Gustave Flaubert

Gustave Flaubert



Gustave Flaubert

Background to Flaubert’s Madame Bovary

: World Masterpieces for some background to 19th C. Europe.


Gustave Flaubert Biography

  • 1821 Flaubert born in Rouen: father surgeon, mother was doctor's daughter;
  • 1836 passion for Elisa Schlésinger, a married woman eleven years his elder;
  • 1840-41, studied law in Paris against his will, failed exams;
  • 1843 likely suffered a nervous breakdown -- gave up law and returned home;
  • 1846 death of his father from gangrene; sister Caroline died shortly after childbirth;

Flaubert retired to Croisset, near Rouen on the Seine, with his mother and infant niece;

  • 1847 walking tour of the Loire and Brittany's coast
  • 1849-51 travels with Maxime du Camp through the middle east, Egypt, Greece, Italy
  • 1851 began work on Madame Bovary
  • 1857 Madame Bovary published after five years’ work


  • Flaubert’s philosophical influences: pessimism, nihilism, the unknown; science and religion as two poles of thought
  • hate of the bourgeois, middle class ideology and way of life (despite very much being bourgeois himself); decried bourgeois institutions like marriage (viewed his sister’s husband as “mediocrity incarnate”)
  • pursuit of perfection: "le seul mot juste" (took five years to write Madame Bovary)
  • attempt to create a beauty beyond conventional morality and social realities
  • combination of Romantic ideals (though very critical of them as well) and attempt at objectivity, scientific detachment
  • Realism: focus on small, very life-like details of ordinary lives
  • Rise of industrialism in Europe: communications revolution through rail, telegraph; new printing techniques (newspapers became commonplace for all classes to read)

Madame Bovary (1857)

  • antiromantic novel with underlying Romantic impulses
  • portrayal of bourgeois life
  • Flaubert tried on charges of immorality for the adulterous scenes
  • Emma as unfulfilled dreamer, failed Romantic hero (a sort of female Don Quixote)
  • triumph of the banal and base (i.e. Homais)
  • minimal dialogue: “the unspoken comes into sharp focus” (Wall, ix); unclear narration (seems to switch)
  • "Madame Bovary, c'est moi"
  • "the author, in his work, must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere" (Flaubert)

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Cast of Madame Bovary: A Study of Realism and Romanticism Through the Characters of the Novel

