The Kugelmass Episode Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
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"The Kugelmass Episode," first published in the May 2, 1977, issue of The New Yorker, is Woody Allen's fantastic tale of a dissatisfied humanities professor who has himself transported into the fictional world of Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary. Professor Kugelmass, unhappily married to his second wife, wants to have an affair, so he has a magician-entertainer named The Great Persky project him into Flaubert's novel, where he embarks on a passionate affair with the title character, the spoiled and beautiful Emma Bovary. Allen presents a hilarious look at what happens when living out one's fantasy becomes a reality and satirizes contemporary society in the process. The story's humor comes not only from its bizarre situation but from its broadly drawn characters, parody of the entertainment industry, spoof of the male midlife crisis, ironic look at literature and its study, and satirical depiction of Jewish culture and manners. Although the story is a farce and immensely funny from beginning to end, "The Kugelmass Episode" does tackle the serious question of the human condition in modern times. Kugelmass, like Allen's heroes in other stories and films, is a schlemiel, or hapless bungler who finds himself the victim of circumstances (often of his own making) in an absurd and confusing world. The story draws on Jewish humor and culture as well as classical and modern literature, using lowbrow humor to spoof high art. "The Kugelmass Episode," which was published the same year Allen won his first Academy Award for the movie Annie Hall, won an O. Henry award for best short story in 1978. The story was included in Allen's collection Side Effects in 1978, and has been widely anthologized. It appears in the 2003 collection, Fierce Pajamas: An Anthology of Humor Writing from The New Yorker.
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‘‘The Kugelmass Episode’’ opens with Kugelmass, a middle-aged, unhappily married humanities professor seeking the advice of his analyst, Dr. Mandel. He is bored with his life, and he needs to have an affair. His analyst disagrees, however, telling him ‘‘there is no overnight cure’’ for his troubles, adding that he is ‘‘an analyst, not a magician.’’ Kugelmass then seeks out a magician to help him solve his problem.
A few weeks later, he gets a call from The Great Persky, a two-bit magician/entertainer who shows him a ‘‘cheap-looking Chinese cabinet, badly lacquered’’ that can transport the professor into any book, short story, play, or poem to meet the woman character of his choice. When he has had enough, Kugelmass just has to give a yell and he is back in New York. At first Kugelmass thinks it is a scam, then that Persky is crazy, but for $20, he gives it a try. He wants a French lover, so he chooses Emma Bovary. Persky tosses a paperback copy of Flaubert’s novel into the cabinet with Kugelmass, taps it three times, and Kugelmass finds himself at the Bovary estate in Yonville in the French countryside.
Emma Bovary welcomes Kugelmass, flirting with him as she admires his modern dress. ‘‘It’s called a leisure suit,’’’ he replies romantically, then adds, ‘‘It was marked down.’’’ They drink wine, take a stroll through the countryside, and whisper to each other as they recline under a tree. As they kiss and embrace, Kugelmass remembers that he has a date to meet his wife, Daphne. He tells Emma he will return as soon as possible, calls for Persky, and is transported back to New York. His heart is light, and he thinks he is in love. What he doesn’t know is that students across the country are asking their teachers about the strange appearance of a ‘‘bald Jew’’ kissing Madame Bovary on page 100.
The next day, Kugelmass returns to Persky, who transports him to...
(The entire section is 741 words.)