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Gustave Flaubert



Gustave Flaubert

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Gustave Flaubert (pronounced [gystaːv flobɛːʁ] in French) (December 12, 1821 – May 8, 1880) was a French writer who is counted among the greatest Western novelists. He is known especially for his first published novel, Madame Bovary (1857), and for his scrupulous devotion to his art and style.


Early Life and Education

Portrait by Eugène GiraudFlaubert was born on December 12, 1821, in Rouen, Seine-Maritime, in the Haute-Normandie region of France. He was the second son of Achille-Cléophas Flaubert (1784–1846), a surgeon, and Anne Justine Caroline (née Fleuriot) (1793–1872). He began writing at an early age, as early as eight according to some sources. He was educated in his native city and did not leave it until 1840, when he went to Paris to study law.

In Paris, he was an indifferent student and found the city distasteful. He made a few acquaintances, including Victor Hugo. Towards the close of 1840, he travelled in the Pyrenees and Corsica. In 1846, after an attack of epilepsy, he left Paris and abandoned the study of law.

Personal life
After leaving Paris, Flaubert returned to Croisset, close to Rouen, and lived with his mother. Their home near the Seine became Flaubert's home for the rest of his life. Flaubert never married. From 1846 to 1854, he had an affair with the poet Louise Colet (his letters to her survive). According to his biographer Émile Faguet, his affair with Louise Colet was his only serious romantic relationship. He sometimes visited prostitutes. Eventually, the end of his affair with Louise Colet led Flaubert to lose interest in romance and seek platonic companionship, particularly with other writers.

With his lifelong friend Maxime du Camp, he traveled in Brittany in 1846. In 1849-1850 he went on a long journey to the Middle East, visiting Greece and Egypt. In Beirut he contracted syphilis. He spent five weeks in Constantinople in 1850. After 1850, Flaubert lived in Croisset with occasional visits to Paris and England, where he had a mistress. He visited Carthage in 1858 to conduct research for his novel Salammbô.

Flaubert was a tireless worker and often complained in his letters to friends about the strenuous nature of his work. He was close to his niece, Caroline Commanville, and had a close friendship and correspondence with George Sand. He occasionally visited Parisian acquaintances, including Émile Zola, Alphonse Daudet, Ivan Turgenev, and Edmond and Jules de Goncourt.

The 1870s were difficult. Prussian soldiers occupied his house during the War of 1870, and in 1872, his mother died. After her death, he fell into financial straits. Flaubert suffered from venereal diseases most of his life. His health declined and he died at Croisset of a stroke in 1880 at the age of 58. He was buried in the family vault in the cemetery of Rouen. A monument to him by Henri Chapu was unveiled at the museum of Rouen in

Writing career
In September 1849, Flaubert completed the first version of a novel, The Temptation of Saint Anthony. He read the novel aloud to Louis Bouilhet and Maxime du Camp over the course of four days, not allowing them to interrupt or give any opinions. At the end of the reading, his friends told him to throw the manuscript in the fire, suggesting instead that he focus on day to day life rather than on fantastic subjects.

In 1850, after returning from Egypt, Flaubert began work on Madame Bovary. The novel, which took five years to write, was serialized in the Revue de Paris in 1856. The government brought an action against the publisher and author on the charge of immorality, which was heard during the following year, but both were acquitted. When Madame Bovary appeared in book form, it met with a warm reception.

In 1858, Flaubert traveled to Carthage to gather material for his next novel, Salammbô. The novel was completed in 1862 after four years of work.

Drawing on his childhood experiences, Flaubert next wrote L'Éducation sentimentale (Sentimental Education), an effort that took seven years. L'Éducation sentimentale, his last complete novel, was published in 1869.