Gustave Flaubert is considered one of the most influential novelists of the Realist period. His most famous work, Madame Bovary, earned both heavy criticism and fame for its controversial style and mockery of Romanticism. The novel itself even went to trial, being banned for a while due to immorality (Various, 1). Many elements commonly found in Romantic novels were criticized and, to an extent, parodied in Madame Bovary. This stems from Flaubert having a cynical view of others, as well as a generally pessimistic outlook on life that was influenced by a young philosopher, Alfred Le Poittevin, who he met at an early age (Barzun, 1). This paper will describe how Flaubert goes after Romantic stereotypes within his masterpiece, looking at several of the characters and how they relate to both Romanticism and Realism, and to Flaubert’s personal life.
Emma Bovary, Madame Bovary herself, is the biggest insult to Romanticism within the novel. Her self-view as a wronged lady forced into a situation lower than her status reflects many heroines of Romantic works who, while happy with their status, have the touch of nobility that Emma sees herself having. An excellent example of this is in chapter eight, when Emma participates in the ball. She, while being very beautiful, possesses almost no grace (being a farm girl, after all) and clumsily falls on the Vicomte. While she takes it as a tender moment, the Vicomte is horribly embarrassed at her lack of skill and clumsiness, and sets her back in her seat to find a more suitable partner. While Emma daydreams about that moment, the Vicomte is busy dancing the same dance with a new lady, one who knows what to do and can keep up with him, improving his image. Other examples are littered throughout the novel, including Emma’s overdone “tragic” suicide with arsenic and the subsequent overdone “tragic” deathbed sequence.
One of Emma’s lovers, Rodolphe Boulanger, unlike Emma, actually possesses a romantic spark, one that is presented in a style that fits the realism of Madame Bovary. Rodolphe is a wealthy landowner who visited Charles (Emma’s husband) to have one of his workers bled. Upon seeing Emma, he was immediately intrigued and began a set of plans to seduce her, which succeeded. While Emma thought of Rodolphe as the strapping aristocrat who would save her from the humdrum life she lived with Charles, Rodolphe, however, only saw her as a pursuit for sexual means. Rodolphe was revealed to have no delusions about his life. He was wealthy and fairly attractive, and constantly went through the company of women. So many women had proclaimed their everlasting love for him, some honestly and others for profit, that he became desensitized to the words. Emma’s proclamations proved no more successful and he had no desire to whisk her away. This would give Rodolphe the appearance of a one dimensional character, simply a womanizer. However, towards the end of the novel, when Emma is desperately in debt and is exhausting every means to acquire the funds, tracks him down. At this point in the novel, Rodolphe has already broken ties with Emma and has moved on, but upon her arrival and confrontation we see him have the beginnings of a change of heart. As Emma speaks about forgiving Rodolphe and her desire to be with him again, oddly false, considering her actual plans with him before they broke up, he seems enticed at the idea and genuinely willing to try having a strong healthy relationship. In this way, Rodolphe fits both into the Romantic character persona (rich, charismatic, poetic in his speech) and that of a realistic character (his past experiences influence how he acts now, but he is capable of change).
Another character with the spark of the Romantic is Leon Dupuis, who first appears in the second chapter of part two. Leon is, in many ways like Emma. He seeks the romantic life, full of adventure and high society. The aggravation with his current lifestyle brought on by his adolescence speaks to Emma and they hit it off quite quickly. They quickly foster a powerful relationship that could easily become more passionate, but Emma pushes him away. In her mind, she was being a good wife, and was possibly pursuing the Romantic ideal of the love that could never be (like Romeo and Juliet). Despite his advances, Emma pushes Leon away, and finally he leaves for Paris to pursue his career.
Leon still pines for Emma, however, and, later in the novel, he has Emma visit him. An affair forms from these visits, one that Leon’s superiors at work do not approve of, as Flaubert made clear throughout its course. As this new subplot continues, their passion, which was feverishly strong at the beginning of the affair begins to wane and they both find faults and problems with the relationship. As Emma struggles to work out her debts from constantly buying luxuries that she can’t possibly afford, even asking Leon to pawn off some silverware her father gave her, he began to question her actions.
In the end, however, what finally separated them was Leon growing up. He was quite good at his job and was moving up in the world. Eventually Emma’s constant sobs and cries bored him, he grew tired of the constant sadness and suffering, and even their sex became boring for him. When Emma sought him out for money directly, even trying to push him to steal from his office, he fashioned a lie to get away from her, and left her forever. Leon’s Romantic way of thinking originally came from boredom with Yonville, where he lived. He grew out of it, however, and would go on to pursue realistic goals, a nice wife, a good job, etc. This is how Leon was different from Emma, who never got her mind out of the Romantic way of thinking. To her, the happiest life one could live was in that fashion.
Monsieur Homais has similar delusions about his life. Homais owned and ran the pharmacy in Yonville, making his first appearance at the beginning of part two. Homais, in a word, is a blowhard, loving the sound of his own voice as he goes on about various subjects he knows little or nothing about. Before Charles’ arrival, he acts as the town doctor since Yonville does not have one. He doesn’t really know what he is doing, however, and usually ends up just prescribing drugs or other items that can be bought at his store, which often puts him in trouble with the law. He loves the idea of recognition and glory in work, and ends up pushing Charles to do an experimental surgery to fix the clubfoot of one of the town’s stable workers. The surgery seemed to go well enough, but Charles, not being a doctor, made a small mistake that ended with the boy losing his leg.
Unlike the other characters in this analysis, Homais is portrayed very realistically. His pompous attitude and self-serving ideals create an almost sinister appearance, but his actual actions and speech reveal him as an obnoxious but ultimately harmless person. Other than the previously mentioned surgery, he doesn’t have an incredibly large influence on the action (the arsenic Emma uses to kill herself was found in Homais’ pharmacy, but he didn’t give it to her) although he shows up very often, often arguing or lecturing on subjects he knows very little of. One of the recurring scenes of the novel includes Homais arguing with the priest over issues of science and God. An argument about the matter even comes up shortly after Emma’s death, while the two are in the main room of the Bovary house. Homais does end up building credibility however, and. by the end of the novel, his influence allowed him to force any doctor that tried to set up in Yonville out of business. The very last sentence of the book mentions Homais being awarded the cross of the Legion of Honor, a prestigious award.
By the end of the novel, both Emma and Charles are dead, their lives destroyed, while two other characters, specifically, experienced much happier endings. Leon got married to a decent woman and began a life of maturity, while Homais, through his scheming and tactics, became very successful in Yonville. Both of these characters brought to light ways that Romanticism can end. In Leon’s case, Romantic thoughts of youth and aggravation can be wiped away as real life becomes more pertinent, and, with maturity, responsibility became his way of thinking. Homais’ constant delusions of grandeur paid off for him, in the end, as he found ways to exploit what knowledge he had, and what he thought of himself became what other people thought.
Charles Bovary is a very interesting character in that he represents to Emma a Romantic story’s villain while he’s actually just a very down to earth person. Another aspect of Charles is his connection to Flaubert. Being born to a family of doctors gave Flaubert access to many medical books, which gave him knowledge of medicine few in his field had. From this, the experiences of Charles, and even Homais, have a much more believable feel. Being born in Rouen, the town that Leon left for, Flaubert also had an idea of what life was like in the area.
Charles was a simple man, he was a hard worker, but wasn’t very intelligent. Another fact rang truer with him than with any other character: he loved Emma. His love for her, though often shunned by Emma for not being the Romantic overly passionate love she wanted, burned brighter and more emotionally than any other character’s. His simple-mindedness is what put him in the role of the “villain” that Emma wanted to escape from. His simple life and lack of luxury infuriated her and pushed her to pursue people like Rodolphe, who was rich and, at the very least, feigned passion.
Until Emma’s death, Charles had no real delusions about his life. He helped people as he could and didn’t try to overstep his bounds as a medical officer for personal gain, although Homais and Emma both pressured him into the clubfoot operation. When Emma died his truly passionate side came forth and he tried to live in a way that she would have liked him to. Sadly, this meant buying luxury items he couldn’t afford and spending money he didn’t have on frivolous things. Eventually, he lost everything and died penniless. Such was the life of a simple and ordinary man who had nothing exceptional about him at all. Flaubert’s descriptions of Charles always painted him in a bland light, one that could easily blend into the background, but this is the point. Charles was nothing special, but he was a good man with a solid job. Realistically, that was what many women were looking for at the time, except for Emma, who sought only the greatest and most luxurious, carefree lifestyles based around her Romantic novels.
In a way the characters listed here represent a spectrum of Romanticism to realism. Emma sat at the far end of the Romantic side, her delusions never leaving her, even as she lay dying she could think of nothing but the melancholic and tragic death she wanted, unlike Charles’ first wife who died very suddenly in the middle of the day. Leon would be next in line, his Romantic and passionate views mirroring those of Emma. Leon, however, would grow out of them and move on to more realistic pursuits. In the middle would be Homais, possessing self-delusions that would rival Emma’s, but having a fairly realistic view of life in general. Rodolphe would land closer to Charles’ end of the spectrum, while proclaiming false passion, he had a very realistic idea of what his life actually consisted of and what kind of person he was. Finally, Charles would be at the most realistic end of the spectrum, with absolutely no delusions about his life, himself, or what he wanted in the future.
All of these characters portray different views of Romanticism and realism, and combine them in ways that result in a very interesting literary work. Flaubert’s attacks on Romanticism spew out through Leon and Emma, their passionate ideals ringing hollow and empty while the realistic views of Homais and Rodolphe are more successful. Flaubert’s own opinion of Romanticism, based on this novel, could not have been a positive one. His ability to capture an accurate view of middle class life and present it both realistically and in an entertaining way provides an excellent look into his own views. Although he valued objectivity more than anything else in his works, his viewpoints come through very clearly.


