By Olivia Cucinotta
My high school English class had just finished reading Madame Bovary, and we were all confused. (For those of you who have not read it, please skip to paragraph two. Spoiler alert!) Emma Bovary, a listless housewife in search of the passionate love she’s read about in books, has many sordid affairs, falls deeply into debt and kills herself by swallowing arsenic, and her ever-faithful and terribly dull husband Charles dies a while later of a broken heart, and their daughter, upon finding her father dead, is sent to work in a cotton mill. We were all baffled and upset by the end of this intense, complicated novel. When we arrived in class the next day, our teacher asked us the question: “What can we learn about real love from Madame Bovary?” and no one knew what to say.
That night for homework, our only assignment was to watch a TED Talk: “Why we love, why we cheat” by anthropologist Helen Fisher. In the talk, Fisher explained her work: “My colleagues and I took 32 people who were madly in love and put them into a functional MRI brain scanner.” I knew that Helen Fisher was taking a very different approach to understanding love from Gustave Flaubert. So why was I reading Flaubert and watching her talk, one after the other?
I didn’t realize what my teacher was doing until class discussion the next day. We shuffled in, pulled our desks into a circle, took our copies of Madame Bovary out of our bags and looked around at each other.
“So,” my teacher said, “if Gustave Flaubert and Helen Fisher were having a conversation about love, what would they say to one another? What would you say to them?” ……………..
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