Literature’s Most Desperate Housewives

Desperate Housewives spawned many popular (if questionable) offspring. From The Real Housewives series to Basketball Wives to Mob Wives, the cultural term has certainly captured the American imagination. But the societal trope, which is comprised of idle, seemingly perfect settings, restless and beautiful women, and often aloof men, is nothing new in the realm of literature. These ladies were not just throwing dinner parties and getting into petty squabbles like their reality show counterparts; rather, they lived in desperate times and were driven to desperate measures. We take a look at the ladies of literature who rebelled against their domestic constructs, often with fatal results.

Emma Bovary – Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert 

“Everything immediately surrounding her — boring countryside, inane petty bourgeois, the mediocrity of daily life — seemed to her the exception rather than the rule. She had been caught in it all by some accident: out beyond, there stretched as far as eye could see the immense territory of rapture and passions. In her longing she made no difference between the pleasures of luxury and the joys of the heart, between elegant living and sensitive feeling.”

Oh poor Emma Bovary, if anyone embodied the desperate housewife trope it would be her. Emma is tormented by her own unrealistic and idealistic expectations of life, a prisoner of her own childish and selfish desires. She wants life to be thrilling, romance to be Harlequin, and domesticity to be luxurious. Instead she lives in boring, provincial France, has a husband who is in love with her to the point of delusion, and a string of lovers who eventually get annoyed with her outlandish demands. Despite the fact that Emma is vacuous, can’t seem to care for anyone but herself, and is out of touch with reality, we still manically follow every detail of her life. Eventually, she’s driven to arsenic due to her inability to handle how unexceptional her life is.