Sited Sources
Barzun, Jacques, and Rene Dumesnil. "Gustave Flaubert (French Author) -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia." Encyclopedia - Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2010. Web. 08 Nov. 2010. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/209756/Gustave-Flaubert>.
Madame Bovary. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. 1800 to 1900. Trans. Francis Steegmuller. By Gustave Flaubert. New York: Norton, 2002. 1088-301. Print.
Various. The Public vs. M. Gustave Flaubert. Comp. Juliet Sutherland and Rosanna Yuen. Project Gutenberg - Free Ebooks Online Download for IPad, Kindle, Nook, Android, IPhone, IPod Touch, Sony Reader. 10 Jan. 2004. Web. 04 Dec. 2010. <http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/10666/pg10666.html>.


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Gustave Flaubert

            Gustave Flaubert’s renowned masterpiece Madame Bovary is widely considered to be a cornerstone of the realism movement.  Flaubert’s writing was meticulous and his styles have been mimicked by many other authors around the world.  The novel tells of a failed dreamer who resorts to affairs and extravagant spending to satiate her dreams.  Meanwhile Flaubert analyzes and records in detail the society of provincial France during the 1840’s.
French author Gustave Flaubert was born on December 12, 1821 to father Achille Cléophas Flaubert and mother Anne Justine Caroline in Rouen (“Gustave Flaubert - Wikipedia”).  Flaubert came from a family with a strong medical and bourgeoisie background, both of which are key components in his novel Madame Bovary.  His father was the chief surgeon and clinical professor at Rouen’s Hôtel-Dieu hospital.  His mother’s father was also a doctor (“Flaubert, Gustave”).
After his mother’s unsuccessful attempts to teach him, Flaubert was enrolled in the College Royal de Rouen in 1831 at the age of nine (“Flaubert biography”).  He began writing at a young age and his first published work was in Le Colibri in 1837.  During his early years Flaubert also became friends with a young pessimistic philosopher name Alfred Le Poittevin.  Le Poittevin’s viewpoints influenced Flaubert for the remainder of his life (“Flaubert, Gustave”).  Flaubert’s first philosophical work, La Peste a Florence, was published when he was fourteen (“Flaubert biography”).
Although Flaubert’s younger sister and older brother had little influence on his writing, his nanny, Julie, helped inspire Felicite in Madame Bovary.  As a child, Flaubert suffered from poor health and he was not expected to live to adulthood.  His nanny was a major influence during this stage of his life and was the source of his future confidence in life (“Flaubert biography”).
As a child and teenager, Flaubert was eager for life and learning.  It was also during this period that he developed his radical life-long philosophy.  Throughout his life he opposed all authority and accepted values as he focused on the injustices of man.  He also showed sympathy towards people in low positions as he despised the privileged (“Flaubert biography”).
Flaubert became a student at the Faculty of Law in Paris in November 1841.  However, at the age of twenty-two in 1842 his studies withered as he suffered from laziness and epilepsy.  Despite the absence of epilepsy’s main symptoms, the disorder affected him for the rest of his life (“Flaubert, Gustave” and “Flaubert biography”).
After leaving law school Flaubert devoted the remainder of his life to writing and literature.  After his father and sister died in January and March, respectively, of 1846, Flaubert moved to his estate at Croisset, in France, with his mother and infant niece (“Flaubert, Gustave”).  Over the following years Flaubert wrote his most famous pieces such as Mémoires d’un fou, Salammbô, L’Éducation sentimentale, Trois contes, and his masterpiece Madame Bovary.  Flaubert died twenty-four years after Madame Bovary’s publication on May 8, 1880 at Croisset (“Gustave Flaubert - Wikipedia”).
Flaubert created his own literary movement with his meticulous and detailed writing.  Described as a “novelist’s novelist,” Flaubert’s independently created writing style was mimicked by other authors such as Marcel Proust, James Joyce, and Chekhov (“Flaubert biography”).  He is widely considered to be a romantic and realist author (“Gustave Flaubert - Wikipedia”).  Writing during the age of romanticism, Flaubert’s works captured the literary movement’s ideas of personal examination and a focus on passions over reason and intellect (“Romanticism”).
Many of Flaubert’s writings were carefully crafted literary works depicting life in provincial France.  Although many of his writings could be considered scientific documentations of daily French life due to his intense attention to detail, Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, published in 1856, also included a story line that told the life of an “unfulfilled dreamer.”  The inclusion of a time period-neutral story helps Madame Bovary appeal to almost all audiences (“Madame Bovary,” Norton 823-24).
Although Flaubert’s works give an objective view of society, they are heavily influenced by his personal experiences and observations (“Madame Bovary,” Norton 823).  Flaubert remains an influential novelist today as many authors use his self-created style in their works.  His writing was also very influential in helping shape the movement in naturalistic writing (“Flaubert biography”).  Flaubert is also a domineering figure in the realm of realist writing due to his careful documentation of provincial French life in his writings (“Flaubert, Gustave”).
Madame Bovary is widely regarded as Flaubert’s best literary work.  The novel, which consumed five-years of his life, helped start a new theme in literature (“Madame Bovary,” Norton 823).  His careful documentation of provincial life compelled authors to write in a similarly realistic manner (“Flaubert biography”).
Flaubet’s novel opens with Charles Bovary as an adolescent in a new school.  The novel quickly overviews Charles’s education and first marriage, which ended in his wife’s death.  Shortly before her death, Charles, a less prestigious French doctor, becomes acquainted with the daughter, Emma Rouault, of one of his clients.  A casual, but loving, relationship ensues.  Shortly after his wife’s death, Charles whisks Emma away into marriage.
Although their marriage is passionate at first, Emma soon ventures down a path of dreaming and longing for what is out of her reach.  This will ultimately lead to her suicide.  Emma’s longing for Paris, its lifestyle, and its culture become permanent as she attends a fancy ball at La Vaubyessard.  After returning to life in the small village of Tostes, Emma becomes depressed.  Charles relocates to the larger town of Yonville in hopes of improving her spirits.
It is in Yonville that most of Madame Bovary’s plot takes place.  She gives birth to her daughter, Berthe, who she largely ignores.  It is also here that she meets young Léon Dupuis, a notary’s clerk, who has similar big city aspirations.  Their relations are postponed after he moves to Paris to attend law school.  Emma then begins an affair with the debonair Rodolphe Bourlanger.  Emma enters a deep depression after their visits end two-years later.