He wrote an unsuccessful drama, Le Candidat, and published a reworked version of La Tentation de Saint-Antoine, portions of which had been published as early as 1857. He devoted much of his time to an ongoing project, Les Deux Cloportes (The Two Woodlice), which later became Bouvard et Pécuchet, breaking from the obsessive project only to write the Three Tales in 1877. This book comprised three stories: Un Cœur simple (A Simple Heart), La Légende de Saint-Julien l'Hospitalier (The Legend of St. Julian the Hospitaller), and Hérodias (Herodias). After the publication of the stories, he spent the remainder of his life toiling on the unfinished Bouvard et Pécuchet, which was posthumously printed in 1881. It was a grand satire on the futility of human knowledge and the ubiquity of mediocrity. He believed the work to be his masterpiece, though the posthumous version received lukewarm reviews. Flaubert was a prolific letter writer, and his letters have been collected in several publications.

Work and legacy

More than perhaps any other writer, not only of France, but of modern Europe, Flaubert scrupulously avoids the inexact, the abstract, the vaguely inapt expression which is the bane of ordinary methods of composition. As a writer, Flaubert was nearly equal parts romantic, realist, and pure stylist. Hence, members of various schools, especially realists and formalists, have traced their origins to his work. The exactitude with which he adapts his expressions to his purpose can be seen in all parts of his work, especially in the portraits he draws of the figures in his principal romances. The degree to which Flaubert's fame has extended since his death presents an interesting chapter of literary history in itself. He is also accredited with spreading the popularity of the color Tuscany Cypress, a color often mentioned in his chef-d'oeuvre Madame Bovary.

Flaubert was fastidious in his devotion to finding the right word ("le mot juste"), and his mode of composition reflected that. He worked in sullen solitude - sometimes occupying a week in the completion of one page - never satisfied with what he had composed, violently tormenting his brain for the best turn of a phrase, the final adjective. His private letters indeed show that he was not one of those to whom correct, flowing language came naturally. His style was achieved through the unceasing sweat of his brow. Flaubert’s just reward, then, is that many critics consider his best works to be exemplary models of style.

Flaubert's lean and precise writing style has had a large influence on 20th century writers such as Franz Kafka through to J.M Coetzee. As Vladimir Nabokov discussed in his famous lecture series:

The greatest literary influence upon Kafka was Flaubert's. Flaubert who loathed pretty-pretty prose would have applauded Kafka's attitude towards his tool. Kafka liked to draw his terms from the language of law and science, giving them a kind of ironic precision, with no intrusion of the author's private sentiments; this was exactly Flaubert's method through which he achieved a singular poetic effect.

This painstaking style of writing is also evident when one compares Flaubert’s output over a lifetime to that of his peers (see, for example Balzac or Zola). Flaubert published much less prolifically than was the norm for his time and never got near the pace of a novel a year, as his peers often achieved during their peaks of activity. The legacy of his work habits can best be described, therefore, as paving the way towards a slower and more inspective manner of writing.

The publication of Madame Bovary in 1856 was followed by more scandal than admiration; it was not understood at first that this novel was the beginning of something new: the scrupulously truthful portraiture of life. Gradually, this aspect of his genius was accepted, and it began to crowd out all others. At the time of his death he was widely regarded as the most influential French Realist. Under this aspect Flaubert exercised an extraordinary influence over Guy de Maupassant, Edmond de Goncourt, Alphonse Daudet, and Zola. Even after the decline of the Realist school, Flaubert did not lose prestige in the literary community; he continues to appeal to other writers because of his deep commitment to aesthetic principles, his devotion to style, and his indefatigable pursuit of the perfect expression.

He can be said to have made cynicism into an art form, as evinced by this observation from 1846:

To be stupid, and selfish, and to have good health are the three requirements for happiness; though if stupidity is lacking, the others are useless.

His Œuvres Complètes (8 vols., 1885) were printed from the original manuscripts, and included, besides the works mentioned already, the two plays, Le Candidat and Le Château des cœurs. Another edition (10 vols.) appeared in 1873–1885. Flaubert's correspondence with George Sand was published in 1884 with an introduction by Guy de Maupassant.

He has been admired or written about by almost every major literary personality of the 20th century, including philosophers and sociologists such as Pierre Bourdieu and Jean Paul Sartre whose partially psychoanalytic portrait of Flaubert in The Family Idiot was published in 1971. Georges Perec named Sentimental Education as one of his favorite novels. The Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa is another great admirer of Flaubert. Apart from Perpetual Orgy, which is solely devoted to Flaubert's art, one can find lucid discussions in Vargas Llosa's recently published Letters to a Young Novelist.




