This Madame Bovary begins with a depiction of the title character’s fall from grace, but the story begins with showing the future Mme. Bovary among a number of other similar young ladies wearing uniform gray dresses and transparent white caps, going through the daily routines at what is seen to be a sort of convent-school, where nuns wearing traditional habits supervise these students doing what appear to be posture practice, light exercise classes, and drawing lessons as well as some chores such as apple-picking and ironing. (The nuns’ habits look like those of the Dominican Order, but I can’t be sure.)
While the quality and usefulness of the education thus given to these girls is unknown, it is characterized (at least by the DVD’s title menu) as “preparation for marriage”, and some may call this convent a “finishing school”, meant for adolescent girls who came from backgrounds of privilege and who were likely to go on to backgrounds of privilege. However, for the future Mme. Bovary, it may be seen that such an education may have given her a taste for the finer things in life without a grounding in realism. Though she claims that she strove for distinction in piety at the convent school, and sought a religious vocation, she claims that the convent “cast her out” to get married.
She could hardly have been the only young lady marking time in the convent school before marriage. Her background may be less privileged than that of some of her classmates, as at her wedding party, an outdoor repast after the Latin nuptial mass, her father, a farmer, makes a speech about the fact that after her mother passed, the decision to send her to the convent for school was his perception of the best he could do for her, because, as a farmer, he knew how to raise a pig, but not a young lady.
While her marriage to Charles, the country doctor, renders her regarded as well-off financially by the peasants and the priest in the village of Yonville where Charles brings her to live, it does not make her anywhere near wealthy enough to indulge her wish for beautiful furniture and clothes, more travel, and life in the larger cities rather than in a village where she is privileged compared with the peasant population, but deprived compared with the glamorous life she imagines in the more citified environs of France and with the local marquis.
When she has her first encounter with young law clerk Leon which threatens to turn adulterous (spoiler: it will), with perhaps a guilty conscience, she visits the local church and seeks out the priest, who has a group of young, restless children in church in a small subsection of pews to the side of the altar, and is seen dragging two stragglers back to them when she comes to him. He is curt with her and may have scared her off if she was nervous about approaching him for advice or confession. Though it may seem that the padre was deficient in people skills or kindness, he explains that he is trying to prepare the children for their first Communion, and that they have no respect for anything, and he has to “turn these little devils pious”. At first glance it seems that he is remiss in his duty to offer Mme. Bovary the comforts of the church and even fails to see that she is troubled (instead, he tries to put the touch on her for a donation). However, at that particular time he has a lot to contend with: it is easy to see why he called the children of the local yokels “little devils” and said they had no respect for anything. While the grown-ups were talking, one of the boys stole a censer from the little table set up in the aisle in front of the east-facing altar.
(Although what the priest was doing with a lit and smoking thurible of incense at the ready right before he was about to lecture and/or rehearse a group of children is a mystery to me, though a lifelong Catholic.)
The second time Mme. Bovary enters the church, the priest, less distracted, seems to have “gotten it” when he sees her downcast, anxious, and silently praying: he seems much more sympathetic, and he reaches out to her and asks her if she came to church to see him for confession or “counsel” (advice).
She tells him “no”, “just silence”, and he suggests that she take a walk in the forest, though it’s not quite silent, she can find something near to silence in nature. Though this sounds a lot like “get out of my church”, and an effort to discourage her from seeking solace just from being in the presence of the Real Presence, it is surprisingly modern advice to soothe anxiety, nerves and ADHD (now those in the know talk about Nature Deficit Disorder), but her subsequent journey in natural surroundings while lurching about due to self-inflicted poisoning which preceded her tragic end, was shown to be anything but relaxing.