Emma is pulled from her bout of depression when Léon Dupuis moves to nearby Rouen.  Under the guise of music lessons, Emma makes weekly journeys to the city to have an affair with Léon.  Emma’s second, and last, affair will end when her surmounting debts reach their tipping point.  Combined with the end of her affair and repossession of her home’s furnishings, Emma commits suicide by ingesting arsenic.  Charles will prematurely die from grief after Emma’s death.  Berthe is sent to live with a distant aunt and work in a cotton mill.
Although a dominant theme remains ambiguous in Madame Bovary, pursuing one’s dreams and desires motivates the main character Emma Bovary (“Madame Bovary,” Norton 824).  Therefore, it can be strongly argued that Flaubert’s main theme compares and contrasts our dreams and reality.  Also, while the novel does not expose Flaubert’s philosophy on society and religion, it does take a stance on the bourgeoise and Christianity.
Emma was a dreamer who failed to achieve her dreams because of societal constraints and self-constraints (“Madame Bovary,” Norton 824).  Throughout her life she had dreamed of romances and the society in cities such as Paris.  However, every advance Emma made towards achieving her goal pushed her further into alternating cycles of depression, happiness, and self-pity.  The major theme of achieving life-long dreams throughout the novel is also a jumping off point for Flaubert to explore other topics of interest in the society of provincial France in the 1840’s.
One such ability of Flaubert is to show the stereotypical characters in society during this time period.  Yonville’s pharmacist represented the rapidly advancing world of science in the 1800’s and, in some cases, its carelessness.  Meanwhile, Flaubert also hints at the occasionally deceiving practices of cunning businessmen.  He also uses Emma to examine the bourgeoisie's delusion that material wealth would increase their happiness (“Madame Bovary - Wikipedia”).
Christianity and religion also becomes a predominate theme as the novel progresses.  Flaubert uses Yonville’s priest and the actions of its citizens to show the true religious nature of the average person.  His comparison of religion with science also shows where society has been and where it is going in terms of enlightened thinking (“Madame Bovary - Wikipedia”).
Although Flaubert does not use Madame Bovary to espouse his philosophical views, it closely parallels his life.  Therefore, while the book was heavily influenced by his ideas on lifestyle and society, its main intent was not to showcase Flaubert’s views.  He stated that “Madame Bovary is me” (“Madame Bovary,” Norton 826).  The novel is a detailed analysis of the society surrounding Flaubert and, therefore, has been influenced by his ideas on society.
Emma had a life-long dream that she believed would make her happier.  However, every time she advanced further towards her dream the unhappier she became.  As a teenager in a convent and later at her father’s farm she read romance novels that inflated her ideals of life and its happiness.  Initially these books were her only method of indulging her dreams.
When she met and later married Charles, Emma was filled with bliss and was one step closer to her life-long goal.  However, after the novelty faded Emma fell into a torpor.  She was no longer as interested in Charles.  Instead books and magazines about life in Paris helped further her dream.
After moving to Yonville Emma’s depression subsided because she was another step closer to realizing this dream.  What she did not know was that this was only the second revolution of her cycle of depression, happiness, and self-pity.  This cycle took her through two separate affairs.  Emma would purchase the best goods and home furnishings from the local salesman in an attempt to further her dream.  Instead it caused enormous debt.  With each additional cycle Emma became more and more trapped, ultimately resulting in her suicide.
Although part of her failed dreams were a result of being trapped in a small provincial town without an escape, she also suffered from mental instabilities.  Instead of coping with the matter like a rational human, Emma resorted to activities that only worsened her desire to live in Paris and mingle with the vibrant society and everything else she did not have.
As Emma was attempting to fulfill her dreams Flaubert was painting a picture of society in the 1800’s.  Yonville’s pharmacist, Monsieur Homais, represented the revolutionary advances that were being made in the sciences.  His constant reports of the latest treatments and hypothesis exemplify this.  However, readers are also reminded that science and medicine were still a new and unexplored frontier.  This is exemplified by the failed surgery that Charles performs, under Monsieur Homais’s persistence, to correct Hippolyte Tautain’s clubfoot (“Madame Bovary - Wikipedia”).
Flaubert also spotlights the deceiving words and actions of businessmen during the time period.  Monsieur Lheureux constantly recommended and sold goods to Emma even though she was in increasingly more debt.  He also purposely gave her too many loans so that he could collect their interest.  However, Monsieur Lheureux’s actions also have another point-of-view.  His transactions with Emma exemplify Flaubert’s disapproval of the Bourgeoisie's extravagant lifestyle (“Madame Bovary - Wikipedia”).
As the novel progresses Flaubert begins to compare and contrast Christianity and science.  The town’s priest symbolizes Christianity and Monsieur Homais symbolizes science.  The priest, Abbé Bournisien, believes in conservative values and traditions.  Meanwhile Monsieur Homais advocates progressive thinking and lifestyles.  Flaubert also contrasts the “empty church rituals” with the potential breakthroughs of science (“Madame Bovary - Wikipedia”).  In Flaubert’s closing statements in the novel he writes, “three doctors have succeeded one another in Yonville.”  The novel concludes with “[Monsieur Homais] has just been awarded the cross of the Legion of Honor” (396).  With those words Flaubert is alluding to the failure of the Holy Trinity and the future of science and enlightened thinking.
Although Flaubert does not focus on one overarching theme in Madame Bovary, his analysis of society in provincial France during the 1800’s transcends generations.  He brings to his readers’ attention timeless aspects of society and life that engage their thought processes.  Emma’s dreaming for what she does not have encourages readers to reexamine their desires.  Flaubert’s critique of society compels his readers to critically think about their surroundings and take a second look at what they believe.  Ultimately Flaubert and Madame Bovary provide their readers with a compelling story of love and hate, sadness and happiness while also focusing on how we view life and its meaning.
Works Cited
Flaubert biography. 5 Apr. 2008. <http://www.springfield.k12.il.us/schools/southeast/         bovary/biography.htm>.
"Flaubert, Gustave." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 29 Mar.            2008  <http://search.eb.com/eb/article-2347>.
Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary. Trans. Francis Steegmuller. New York: Random House,    1957.
Gustave Flaubert - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 4 Apr. 2008.
“Madame Bovary.” Cyclopedia of Literary Characters. Ed. Frank Magill. New York: Harper &             Row, 1963.
“Madame Bovary.” The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. Ed. Maynard Mack. New    York: Norton, 1985. 823-26.
Madame Bovary - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 6 Apr. 2008.
"Romanticism." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 5 Apr. 2008           <http://nclive.lib.ncsu.edu:2221/eb/article-9083836>.


