantly than the problems of adultery and suicide, the more subtle robbers of joy: elitism, materialism, listlessness, and the continual need for novelty rather than the peace of contentment.

As a lifelong church member and Sunday school scholar, I should have known these things. Madame Bovary's lessons are contained in the Bible, after all: Galatians 5:26 cautions against the vainglory Emma hopes her doctor-husband will attain; passages like Luke 12:15 warn against the frenetic materialism that overtakes Emma; Ecclesiastes offers various antidotes to the boredom that plagues her; ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

From Issue:
Read These NextSee Our Latest
RecommendedThe Hidden Purpose of the Hobbit's Adventure
The Hidden Purpose of the Hobbit's Adventure
Gandalf promises Bilbo Baggins a "profitable" quest, but the wizard has a different sort of treasure in mind.
TrendingChristianity Today's 2015 Book Awards
Christianity Today's 2015 Book Awards
Our picks for the books most likely to shape evangelical life, thought, and culture.
Editor's PickJesus and 'Jingle Bell Rock'
Jesus and 'Jingle Bell Rock'
I’ve learned that there’s no dividing line between ‘American Christmas’ and ‘Christian Christmas.’
Comments
Christianity Today
How Books Helped Save My Soul
hide thisOctober October

In the Magazine

October 2012

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.