Sentimental Education

Gustave Flaubert

Sentimental Education is surely one of the greatest novels yet written, possibly even the greatest triumph in literary realism ever accomplished. It is a novelist's novel: though at first condemned as immoral by the Parisian reviewers on its publication in 1869, it was greatly admired by younger aspiring novelists. In the early twentieth century it stood as the measure to be matched by James Joyce and Ezra Pound. Flaubert was a tremendous laborer in his craft, obsessively preoccupied with the exactitude of every detail of social observation, as well as with literary style. He was the mythical master novelist, devoted beyond comprehension—the modern novelist, writing to a commercially imposed deadline, is the complete antithesis.
Sentimental Education follows Frederic Moreau, an idle young man living on a grand inheritance. His ambitions and principles are discarded and dimmed in a thrillingly observed satire on the mentality of affluent consumers in a mid-nineteenth-century Paris defined by its ubiquitous exhibition of luxury goods and attitudes. But this is also the Paris of the July revolution of 1848. Frederic drifts through the uprising, scintillated by death on the barricades as much as he is by a proprietorial relationship with a courtesan chosen to help him forget his true passion for another man's wife.The novel is at once gigantic in its historical perception, and minutely attentive to the slow suffocation of emotional and political idealism in a single heart.



The Temptation of Saint Anthony

Gustave Flaubert

Flaubert sought to write an epic of spiritual torment that might provide for French literature something of the centrality and quality that Goethe's Faust has for German literature. The work's dramatic form influenced the development of modernist play-texts in the novel, notably the "Circe" section of Joyce's Ulysses, while its catalog of borderline states and delirious imagery prefigured Lautreamont and Surrealism. It is perhaps the most successful novel that might also be called a prose poem. Its critical contrast between early Christianity and the poetics of modern fiction exemplifies the modernist dialogue between ancient and modern worlds.
The work portrays the reflected, inner life of a fictionalized Saint Anthony, based on the fourth-century Christian anchorite who lived in the Egyptian desert. Anthony undergoes trials of the mind, the temptations of sexuality and sensuality, and the torments of dialogue with Hilarion, the voice of scientific reason. Hilarion is followed by a cast of biblical proportions, from the Queen of Sheba to the Sphinx. With Flaubert's encyclopedia of biblical and profane imagery, the novel explores the language and meaning of religious, philosophical, and literary skepticism. Engaging with the delusions brought only hunger and feelings of sin, the novel is a must for inyone interested in religion, hallucinations of the modernist poetics.



Bouvard and Pecuchet

Gustave Flaubert

On a hot summer's day, two clerks named Bouvard and Pecuchet meet on the Boulevard Bourdon in Paris, and discover that they have not only written their names on exactly the same spot on their hats, but they have the same liberal political opinions, and most importantly, the same yearning for knowledge. Thanks to an inheritance, they retire to the countryside, where they propose to test all existing theories in all areas of knowledge. As they challenge the received ideas, the protagonists become more and more aware of inconsistencies that are spread everywhere in their manuals. From their first experiments in agronomy, Bouvard and Pecuchet enter into a repetitive cycle o. events: they consult numerous encyclopedias and monographs, apply their knowledge, fail catastrophically in their experiments, regret the falsity and defects of their chosen field, and move on to a new one. They investigate all topics, from archaeology to theology, before giving up their quests and deciding to become copyists again.
This "grotesque epic," unfinished and published posthumously, stands out in the history of the novel. It encapsulates a dramatic passion for knowledge, embodied by the heroes' enthusiasm for the most practical or philosophical problems. Conveyed in I Hubert's economical style, Bouvard and Pecuchet's episodic enthusiasms, earnest endeavors.