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Madame Bovary Study Questions


1. How do you react to the main characters in the book? Do you admire or detest any of them? Do you find any hateful, laughable or pitiable? Can you locate any heroes or villains, good or bad characters?

2. How does the point of view in the novel work, and how does it affect your impressions of the main characters? Pick a passage in which you find the point of view striking, and analyze why it interests you.

3. How would you describe the tone of the book? Does it change?’

4. Emma has been called a "hopeless romantic." How and why does she become this kind of person? What was Emma's education like? If Emma is corrupted by reading novels, how does Flaubert deal with the fact that he is himself a novelist?

Would Emma's life be the same if she hadn't been sent to a convent school? How is religion presented in the novel? How does Flaubert relate religion to Emma's romanticism?

Is Emma ever happy? What does or would it take to satisfy her? Is anyone to blame for her discontent?

5. How does socio-economic class figure in Bovary? How would a Marxist analyze the book?

6. How are gender issues relevant to the novel? To be more specific (and to point this question in only one out of many possible directions): the novel, written by a man, treats a female protagonist. Do you think this has any effect on the portrayal of Emma? Compare and contrast Pride and Prejudice along this axis. What would you say to a critic who claims that Flaubert hates women?

7. Flaubert famously declared his identification with his protagonist with the words, "Emma Bovary, c'est moi" ["Madame Bovary is me"]. What do you think he meant by this? Does he show any affinity for Emma or similarity with her, as a writer or a man? More broadly, are Emma's problems ones that a man can identify with, or are they gender-specific?

8. Emma's reading of romances has a contemporary equivalent: the market for Harlequin romances or soap operas. Who consumes these stories, and what is the appeal of the stories for their audiences?

Flaubert, Gustave

Gustave Flaubert (1821-80) remains one of the most important French novelists of the nineteenth century. Although he is most often associated with the realist and naturalist movements because of his desire for authorial objectivity, his works are not so easily classified. His masterpiece, Madame Bovary (1857), is indeed a stylistic exercise in which Flaubert attempted to eliminate all authorial visibility, yet the novel manifests the influence of virtually all of the various literary movements of the period, most notably the Romanticism whose "feminine phrases" Flaubert professed to despise (Correspondance 1:210). Instead, he advocates a doctrine of impersonality, which he sees as "the sign of Strength" (2:466). Unlike the Romantics, who sought to continually redefine the inner self, Flaubert aspired to a "grasp of the non-self and a representation of the world" (Poulet 15). Flaubert's vision of the world is, then, one that grows out of the Romantic tradition and is modified by his fundamental desire to let the text speak for itself.
Flaubert was born in Rouen, where his father was chief of surgery at the city hospital. It was in his youth in this provincial city that Flaubert developed his hatred of all that was "bourgeois," an appellation that had less to do with social class than with a limited, empty, bigoted view of the world. After studying law briefly in Paris, Flaubert was stricken in 1844 by the first of many nervous attacks that allowed him to withdraw from public life and devote himself to his writing. He had by that point formulated a rather pessimistic view of life, and thus his retreat from society caused him no great hardship. He spent the rest of his life in Croisset, outside Rouen, writing some of the most remarkable novels of his time: L'Éducation sentimentale (1846), La Tentation de Saint Antoine (1848), Madame Bovary (1857), Salammbô (1872), later versions of L'Éducation sentimentale (1869) and La Tentation de Saint Antoine (1874), and the unfinished Bouvard et Pécuchet. In addition, his Trois contes (1877) includes the celebrated short story "Un Coeur simple."
Although Flaubert left no definitive statement on literary theory, his correspondence allows us a view of the development of his aesthetic that might not be possible in a theoretical text. Through the late 1840s and early 1850s he wrote regularly of his attempts to depersonalize his works, championing "Form" as the only way to find "Truth" and "the Idea" (Correspondance 2:91). When he set out to write his "book about nothing" (2:31), Madame Bovary, he intended to eliminate all external elements, leaving nothing but style itself. The foundation of this aesthetic rests on his well-known declaration: "An author in his book must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere" (2:204). The more visible the author, the weaker the work.
Art, according to Flaubert, was moving toward a purity in which the subject would be virtually invisible, leaving style free to be an absolute "manner of seeing things" (2:229). Over the centuries, form had become freer, leaving behind all rule and measure. The epic had given way to the novel, poetry to prose. There was no longer any orthodoxy, and form was as free as the will of its creator. It is not surprising that Flaubert is seen by some as a precursor of the French "new novel" of the 1950s and that we have seen the publication of a collection of essays entitled Flaubert and Postmodernism. It could be argued, however, that his novels do not follow the precepts he espoused and should not be called postmodern works.
In 1856, after five years of work during which he expressed his desire to write a "book about nothing," Flaubert finished Madame Bovary. While the novel is certainly a monument to style, Flaubert realized that his aspirations toward complete impersonality were unrealistic. "I have always sinned that way; I have always put myself into everything that I have written" (Correspondance 2:127). At times during the writing of Madame Bovary, he became so emotionally involved in his heroine's fate that he fell ill. This novel about a young, romantic woman trapped in the despised "bourgeois" world not only spoke of Flaubert's romantic side but aroused enough passion in society to have the book brought to trial on morals charges.
Flaubert reinforced the realistic vision he attempted to create by his ingenious use of the style indirect libre, a stylistic device that enabled him to express a character's thoughts or words without directly identifying their source (of the many renderings of the term style indirect libre, two of the most common are "free indirect style" and "represented discourse" [Porter 1]). The first person is avoided, no quotation marks are used, and no verb tells us that the character is thinking or speaking. Only through context and style do we see that the objective narrator has turned the text over to the character for the moment.

