Mona Simpson's Bookshelf
By Gustave Flaubert
In this short work, the author of Madame Bovary tells the story of a woman with an enormous capacity for love and a limited life in which to spend it. (Isn't that, in some way, what everyone feels about herself and her own circumstance?) The heroine, Félicité, works as a housekeeper for a middle-class family and adores the two children she helps raise. She loves her nephew immoderately, too, asks little in return for her affections, but life thwarts her anyway—her loved ones die.
The story opens: "For half a century the good ladies of Pont-l'Évêque envied Madame Aubain her servant Félicité." What those women thought they coveted was Félicité's standards and stamina (she bustled day and night) —but what they really wanted was her love. No one works as hard as Félicité out of a sense of duty; she worked for love.