Madame Bovary

Gustave Flaubert

Madame Bovary is a revelation; almost one-hundred-and-fifty years old, it feels as fresh as if it were tomorrow's novel. Readers who are accustomed to think of nineteenth-century novels as rambling, digressive, plot-driven stories, will have a shock when they encounter a novel from that long century that is digressive and has a compelling plot but which wraps ail these up in a prose style so exquisite the book feels fragile and sturdy all at once.
Flaubert takes the story of adultery and presents it as banal, an unheroic element of the unheroic provincial petit bourgeois world he is immersed in. But he also makes it beautiful, sordid, melancholy, and joyous, revels in emotions run amok and the mess of feelings that cliches can neither hide nor contain. Emma Bovary, a beauty confined to a marriage which bores her, yearns for the gigantic and gorgeous emotions she finds in the romance novels she devours. Her life, her husband, her imagination is not enough; she takes a lover and then another, but they too fail to sate her appetites. She shops, using an array of material objects as a means of fulfilment; when these also give way before the depths of her yearning, she finally kills herself, in debt and in despair.
Flaubert does not mock Emma Bovary; neither does he sentimentalize, moralize, or treat her joy or desperation as heroic. The impersonal, prosaic narrator, a monster of precision and detachment yet endearing, almost charming, mocks all with his aloofness, and cherishes all with his lavish and meticulous attention to detail. The result is a rich context—not just for Emma Bovary but for the novel, for writing itself. For so much scrupulous care to be given to something, that something must be precious. Flaubert makes this novel precious.



Type of Work: Novel
Author: Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880)
Type of plot: Psychological realism
Time of plot: Mid-nineteenth century
Locale: France
First published: 1857 (English translation, 1886)


This masterpiece of realism is an in-depth psychological study of a beautiful but bored and restless woman whose romantic fantasies and yearnings lead her to seek diversion from the monotony of her married life. Madame Bovary was one of the first novels of its kind to come out of France and caused a great deal of controversy among contemporary readers and critics; some were shocked at the presentation of the spoiled, romantic adulteress, while others saw the novel as moral and applauded Flaubert's skill and honesty of treatment.