Flaubert alternates the supposed objective account of the third person narrator's voice with the subjective experience of a character moving through the world. The former is presented as a given that is in itself unproblematic for narrator and reader; the latter involves an individual's perception and misperception. The gap between the two gives rise to the familiar Flaubertian irony. (D. Porter 374)

This irony helped bring Flaubert a measure of critical acceptance during his lifetime.
Flaubertian criticism has varied widely over the years but can generally be broken down into three overlapping stages. Traditionally, Flaubert was seen as a realist; then, as criticism became more thematic, he was considered an idealist; and finally, structuralist and poststructuralist criticism have judged him to be an "indeterminist, a writer who resists conclusions" (Porter 2). Overriding mere, and sometimes simplistic, classifications is Flaubert's influence on writers of his time and on those who came after him. His unswerving search for the mot juste "called into question the notion that made literature a communication between author and reader" (Culler 13). Without the reassuring guidance of an ever-present narrator/author, the reader was presented with a new challenge. Authors of the last hundred years have continued Flaubert's legacy by giving the reader ever more leeway with which to interpret a work of fiction.
William VanderWolk

Flaubert is associated with the naturalist school, artists who described events with medical precision. Indeed, Flaubert's father was a country surgeon and the writer trained briefly under him. In his letters, Flaubert described literature as "the dissection of a beautiful woman with her guts in her face, her leg skinned, and half a burned-out cigar lying on her foot."
This combination of medical detail and sexual violence summarizes Flaubert's style. He writes neither in the third person, nor the first, but in the odd voice the French call "style indirect libre." Events are recorded as if from the viewpoint of a particular character but not in that character's voice. Flaubert retains a distance that evokes objectivity but also seems disdainful. His characters all seem ridiculous. When Boulanger seduces Emma, for example, they are at a country fair and he whispers above the sound of a farm wife winning an award for her pig. Emma's ideals of love are no more exemplary than the woman's ideal of pig meat.
Study Questions: Flaubert, Madame Bovary
1. Why begin and end with Charles? How does this place Emma in perspective?
2. Watch for descriptions of eyes, sight, lack of sight; describe how these passages contribute to characterization.
**3. Characterize the atmosphere of Tostes and Yonville; how does the environment here shape individual lives? how do Emma and Charles react to these environments?
**4. Which characters are treated sympathetically? how does this treatment illuminate Flaubert's moral sense?
**5. How does Emma define love? Charles? What passages illustrate their view?
**6. Find three passages spread over the first 75 pages that illustrate Flaubert as a master of realistic detail at work. Explain and defend your choices.
7. What points of view are used in the narrative? how do these affect your involvement?
**8. Describe how Flaubert portrays basic bourgeois behavior and attitudes. How do these compare with the aristocrats; does either group come out ahead?
9. Watch for times when Emma stands at a window; what need does this behavior seem to reflect?
10. Images of machines reappear at intervals; what ideas do these images call up?
**11. Reflect on how money, materialism, economic issues are used to comment on bourgeois society, and specifically the Bovary family.
12. Discuss how Emma's fascination with romantic (and Romantic) ideals affects her life.
13. Characterize Emma's attitudes towards Charles, Leon, Rodolphe.
14. After this novel was published, Flaubert was brought to trial on charges of immorality; if you were a member of the jury, what would you decide?
15. Is Emma's fate tragic? is the novel tragic? why or why not?
2. How does nature imagery contribute to Flaubert's portrait of the relationship between Emma and Rodolphe?
3. Emma's love for Rodolphe is adulterous; she is a married woman. How does the fact that she is married (and the nature of her relationship with her husband -- briefly glimpsed on p. 93) affect her experience of love?
1. Emma Bovary as a failed romantic: according to this view, blame lies largely with Emma herself. Her dreams lead her down the wrong path.
2. Emma as a victim of bourgeois society: Emma is constrained by the world she lives in. She is a tragic but heroic figure because she refuses to be limited by the role society would have her play.

2. Emma as a woman in a patriarchal society: There are double standards for the behavior of men and women. Essentially both of Emma's lovers act as she does in throwing over the formal rules of society, but while the men are free to go on to the next escapade, Emma pays with her life simply because she is a woman, and women do not have the freedom of men.

Write a one page typewritten character analysis. You may choose one of the following characters: Charles, Homais, Rodolphe, Leon or Lheureux. Draw your analysis from the different "schools" of literary criticism (i.e. New Historicist, Cultural Materialism, Feminism, and/or psychoanalytic). We will use these as the basis of our discussion

free indirect style (or free indirect discourse). A manner of presenting the thoughts or utterances of a fictional character as if from that character's point of view by combining grammatical and other features of the character's 'direct speech' with features of the narrator's 'indirect' report. Direct discourse is used in the sentence She thought, 'I will stay here tomorrow', while the equivalent in indirect discourse would be She thought that she would stay there the next day. Free indirect style, however combines the person and tense of indirect discourse ('she would stay') with the indications of time and place appropriate to direct discourse ('here tomorrow'), to form a different kind of sentence: She would stay here tomorrow. This form of statement allows a third-person narrative to exploit a first person point of view, often with a subtle effect of irony, as in the novels of Jane Austen. Since Flaubert's celebrated use of this technique (known in French as le style indirect libre) in his novel Madame Bovary ( 1857), it has been widely adopted in modern fiction. [Chris Baldick, 1990]
Across the way, beyond the roofs, the broad, pure sky stretched out, the red sun setting. How nice it must be over there! How cool under the hedgerow! And he opened his nostrils to breath in the sweat fragrances of the countryside, which didn’t waft their way all the way up to him.
People were watching them [dance]. They glided by and glided back, she, her body immobile and her chin down; he, always in the same position, his back arched, his elbow bent, his chin jutting forward. She knew how to waltz, that one! They continued for a long time and tired everyone else out.
Adapted from Gustave Flaubert Madame Bovary
Flaubert’s use of free indirect discourse is related to his desire to remove himself (the author) from his work, creating uncertainty and various possibilities for interpretation. For example, When Flaubert writes of Emma that "She found in adultery all the platitudes of marriage" it is unclear whether this is Emma’s opinion, or Flaubert's, or even perhaps the reader’s. Indeed, we know that after the trial of Madame Bovary for immorality Flaubert was forced, by the very keenly pro-family Second Empire court to change that particular sentence from "the platitudes of marriage" to "the platitudes of her marriage". The necessary, and in Sartre's view ethically positive, demoralisation of the bourgeois reader depends at least in part on precisely this uncertainty as to authorial intention. Flaubert is a committed writer paradoxically because he refuses to tell us what he thinks. Style indirect libre (free indirect discourse) and similar experimental narrative devices are the key to the commitment of a writer whose personal reactionary misanthropy sets up an intriguing counterpoint to Sartre's compelling reading of his work.
Like Genet, Flaubert proposes a trap to his bourgeois reader. A tale of provincial adultery, a moral tale where the sinner comes to a bad end, a story which appeals to the mid-nineteenth-century reader's desire to blame fate for all evil and mishaps - "the worst is always certain", "destiny is to blame" - in fact masks an insidious nihilism, a disturbing disruption of the common categories of intention, responsibility, viewpoint. Narrative devices of perspectival dislocation run counter to the apparent story-line. What Flaubert's novel reveals through the appeal of the sensuous lyricism it celebrates, is the worm at the heart of being, the inability to distinguish real from imaginary, totality from nothingness. It is self-nihilating and demoralising, its surface subject matter is a pretext for an insidious luring of the reader towards perceptual and ontological insecurity and ultimately nihilism.

Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary
Gustave Flaubert was born in 1821 in the provincial capital of Rouen, France, where he lived most of his life and died in 1880. The son of a provincial doctor, Flaubert was encouraged to go into law. During his studies he had what we might term a breakdown. Afterwards, he decided to become a writer. He began with Romantic musings and travel writing about his trip to the Near East, all of which went unpublished. He did not publish Madame Bovary, his first novel, until he was thirty-five. It was originally published as a serial in the magazine Revue de Paris, which led to a celebrated trial in which Flaubert was charged with "offenses against public morality" for what was seen as the scandalous nature of the tale of a discontented middle-class housewife and her love affairs. He was acquitted, and the novel was published with the subtitle Moeurs de Province (Provincial Mores). In a review, the noted novelist Honoré de Balzac claimed Flaubert had revived the stagnant form of the novel in France. Flaubert sought to portray the utter bleakness of lower middle-class provincial life and the bourgeoisie he despised. His success in this goal derived from his juxtaposition of detailed descriptions of every aspect of his subject (provincial life) against the romantic fantasies and desires of the protagonist, Emma Bovary.
Madame Bovary is set during the "July Monarchy" of King Louis-Philippe, who was brought to power during the Revolution of 1830 and ousted during the Revolution of 1848 (the novel begins with Charles Bovary's schooldays in 1827 and ends with his death in 1846). The July Monarchy was known as the "bourgeois monarchy" because Louis-Philippe embraced middle-class values and advised his subjects to "get rich!" Aspects of life during the July Monarchy are clearly evident throughout Madame Bovary, especially class differences, anti-clericalism, and concerns of economy. While Flaubert mocks all of these, he most directly challenges the moral standards and domesticity of the bourgeoisie.
Making the main character a woman gave an added dimension of limitation and restriction to the story. Women in nineteenth-century France could not vote; indeed, they were not citizens of the nation and were considered minors and under the guardianship of either their fathers or their husbands. Married women could not own property or engage in any kind of business except through their husbands. Thus, Emma Bovary's romantic, self-fancied aristocratic spirit is kept from the passionate life she desires by both her class and her gender.
Emma Bovary
The protagonist of the novel. Daughter of a farmer, educated at a convent, Emma's fantasy life and her affairs make her a problematic protagonist, since she is often unsympathetic; but the reader can easily sympathize with the limits of her situation as the wife of a small-town country medical officer.

Charles Bovary
Emma's husband. Small-town, low-level doctor who loves his wife dearly and even moves to a new town, despite the blow to his practice, in an attempt to make her happier. Her constantly changing moods and erratic character do not deter his love, but only make him more concerned about her.

Monsieur Charles-Denis-Bartholomé Bovary
Charles's father. A surgeon's aide in the army before a scandal forced him to leave the service. With his good looks he managed to find a knit-goods dealer's daughter with a lot of money to marry. Never an attentive husband, he was also idle in his work and changed jobs several times before eventually retiring to the country.

the older Madame Bovary -
Charles's mother and Emma's mother-in-law. A knit-goods dealer's daughter, she was lively and very much in love with the elder Monsieur Bovary when they met; his inattentive nature, however, turned her into an unpleasant, fault-finding older woman. She is consistently resentful of Charles's affection for Emma, whom she criticizes at every opportunity.

Heloïse Dubuc
A forty-five year old widow who was Charles's first wife.

Monsieur Rouault
Emma's father. A farmer who has no will to work and a great taste for the comforts of life. He is not as well-off as people think.

Berthe Bovary
Daughter of Emma and Charles Bovary.

The marquis d'Anderville
A local noble who invites Charles and Emma to a ball at his palace when they live in Tostes.

The Vicomte
An aristocratic guest at the ball who dances with Emma, and whose reappearance through the novel symbolizes Emma's desire for a different life.

Monsieur Homais
The pharmacist in Yonville; friend of the Bovarys. He is ambitious and cunning, and runs a local newspaper that largely serves him and his friends. Homais's strident political opinions had alienated one respectable person in town after another. His values (anticlericalism, republicanism) and way of life (intense capitalism, sneaking around government rules) are representative of the middle-class bourgeoisie, and his particular manifestation of them are presented as simultaneously evil and simple-minded.

Madame Homais
Monsieur Homais's wife.

Monsieur Léon Dupuis
A clerk to the notary in Yonville. He shares a friendship with Emma, who he loves deeply. He leaves to study law in Paris. When he returns to the region (he moves to Rouen, the largest town) their friendship turns into a love affair.

Madame Lefrançois
Proprietor of the l'Hôtel Lion d'Or in Yonville.

Monsieur Bournisien
The local curé, or town priest.

Monsieur Lheureux
Shopkeeper and money-lender in Yonville. Flaubert plays on regional stereotypes in the description of him as combining the "southern volubility" of his native Gascony with "the cunning" of his long-time adopted region of Normandy. He encourages Emma to run up a debt with him and betrays her by endorsing the notes to others when he had promised not to do so. He represents the evils of excessive capitalism.

