What a painful book. Charles, the protagonist, is an average guy who gets lucky (so he thinks) and marries a beautiful woman. He loves her and does everything he knows to make her happy and gets for his efforts, instead of anything like reciprocal affection, shafted in ways made me cringe and hesitate to even keep reading. Despite his best intentions he is an inescapably unexciting man, incapable of being ever enough for Emma. Regardless of his flaws, nobody deserves the fate he suffers.Emma's complete self-centeredness is appalling. She's the train wreck that you can't look away from. She's passionate, flighty, erotic and materialistic. She hates the mediocre towns and the mediocre people she is surrounded by. She constantly strives to appear to be more than she is. She never hesitates to to justify her depravity and make herself the victim or to willfully postpone and ignore the consequences of her actions. Even in suffering she is irredeemable. Emma must inspire at least a little fear and a little desire in every man's heart, especially in those of men married to beautiful women.As much as I enjoyed it, if I had read Madame Bovary before reading Anna Karenina, I would have probably appreciated Madame Bovary more. Tolstoy wrote Anna Karenina after Flaubert wrote Madame Bovary, and there is speculation that Tolstoy had read Madame Bovary and was possibly influenced by it. Maybe that was the case, even so, I still found Anna Karenina to be the more dynamic and masterful work. In Anna Karenina there were so many more fully developed characters--Kitty, Karenin, Levin, Nikolai etc. By contrast, in Madame Bovary we really only know Charles and Emma, and to a much smaller degree, the chemist and Emma's lovers. Flaubert takes a depressing, Hobbesian view of human nature and while he masterfully captures the mind of an adulteress, Tolstoy is the king of encompassing in his work not only a large range of human nature and experience, but also a much more redemptive view of humanity.