Principal Characters

Emma Bovary (e'mabo-va-re'), a sentimental young woman whose foolishly romantic ideas on life and love cause her to become dissatisfied with her humdrum husband and the circumstances of her married life. Her feeling of disillusionment leads her first into two desperate, hopeless love affairs and then to an agonizing and ugly death from arsenic. Filled with fiery, indefinite conceptions of love which she is capable of translating only into gaudy bourgeois displays of materialism, she is unable to reconcile herself to a life of tedium as the wife of a country doctor. In her attempt to escape into a more exciting world of passion and dreams, she drifts into shabby, sordid affairs with Rodolphe Boulanger and Leon Dupuis. The first of these lovers, an older man, dominates the affair; the second, inexperienced and young, is dominated. Because Emma brings to both of these affairs little more than an unsubstantial and frantic desire to escape from her dull husband and the monotony of her life, the eventual collapse of her romantic dreams, the folly of her passionate surrender to passion and intrigue, and her death, brought on by false, empty pride, are inevitable.
Charles Bovary (sharl bo-va-ă¸'), Emma's well-meaning but docile and mediocre medical husband. An unimaginative clod without intelligence or insight, he is unable to understand, console, or satisfy the terrible needs of his wife. Every move he makes to become a more important figure in her eyes is frustrated by his inadequacy as a lover and a doctor, for he is as much a failure in his practice as he is in his relations with Emma. Her suicide leaves him grief-stricken and financially ruined as a result of her extravagance. Soon after her death, he discovers in the secret drawer of her desk the love letters sent her by Rodolphe and Leon, and he learns of her infidelity for the first time. When he dies, the sum of twelve francs and seventy-five centimes is his only legacy to his small daughter.
Rodolphe Boulanger (ro-dolf boo-lan-zha'), Emma Bovary's first lover. A well-to-do bachelor and the owner of the Chateau La Huchette, he is a shrewd, suave, and brittle man with considerable knowledge of women and a taste for intrigue. Sensing the relationship between Emma and her husband, he makes friends with the Bovarys. sends them gifts of venison and fowl, and invites them to the chateau. On the pretext of concern for Emma's health, he suggests that they go riding together. He finds Emma so easy a conquest that after a short time he begins to neglect her, partly out of boredom, partly because he cannot see in himself the Byronic image Emma has created in her imagination; she never sees Rodolphe as the loutish, vulgar man he is. After he writes her a letter of farewell, on the pretext that he is going on a long journey, Emma suffers a serious attack of brain fever.
Leon Dupuis (la-oan' du-piie'), a young law clerk infatuated with Emma Bovary but without the courage to declare himself or to possess her. With him she indulges in progressively lascivious behavior in her attempt to capture the excitement and passion of the romantic love she desires. Leon, because he lacks depth and maturity, merely intensifies Emma's growing estrangement from her everyday world. When Leon, who never realizes the encouragement Emma offers him, goes off to continue his studies in Paris, she is filled with rage, hate, and unfulfilled desire, and a short time later she turns to Rodolphe Boulanger. After that affair she meets Leon once more in Rouen, and they become lovers. Oppressed by debts, living only for sensation, and realizing that she is pulling Leon down to her own degraded level, Emma ends the affair by committing suicide.
Monsieur Lheureux (Ice-roe'), an unscrupulous, corrupt draper and moneylender who makes Emma the victim of his unsavory business deals by driving her deeper and deeper into debt. Her inability to repay the exorbitant loans he has made her in secret forces the issue of suicide on her as her only escape from her baseless world.
Monsieur Homais (ý-ň¸'), a chemist, presented in a masterpiece of ironic characterization. A speaker in cliches, the possessor of a wholly trite "Scientific Outlook" on society, he regards himself as a Modern Man and a Thinker. His pomposity and superficial ideals become one of the remarkable facets of the novel, as Flaubert sketches the hypocrisy and mediocrity of Charles Bovary's friend. Homais epitomizes the small-town promoter, raconteur, and self-styled liberal.
Hippolyte Tautain (¸-đá-let' to-tan'), a witless, club-footed boy operated on by Charles Bovary at the insistence of M. Homais, who wishes to bring greater glory to the region by proving the merits of a new surgical device. Bovary's crude handling of the operation and the malpractice involved in the use of the device cause the boy to lose his leg. The episode provides Flaubert with an excellent commentary on both Homais and Bovary.
Theodore Rouault (ta-6-dor' ăáî-ŕĂ), Emma Bovary's father, a farmer. Charles Bovary first meets Emma when he is summoned to set Rouault's broken leg.
Berthe Bovary (bert bo-va-ă¸'), the neglected young daughter of Emma and Charles Bovary. Orphaned and left without an inheritance, she is sent to live with her father's mother. When that woman dies, the child is turned over to the care of an aunt, who puts her to work in a cotton-spinning factory.
Captain Binet (be-ďŕ'), the tax collector in the town of Yonville-l'Abbaye.
Justin (zhus-tan'), the assistant in the shop of Mr. Homais. Emma persuades her young admirer to admit her to the room where poisons are kept. There, before horrified Justin can stop her, she secures a quantity of arsenic and eats it.
Madame Veuve Lefran§ois (vcev' la-fraan-swa'), the proprietress of the inn in Yonville-l'Abbaye. Hippolyte Tautain is the hostler at her establishment.
Heloise Bovary (¸-16-ez' bo-va-ă¸'), Charles Bovary's first wife, a woman much older than he, who had deceived the Bovarys as to the amount of property she owned. Her death following a severe hemorrhage frees Charles from his nagging, domineering wife, and soon afterward he marries young Emma Rouault.