Monsieur Rodolphe Boulanger
Local wealthy landowner. After meeting Emma, he quickly seduces her. Although he has feelings of love for her and often finds her irresistible, her sentimentality and position as his mistress reminds him of other women he has known and when she pushes for him to take her away from her life he leaves her, heartbroken.

Bovary's maid.

Young assistant to Homais. He has a crush on both Felicité and Emma, eventually becomes something of a lady's-maid to Emma (despite his gender). A constant source of disappointment to Homais, who catches him reading a book on "conjugal love," among other indiscretions.

Monsieur Binet
The local tax collector.

The stable boy at the hotel. He has a clubfoot that Charles, at the urging of Homais, tries to cure with an operation.

Doctor Cavinet
Local doctor. Amputates Hippolyte's leg; is called to help Emma.

Doctor Larivière
Prominent doctor of the region. A confident, talented man who saves Hippolyte and Emma by intervening where Charles Bovary had failed to help them. Believed to be based on Flaubert's father. Monsieur Vinçart: Rouen banker to whom Monsieur Lheureux endorses Emma's debts.

Madame Bovary is an intensely detailed portrayal of the cheerless banality of lower middle-class life in the French provinces in the middle of the nineteenth century, and the most "realistic" novels of its period. By setting a sublimely Romantic character, such as Emma Bovary, in the middle of this life, Flaubert highlighted its limitations. He also married realism and Romanticism. While Madame Bovary is very much of the naturalist school of literature in the way it details its subjects so precisely, it combines that style with poeticism and Romanticism through Emma's aspirations and the consistent melding of human emotion with nature through metaphor.
Although this quality if not evident in English translations, Madame Bovary is famous for the intensely rhythmic and mellifluent style of its prose. The original French reads flat and stark, despite its artistically crafted details, engrossing the reader with its almost monotonous tone. Flaubert masterfully portrays the dreariness of the lives he explicates with this smooth, effluent writing style. He details every element of the world depicted in the novel, no matter how mundane. This depiction is engaging and successful due to what he called a style indirect libre (free indirect discourse) which was neither first nor third person, but rather flowed between the two.
A central theme in Madame Bovary is the disjuncture between reality and perception, between society and desire. Sometimes this is shown through the difference between what a character wishes were true and what is actually happening, as when Charles attributes Emma's unhappiness in Tostes to the air and environment of the town instead of her deep dissatisfaction with married life; other times it is shown in Emma's reflection on her feelings, as when she grows to hate Charles more and more, and yet she knows it had little to do with him and more to do with her love for another man.
Equally important is the theme of the bourgeoisie, particularly their shortcomings. Flaubert deeply detested bourgeois values-the propriety, the economy, the hypocrisy of morals, the small-mindedness, the ridiculous religious clinging to anticlericalism-and this comes through loud and clear throughout the novel. In many ways, Emma can be seen as the victim of the bourgeoisie, whose standards and petty ways trapped her in a life without imagination and without passion. Yet her spirit leads her to live a life that seeks passion and pleasure despite the rules she is expected to follow; when it comes time to confront this dichotomy, she chooses to kill herself rather than face the shame that would necessarily ruin her life.

In his essay "Realism and the Contemporary Novel" (1961) Raymond Williams describes realism as "a touchstone, for it shows, in detail, that vital interpenetration, idea into feeling, person into community, change into settlement, which we need, as growing points, in our own divided time. In the highest realism, society is seen in fundamentally personal terms, and persons, through relationships, in fundamentally social terms" (590). Throughout the essay, Williams describes realism as an interest in society and interaction. How does Madame Bovary reflect these realist values? How does Flaubert assert the importance of social terms? Provide a close reading of a chapter or scene in the text to support your argument. (Chapter 8, the agricultural fair, offers a good example of the interplay between personal and social worlds)

The three novelists use images of confinement to suggest that characters feel trapped by a society that controls them without understanding them

1. Emma’s inner life is based on pretense, but pretense also seems to surround her in the real world. The first part of the novel is replete with models of mediocrity pretending to be refined and aristocratic, but in fact bordering on the ridiculous. Describe how Emma and Charles’ wedding and the character Homais exemplify pretense and provide an appropriate backdrop for Emma’s own behavior.
2. Explore the different roles Emma "tries on" as a wife, lover, mother, and saint Why does she fail to find fulfillment no matter what she chooses? In essence, what is her tragic flaw?
3. Throughout the various experiments, does Emma ever evince any inner conflict over her behavior? If so, please cite examples. If not, does her naiveté cause you to sympathize with her more?
1994: In some works of literature, a character who appears briefly, or who does not appear at all, is a significant presence. Choose a novel or play of literary merit and write an essay in which you show how such a character affects action, theme, or the development of other characters. Avoid plot summary.
1995: Writers often highlight the values of a culture or a society by using characters who are alienated from that culture or society because of gender, race, class, or creed. Choose a play or a novel in which such a character plays a significant role and show how that character's alienation reveals the surrounding society's assumptions and moral values.
The British novelist Fay Weldon offers this observation about happy endings: "The writers, I do believe, who get the best and most lasting response from readers are the writers who offer a happy ending through moral development. By a happy ending, I do not mean mere fortunate events…a marriage or a last-minute rescue from death…but some kind of spiritual reassessment or moral reconciliation, even with the self, even at death." Choose a novel or play that has the kind of ending Weldon describes. In a well-written essay, identify the "spiritual reassessment or moral reconciliation" evident in the ending and explain its significance in the work as a whole. Avoid mere plot summary.
Novels and plays often include scenes of weddings, funerals, parties, and other social occasions. Such scenes may reveal the values of the characters and the society in which they live. In a essay, discuss such a scene from Madame Bovary and show how the scene contributes to the meaning of the work as a whole. Avoid mere plot summary.
“The experienced reader evaluates an ending not by whether it is happy or unhappy, but by whether it is convincing. In other words, he wants the ending to follow logically from the nature of the characters and from the preceding action.”
Write a well-developed essay in which you consider Madame Bovary in light of this statement. Avoid mere plot summary.


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