Madame Bovary Essay, Research Paper
In every society there is a middle class. They don t have the luxuries that the elite few have, but they are far from living on the streets. They are stuck in the middle. Now, maybe it s a case of Jan Brady syndrome, but very often, the middle class would like to be at the top. You get to have an exciting, romantic life, much like that of … well … Marcia. There has to be some sort of influence that makes the middle class people think that way. One such influence was the period of Romanticism. It gave ordinary Jans a glimpse into exciting life. But the only way they could realize this kind of life was through a dream. Some people tried to make this dream a reality, and they wound up worse than they started. Such was the case of Emma, in Gustave Flaubert s Madame Bovary. However, her results were tragic as she could not achieve that lifestyle she was looking for. In the 19th century, bourgeois women in France wanted to live a romantic life, as characterized by the influence of society.
Emma Bovary had a dream of living in the high society. This dream came from her love of novels, especially romance novels. During the nineteenth century, Romanticism was alive in literature and art. It displayed exciting and emotional lifestyles, as opposed to ordinary life. The German poet Friedrich Schlegel defined Romanticism as literature depicting emotional matter in an imaginative form. For part of Emma s youth, she lived in a Catholic convent. She was essentially shut off from the exciting world that she yearned for, so she had to find ways of amusing herself. One of these ways was through reading romance novels. Once a week at the convent, a spinster came to mend the linens. She let the girls read the books she brought with her, and Emma took an instant liking to them. She found herself lost in a dream world of romance. Emma read books by authors like Sir Walter Scott, and she identified with the girl in the castle who watched from a window as her lover came galloping on a horse. They were all love, lovers, sweethearts, persecuted ladies fainting in lonely pavilions, postilions killed at every stage, horses ridden to death on every page, sombre forests, heartaches, vows, sobs, tears and kisses, little skiffs by moonlight, nightingales in shady groves, gentlemen brave as lions, gentle as lambs, virtuous as no one ever was, always well dressed, and weeping like fountains. (22) It is at the convent where Emma starts to believe that she can be one of them, and escape her monotonous routine. Throughout her life, Emma continued to read novels similar to these, even when she was faced with the problems of not being able to make them reality. In essence, these novels made her depressed, because she could kept indulging in her fantasy world of romance, but she could not find that in her life. She was greatly influenced by her reading, and felt that she did not belong in the middle class; she was meant for an exciting life. She even devised the idea of what her perfect husband would be: strong, handsome man with a valorous, passionate and refined nature, a poet s soul in the form of an angel… Because of Emma s need for excitement, she turned to romantic novels. It was these books that gave her the ideas that she should live an exciting life. It was these ideas that led to her downfall. Romanticism developed as a rejection to the ideas of the Enlightenment. Authors and thinkers went against the strict, rigid, and rather boring world the Enlightenment created, and displayed new interest in the individual, rather than the society. Romantic thinkers put an emphasis on emotion, love, and imagination, as well as the idealization of simpler and nobler times. What Emma did was to reject the basic ideas of the real world she lived in, just as the Romantic authors had with their stories. However, she believed these stories could become her actual life.
With these romantic ideas, Emma, as well as other bourgeois women of her time, was extremely unhappy with her life. There was a monotony about middle-class life that people wanted to escape. Emma found unhappiness in every thing that should have made her happy. It was clear even on her honeymoon, which should have been the nicest time of her life. Tostes did nothing to satisfy her desires for luxury and expense. Why could not she lean over balconies in Swiss chalets, or enshrine her melancholy in a Scotch cottage, with a husband dressed in a black velvet coat with long tails, and thin shoes, a pointed hat and frills? (24) This just shows a little of her annoyance with her husband, Charles. She thought he was extremely dull, and usually she didn t even see him as her husband. Charles s conversation was commonplace as a street pavement, and every one s ideas trooped through it in their everyday garb, without exciting emotion , laughter, or thought. (25) As an ultimate showing of Emma s dislike of her life, she even showed resentment towards her daughter. For one thing, at her child s birth, she was disappointed by having a girl. Then later on, she thought, how ugly that child is. She barely makes the connection that Berthe is even hers, considering her that. Emma was not a real mother to Berthe. She abused her daughter, and hardly showed love for this object. All of these examples have been simply her dislike of her life. Women of her time must have been just as tired of the every day routine.