The Story

Charles Bovary was a student of medicine who married for his own advancement a woman much older than he. She made his life miserable with her nagging and groundless suspicions. One day Charles was called to the bedside of Monsieur Rouault, who had a broken leg, and there he met the farmer's daughter, Emma, a beautiful but restless girl whose early education in a French convent had given her an overwhelming desire for broader experience. Charles found his patient an excellent excuse to see Emma, whose charm and grace had captivated the young doctor. His whining wife, Heloise, however, soon began to suspect the true reason for his visits to the Rouault farm. She heard rumors that in spite of Emma's peasant background, the girl conducted herself like a gentlewoman. Angry and tearful, Heloise made Charles swear that he would not visit the Rouault home again. Then Heloise's fortune was found to be nonexistent. A violent quarrel over her deception and a stormy scene between Heloise and Charles's parents brought on an attack of an old illness. Heloise died quickly and quietly.
Charles felt guilty because he had so few regrets at his wife's death. At old Rouault's invitation, he went once more to the farm and again fell under the influence of Emma's charms. As old Rouault watched Charles fall more deeply in love with his daughter, he decided that the young doctor was dependable and perfectly respectable, and so he forced the young man's hand, telling Charles he could have Emma in marriage and giving the couple his blessing.
During the first weeks of marriage Emma occupied herself with changing their new home and busied herself with every household task she could think of to keep herself from being utterly disillusioned. Emma realized that even though she thought she was in love with Charles, the rapture which should have come with marriage had not arrived. All the romantic books she had read during her early years had led her to expect more from marriage than she received, and the dead calm of her feelings was a bitter disappointment. The intimacy of marriage disgusted her. Instead of a perfumed, handsome lover in velvet and lace, she found herself tied to a dull-witted husband who reeked of medicines and drugs.
As she was about to give up all hope of finding any joy in her new life, a noble patient whom Charles had treated invited them to a ball at his chateau. At the ball Emma danced with a dozen partners, tasted champagne, and received compliments on her beauty. The contrast between the life of the Bovarys and that of the nobleman was painfully evident. Emma became more and more discontented with Charles. His futile and clumsy efforts to please her only made her despair at his lack of understanding. She sat by her window, dreamed of Paris, moped, and became ill.
Hoping a change would improve her condition, Charles took Emma to Yonville, where he set up a new practice and Emma prepared for the birth of a child.
When her daughter was born, Emma's chief interest in the child was confined to laces and ribbons for its dresses. The child was sent to a wet nurse, where Emma visited her, and where, accidentally, she met Leon Dupuis, a law clerk bored with the town and seeking diversion. Charmed with the youthful mother, he walked home with her in the twilight, and Emma found him sympathetic to her romantic ideas about life. Later Leon visited the Bov-arys in company with Homais, the town chemist. Homais held little soirees at the local inn, to which he invited the townsfolk. There Emma's acquaintance with Leon ripened. The townspeople gossiped about the couple, but Charles Bovary was not astute enough to sense the interest Emma took in Leon.
Bored with Yonville and tired of loving in vain, Leon went to Paris in order to complete his studies. Brokenhearted, Emma deplored her weakness in not giving herself to Leon, fretted in her boredom, and once more made herself ill.
She had not time to become as melancholy as she was before, however, for a stranger, Rodolphe Boulanger, came to town. One day he brought his farm tenant to Charles for bloodletting. Rodolphe, an accomplished lover, saw in Emma a promise of future pleasure. Emma realized when Rodolphe began courting her that if she gave herself to him her surrender would be immoral. Nevertheless, she rationalized her doubts by convincing herself that nothing as romantic and beautiful as love could be sinful.
