Gustave Flaubert and Madame Bovary: Comparisons
We would like to think that everything in life is capable, or beyond the
brink of reaching perfection. It would be an absolute dream to look upon each
day with a positive outlook. We try to establish our lives to the point where
this perfection may come true at times, although, it most likely never lasts.
There’s no real perfect life by definition, but instead, the desire and
uncontrollable longing to reach this dream.
In the novel Madame Bovary, it’s easy to relate to the characters as
well as the author of this book. One can notice that they both share a fairly
similar view on life, and that their experiences actually tie in with each other.
Emma Bovary dreamed of a life beyond that of perfection as well. She
realizes that she leads an ordinary and average life, but simply does not want
to abide by it. In the novel, Emma meets a pitiful doctor named Charles Bovary.
The first time they meet, Charles falls instantly in love with her. They begin
to see more and more of each other until Charles asks Emma’s father for her hand
in marriage. They end up getting married and everything goes fine, just like a
normal couple, for awhile. They did things with each other, went out, and were
extremely happy. Although, this love and passion for life shortly ended when
Emma’s true feelings began to come about. We soon come to realize that the
story is of a woman whose dreams of romantic love, largely nourished by novels,
find no fulfillment when she is married to a boorish country doctor (Thorlby
This is completely true because Emma really does get caught up in her
reading. She wonders why she can’t have a flawless love as well as a flawless
life, just as the characters do in the novels she reads.
Once Emma becomes fed up and realizes that he is a sad creature
(Flaubert 78), she begins her little quest to find the right man through a binge
of affairs and broken hearts.
The author of Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert, was born in Rouen France
(Kunitz 280). He grew up in a rather wealthy and prosperous family as a result
of his father being a successful doctor (Kunitz 280). This could easily relate
to the fact that Charles Bovary was a doctor too.
During Flaubert’s younger years, he was alone most of the time. He
didn’t have any friends and normally spent his days in solitude. This gave him
time to focus on his literature (Flaubert i). Since Flaubert’s academics and
knowledge of literature were released at such an early age, it is explainable to
see how his profound talent was released (Flaubert i). He began to write plays
at around the age of ten. These were in-depth, romantic plays that adults would
learn to appreciate (Kunitz 280). At that time Flaubert focused his attention
on the study of History and the writings of numerous romantics as well (Kunitz
Flaubert was later sent to an intermediate school in Paris to further
strengthen his academic standings (Kunitz 280). Upon completion of that, he
enrolled into law school but found no interest in it (Thorlby 250). This
allowed him to do some drifting, while taking the time to realize that
literature would be his destiny (Kunitz 281).
Although all of this schooling and work helped Flaubert become an
extremely talented writer, he thought writing to be one of the most difficult
things (De Man xi). He wrote very slowly in fact, while reflecting on his
painful life experiences. It took over five years to perfect his most famous
novel, Madame Bovary (Thorlby 272).
Although some people, as well as I, believe that Flaubert based the
character of Emma Bovary on himself, he was very unhappy with the subject of the
book upon finishing (Thorlby 272). Maybe Flaubert figured her character to be
too provocative and heartless. Otherwise, he might have simply reflected upon
the theme, and thought it to be uninteresting.
In 1856, the novel Madame Bovary was actually condemned as being
pornographic. This was a result of Flaubert’s eminently honest and descriptive
themes. He, along his publisher were charged with offending public morality and
went to trial, but were soon acquitted (Magill 616). This publicity obviously
helped bring the book out into the public while establishing popularity and
Sure, Flaubert was probably disappointed when this negative publicity
about Madame Bovary. But, he realized that criticism could be ignored and his
objective is to understand humanity, not to explain or reform it (Magill 616).
By reading Madame Bovary, it’s easy to notice that Flaubert is a
perfectionist. In fact, he sometimes rewrites his books 3-4 times to establish
perfection. When he finished Madame Bovary, he said, C’est Moi, meaning in
French, that’s me (Kunitz 281). This could symbolize the incredible
comparison between Flaubert and the character Emma Bovary.
Although Flaubert detested the thought of being famous, his work titled
him France’s most renowned writer (Magill 617). According to Sainte-Beuve,
Flaubert’s scenes were pictures which, if they were painted with a brush as
they are written, would be worthy of hanging in a gallery beside the best genre
painting (Kunitz 281).
In 1846 Flaubert met the poet Louis Colet, who became his mistress.
Although he admired her, he couldn’t find the ideal love (Kunitz 280). This
could symbolize the comparison between Flaubert and Emma as well. Along with
Louis Colet, Flaubert had a few more adulterous relationships too. But, when
his work became too important, Flaubert gave up everything to devote himself to
his writing. He even broke off his affair with Mme. Colet because got in the
way (Thorlby 272).
Flaubert soon became a pessimist and basically had a cheerless view of
life (Magill 617). He became the victim of nervous apprehension and depression
(Kunitz 282). Flaubert frequently felt with drawled from society and longed to
commit suicide (Kunitz 282). It’s plain to observe that Flaubert was an
idealist that dreamed, just as the characters in his novel did. These
perpetual conflicts, writes Troyat, who has been listing some of the paradoxes
in Flaubert’s life, made him a profoundly unhappy man (Kunitz 282).
Emma would sit on the grass into which she would dig the tip of her
parasol with brief thrusts and would ask herself, My God, why did I get married
(Flaubert 108)? Flaubert was the same way, deliberating whether marriage was
one of the biggest mistakes to have been made or not. Madame Bovary, writes A
de Pontmartin in the correspond and, is the pathological glorification of the
senses and of the imagination in a disappointed democracy. It proves once and
for all that realism means literary democracy (De Man ix). Emma and Flaubert
are very ordinary middle-class people, with banal expectations of life and an
urge to dominate their surroundings. Their personalities are remarkable only
for an unusual defiance of natural feelings (Flaubert 152). People even say
that the myth surrounding the figure of Emma Bovary is so powerful, that one has
to remind oneself that she is fiction and not an actual person (De Man vii).
By reading this book, and accurately analyzing the author’s significant
events, one can plainly conclude that Flaubert actually did tie in those events
with the theme of Madame Bovary. Madame Bovary is a creation of one’s
conscience which can only be explained through the eyes of another. It’s about
love, hate, and destiny, while holding every true emotion in the context as well.
Something in the destiny of the heroine and of the main supporting characters,
as well as in the destiny of the book itself, surrounds it with the aura of
immortality that belongs only to truly major creations (De Man vii). And it is
fair to say that Madame Bovary is a true creation, at least one in the eyes of
De Man, Paul, ed. Gustave Flaubert: Madame Bovary:
Backgrounds and Sources, Essays in Criticisms. New
York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1965
Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary. New York, New
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(Authors) 1800-1900: A Biographical Dictionary
of European Literature. New York: The H.W. Wilson
Magill, Frank N., ed. Critical Survey of Long Fiction: Foreign
Language Series. vol. 2; New Jersey: Salem Press
Magill, Frank N., ed. Cyclopedia of World Authors. New
Jersey: Salem Press Inc., 1958
Thorlby, Anthony, ed. The Penguin Companion to European
Literature. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1969