However, Emma Bovary was different from most other women. Of course, she had this desire to live an exciting life in the upper-class, but she was so intent on changing her life, that she decided to act upon these feelings. To her delight, she and Charles were invited to a ball. It was just what she had been looking for. She was able to fit right in, and she assumed that she belonged with them. However, it only made her more depressed, because after she realized that she could not go back. The next day was a long one. She walked about her little garden, up and down the same walks, stopping before the beds, before the espalier, before the plaster curate, looking with amazement at all these things of once-on-a-time that she knew so well. How far off the ball seemed already! (34) After the ball, she knew exactly what kind of life she wanted to live. She wanted to live an exciting, romantic life. So what does she do? She found someone who could offer her those things. Leon Depuis had an interest in art and literature, a seemingly perfect match for Emma. Unfortunately for Emma, Leon moves away to Paris to peruse his own dream. To keep her life exciting, Emma meets Rodolphe, and they fall in love. All the while Emma is still married to Charles. This is how she hopes to make her life, because she wants to sneak out without Charles knowing the affair is going on. Rodolphe is Emma s knight in shining armor, of whom she had read in he many novels. However, Rodolphe leaves her, and she is left in her own misery. While his nature is not clear, it is evident that Rodolphe did not want to be as romantic as Emma expected him to be.
The novels Emma read had some pretty crazy ideas, but nonetheless she believed in them. One of these concepts was suicide as a way out of a failed love. A German Romantic author of this time, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, expressed this idea in one of his books, The Sorrows of Young Werther. In it, suicide was considered preferable to a life without the ideal love. This is exactly how Emma felt, because she could not find happiness from any of three people during her life. Suicide would be her only way out, in her mind. She looked about her with the wish that the earth might crumble into pieces. Why not end it all? What restrained her? She was free. She advanced, looked at the paving-stones, saying to herself, Come! come! (130) After she had lost Rodolphe, she gave up on her dream of living in romance and excitement. She had given it a good shot, but now it was over for her. …she went straight to the third shelf, so well did her memory guide her, seized the blue jar, tore out the cork, plunged in her hand and withdrawing it full of a white powder, she began eating it. (201) It is very ironic that when Emma died, there was no romance in her. However, her husband Charles dies of a broken heart. Charles is the one character in the book who was thought to be the most unromantic person of all, yet he dies in one of the few acceptable ways of death for someone as obsessed with romance as Emma. Charles went to sit down on the seat in the arbour. Rays of light were straying through the trellis, the vine leaves threw their shadows on the sand, the jasmines perfumed the air, the heavens were blue, Spanish flies buzzed round the lilies in bloom, and Charles was suffocating like a youth beneath the vague love influences that filled his aching heart. (223) If Emma hadn t immediately disapproved of him, she could have led a very happy, romantic life with her husband, with no need to fulfill these desires of living in the upper class.
Emma Bovary s death was originally derived from her need for excitement. At the convent where she grew up, she was excluded from much of the world, and this desire of hers only intensified. When she read the novels of the Romantic period, she found a way of how to satisfy her needs. She rejected the ordered life she lived, just as Romantic authors had rejected the strict and rigid life created by the Enlightenment. However, the only way she could do this was to put herself into a dream world, filled with chivalry, excitement, and romance. When even her dreams could not please her, she looked at her own life, and wanted to make changes. However, Emma Bovary still could not find happiness, and looked for a way out. Suicide seemed to be the only logical way to please herself, because it was again a Romantic idea, and something she could actually do and no just hope for. It could be said that Emma Bovary s downfall came from the pressures from the Romantic literature she read. But it s not right to blame Emma s death on a novel. While they gave Emma the method to satisfy her desires, and a way to end it all, they did not cause her desires to begin with. Emma had a yearning for excitement, something that she was born with, not influenced by. So the fact is, she probably could have found another method to calm this hunger. But it was the ideas of Romanticism that influenced her to kill herself. So this fantasy world, created by Romanticism had a large influence on the bourgeois class. It created desires to be at the top, to live differently, and to be exciting. But in most societies, there must be a middle class, which will always seem rather dull. They can t all be exciting and different, because then they would essentially all be the same once again. So the middle class is basically stuck being…well…the middle class.