Deceiving Charles, Emma met Rodolphe, rode over the countryside with him, listened to his urgent avowals of love, and finally succumbed to his persuasive appeals. She felt guilty at first, but later she identified herself with adulterous heroines of fiction and believed that, like them, she had known true romance. Sure of Emma's love, Rodolphe no longer found it necessary to continue his gentle lover's tricks. He no longer bothered to maintain punctuality in his meetings with Emma; and though he continued to see her, she began to suspect that his passion was fading.
Meanwhile Charles became involved in Homais' attempt to cure a boy of a clubfoot with a machine Charles had designed. Both Homais and Charles were convinced that the success of their operation would raise their future standing in the community. After weeks of torment, however, the boy contracted gangrene, and his leg had to be amputated. Homais' reputation was undamaged, for he was by profession a chemist, but Bovary, a doctor, was looked upon with suspicion. His practice began to fall away.
Disgusted with Charles's failure, Emma, in an attempt to hold Rodolphe, scorned her past virtue, spent money recklessly on jewelry and clothes, and plunged her husband deeply in debt. She finally secured Rodolphe's word that he would take her away, but on the very eve of what was to be her escape, she received from him a letter so hypocritically repentant of their sin that she read it with sneers. Then, in horror over the realization that she had lost him, she almost threw herself from the window. She was saved when Charles called to her. She became gravely ill with brain fever and lay near death for several months.
Her convalescence was slow, but she was finally well enough to go to Rouen to the theater. The tender love scenes behind the footlights made Emma breathless with envy. Once more, she dreamed of romance. In Rouen she met Leon Dupuis again.
This time Leon was determined to possess Emma. He listened to her complaints with sympathy, soothed her, and took her driving. Emma, whose desire for romance still consumed her, yielded herself to Leon with regret that she had not done so before.
Charles Bovary grew concerned over his increasing debts. In addition to his own financial worries, his father died, leaving his mother in ignorance about the family estate. Emma used the excuse of procuring a lawyer for her mother-in-law to visit Leon in Rouen, where he had set up a practice. At his suggestion she secured a power of attorney from Charles, a document which left her free to spend his money without his knowledge of her purchases.
Finally, in despair over his debts, the extent of which Emma only partly revealed, Charles took his mother into his confidence and promised to destroy Emma's power of attorney. Deprived of her hold over Charles's finances and unable to repay her debts, Emma threw herself upon Leon's mercy with all disregard for caution. Her corruption was so complete that she had to seek release in pleasure or go out of her mind.
In her growing degradation, Emma began to realize that she had brought her lover down with her. She no longer respected him, and she scorned him when he was unable to give her the money she needed to pay her bills. When her name was posted publicly for a debt of several thousand francs, the bailiff prepared to sell Charles's property to settle her creditors' claims. Charles was out of town when the debt was posted, and Emma, in one final act of self-abasement, appealed to Rodolphe for help. He, too, refused to lend her money.
Knowing that the framework of lies with which she had deceived Charles was about to collapse, Emma Bovary resolved to die a heroine's death and swallowed arsenic bought at Homais' shop. Charles, returning from his trip, arrived too late to save her from a slow, painful death.
Pitiful in his grief, Charles could barely endure the sounds of the hammer as her coffin was nailed shut. Later, feeling that his pain over Emma's death had grown less, he opened her desk, to find there the carefully collected love letters of Leon and Rodolphe. Broken with the knowledge of his wife's infidelity, scourged with debt, and helpless in his disillusionment. Charles died soon after his wife, leaving a legacy of only twelve francs for the support of his orphaned daughter. The Bovary tragedy was complete.


Critical Evaluation

Gustave Flaubert's genius lay in his detailed descriptions. Madame Bovary, so true in its characterizations, so vivid in its setting, so convincing in its plot, is ample testimony to the realism of his work. This novel was one of the first of its type to come out of France, and its truth shocked contemporary readers. Condemned on the one hand for picturing the life of a romantic adulteress, Flaubert was acclaimed on the other for the honesty and skill with which he handled his subject. Flaubert does not permit Emma Bovary to escape the tragedy which she brings upon herself. Emma finds diversion from the monotony of her life, but she finds it at the loss of her own self-respect. The truth of Emma's struggle is universal and challenging.
From the time of Charles Baudelaire to the present, many critics have noted, either approvingly or disapprovingly, Flaubert's application of an accomplished and beautifully sustained style to a banal subject matter in Madame Bovary. In Flaubert's own time, many readers objected to vulgarity as well as banality in the use of an adulteress as heroine. Baudelaire, however, offered a telling defense against this criticism in his acknowledgment that the logic of the work as a whole provides an indictment of the protagonist's immoral behavior.
Flaubert himself viewed his book as "all cunning and stylistic ruse." His intention was to write "a book about nothing, a book with no exterior attachment ... a book which would have almost no subject." Flaubert's goals, however, were not as purely aesthetic as they might initially seem in that he did not mean to eschew significance entirely. Rather, he meant that any subject matter, no matter how trivial, could be raised to art by language and pattern. Like Stendhal and Honore de Balzac, he believed that quotidian matters could be treated seriously, but Flaubert goes further than his predecessors in refusing to provide narrative guidance and interpretation.
Erich Auerbach has observed that Flaubert seems simply to pick scenes which are significant and to endow them with a language that allows them to be interpreted. As a result, many commentators have seen Flaubert as the first modern novelist, even a precursor of the anti-novelist, because of his unwillingness to deal with subject matter in the traditional manner. Certainly, he represents a break with the past to the extent that the novel had been essentially narration. Although he does retain the story, he makes the novel over, in his own words, into "a coloration, a nuance."
At the heart of the novel is a provincial dreamer, a romantic who distorts her environment and ultimately destroys herself with wish fulfillments born of the desperate boredom of her circumscribed situation. Her romantic illusions, however, are not the theme of the novel so much as they are the prime example of the human stupidity which dominates all the characters. Charles is trapped by his subhuman complacency as much as Emma is by her vain imaginings. The surrounding figures, more types than fully developed characters, represent contemporary failures—the irresponsible seducer, the usurer, the inadequate priest, the town rationalist. Each is isolated from the others by his own obsession or deficiency, and all contribute to the overwhelming stagnation which smothers Emma.
Martin Furnell has divided the novel into three parts, each of which is controlled by an action and a dominant image. In the first part, Emma marries Charles, and the dominant image is in her visit to Le Vaubyessard. The marriage is the central fact of her discontent, while the visit ostensibly provides her with a view of the opulent life she so desperately and nonspecifically craves. In the second part of the novel, she is seduced by the conscienceless landowner Rodolphe, and the dominant image is the Cornices Agricoles, the elaborate fair with its rustic and vulgar trappings. To Emma, as she is succumbing to Rodolphe, the Cornices Agricoles is the very symbol of the limitations of her life. Naturally, she is not capable of consciously making such an interpretation. If she were, her perception might save her. Moreover, what she does not realize is that her affair is as banal as the fair. The third part of the novel describes her seduction by Leon, and the dominant image is the meeting in Rouen Cathedral. The cathedral becomes both church and boudoir, populated not only by images of saints but also by a statue of Diane de Poitiers, a notable adulteress. Once again, Emma reaches out to the grand but is compromised by her own limitations and those of her situation.
The dominant images, which reveal the ambiguity as well as the frustration of her predicament, are reinforced and refined by a series of recurrent minor images. A striking example is the plaster statue of a cure which deteriorates as Emma is progressively debased. The image is extended by a contract of the cure's statue with a statue of Cupid: love and sexuality rise as the holy man disintegrates. Later, the damage to the cure's foot reminds the reader of Charles's peasant boots, which resemble a club-foot, and of the amputation of Hippolyte's leg as a result of Charles's desperate desire to please Emma. As these complex images recur, they bind together the varieties of stupidity and vanity.
Even more revolutionary than the use of imagery is the point of view, the series of perspectives from which Flaubert narrates the story. He does not assume the stance of the distanced observer but repeatedly shifts the point of view to avail himself of multiple angles of vision. The narrative begins and ends with scenes focused on Charles. Although Flaubert never allows Charles a first-person presentation, the reader sees the beginning of the novel— and, indeed, is introduced to Emma—from Charles's perspective. The reader finally returns to view the debris of the conclusion from the vantage point of this uncomprehending victim.
Most of the novel is seen from Emma's perspective, but there is such a deft playing off of Emma's perceptions against the narrator's control that the reader is able to analyze her perceptions in a broader context rather than simply accept them as fact. The details of Charles's eating habits, for example, become both a sign of his bovin-ity, to Emma and the reader, and a sign of Emma's discontent, to the reader. Looking out from Emma's or Charles's eyes, the reader is granted insights that are beyond the mental capacity of either character: Flaubert presents what they perceive as a means of representing what they fail to perceive. An advantage of this method is that, while the reader becomes aware of Emma's shortcomings, a sympathy develops: The reader recognizes the oppressiveness of Emma's circumstances, the triviality of her evil, and the relative sensitivity of her kind of stupidity.
Thus, apparently subjective presentations, controlled and ordered by Flaubert's selection of image and detail, reveal what the characters themselves do not understand. Emma's romantic idealism is the prime example. If Flaubert cannot make tragedy out of these ingredients, he can quite powerfully describe, in his miniscule characters, personal and social frustration on a grand scale.



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