Madame Bovary 2 Essay, Research Paper
Gustave Flaubert is one of the most respected authors in
European Literature. His work is especially known for the novel
Madame Bovary. This paper will analyze the life and work of Flaubert,
with a particular emphasis on the conflicting roles of 19th century
women in the novel Madame Bovary.
Gustave Flaubert was born on December 12, 1821, in Rouen, France and died on May 8, 1880. He was the fourth child of a well-known and respected doctor who was the head of the hospital in that city. Flaubert gained much knowledge of scientific techniques and ideas early on, while he and his family lived in a house on hospital grounds. He attended a secondary school in Rouen, and in 1841 he was l sent to Paris to study law in France, against his will. While in Paris, Flaubert made many new friends in the literary circle, which stimulated his talent for writing.
In 1844, Flaubert was struck with a then strange illness, that was later assumed to be related to epilepsy, which was a much feared, mysterious illness considered to be a connected to a divine curse.(1)
For health reasons, he gladly retired to his family’s home in Le
Croisset, France. He happily took the opportunity to give up law and dedicate most of his time to his writing.(2)
Flaubert was frequently characterized by his sullen attitude and pessimism, which had been caused by his illness. He possessed deep hatred and contempt for middle-class society, feelings that originated from his childhood experiences. He was often bitter and unhappy because of the great conflict that existed between his unattainable dreams and the realities of his life. His conflict between his fantasies and the reality of the world around him is seen through the theme found in Madame Bovary (1856).
Flaubert became one of the most influential European writers of the 19th century. He has enriched the world with many famous novels such as, Salammbo (1862), Sentimental Education (1869), and The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1874). “Not even his death could not diminish the impact of his work and its influence on French letters throughout the rest of the nineteenth and all of the teith centuries.” (3
A. Flaubert’s Life
B. Flaubert’s Influence
C. Flaubert’s Works
III. Analysis: Conflicting Roles of Women
A. Emma as daughter
B. Emma as wife
C. Emma as mother
D. Emma as mistress
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, tells the story of an idealistic woman who tries to live out her life as though her life was placed in a romance novel. Emma Bovary is first seen as the daughter of a widowed farmer, who spent most of her life isolated in her father’s farm and later in the convent school. Due to the lack of any real influences and the isolation of her life, Emma initiates a thriving passion for romance novels. From the time Emma lived in the convent school, she longed for her life to be as dramatic and exciting as in the novels. Critic Mrs. Harold Sandwith describes her as a girl,
who prayed with such fervour around the nuns at her convent school, who had grieved so extravagantly for the loss of her mother, trying to at an early age even, to introduce some dramatic element into the monotony of her life.(4)
As Emma matured her views on romance seemed to broaden, she dreamed of her perfect lover and her perfect life. She hoped to achieve the same type of passion and excitement in her life, as that of the heroine in her novels had.
Emma met Charles Bovary when her father broke his leg. She helped him in little tasks, and later engaged him in pleasing
conversation. Charles grew fond of Emma and made continuous trips to her father’s farm. Emma fell in love with Charles because she
believed that he would give her all that she ever wanted, all the passion and intensity that she always dreamed of. She saw Charles as an opportunity to escape the mediocrity of her father’s farm, and start a new life full of fulfillment.
Soon after their grand wedding, Emma found that married life wasn’t as exciting and fulfilling as she had read in her books. She was stuck in the same mediocrity as she was when she lived with her father. Though her actions were in strive, she desperately tried to instill some kind of poetic influence in her husband. She quickly grew bored with Charles and saw him as an unimaginative, ordinary man who never sought any kind of excitement, and was content with his mediocre life. Emma found herself feeling emotionally smothered in a dull marriage of which she saw no escape.
An irony found in the novel is how the roles of dominate and dominated is reversed, as critic Mario Vargas Llosa states
In her (Emma’s) marital relations, the male-female roles are very soon reversed; Emma becomes the dominate personality and Charles the dominated.(5)
It is seen that Emma takes the role of what she sees can fulfill her at that moment, it being emotional or financial. She slowly starts to take charge of all the money matters concerning Charles practice and the
household, she then gradually becomes the lord and master of the family.
After she and Charles move to Yonville, Emma meets Leon Dupuis, and they spend the night conversing about their various interest in common. Emma starts to see what she had been missing with Charles- good conversation, a good physique, and a lot of common interests. She and Leon immediately become acquainted and later become friends. But Emma soon found herself torn between feelings she was having for Leon and her duty to Charles.(6) Although Emma and Leon didn’t have a physical affair, at first, their emotional bond is what later brings them together.
Right after Emma and Charles moved to Yonville, she discovered she was pregnant. Emma had fixed feelings about her pregnancy. Although she saw having a child as a new and exciting adventure, she also saw that having this child, would further imprison her in this lifeless marriage. One might think that because Emma is now with-child she would give up, or at least control, her romantic fantasies and tendencies and her pregnancy would bring her happiness, but this is not the case with such a woman as Emma.(7)
Throughout her pregnancy, Emma hoped that her child would be
a boy. She saw men as having a lot more freedom, she wanted
her child to experience what she was forbidden to know. It is seen that Emma’s longing for her child to be male came from not only her own desires but as a reflection of the ridged conception of gender roles that characterize her society.(8)
When Emma gave birth to a girl, she immediately fainted. She again grew in deep disappointment of herself and her life. William Berg and Laurey Martin note that
her disaffection for her child is the conventional response of a narcissistic woman who would have her progeny be what she is not but would like to be.(9)
One can easily see how Emma’s whimsical nature, causes her to quickly loose interest in any part of her life.
After Leon leaves for Paris, Emma and Rodolphe Boulanger start up a type of relationship, in which Emma’s weakness and vulnerability is easily seen. Critic Frederick Alfred Lubich describes Rodolphe as
a leisure-class virtuoso of numerous erotic adventures, seems to match all her dreams of a heroic lover. He, however, is nothing but a skillful impersonator of Emma’s grand illusion.(10)
Emma becomes increasingly happy with her lover, she loves the excitement, and the secrecy. While Rodophle is seen as a Don Juan, a womanizer, he uses Emma not only for sexual pleasure but the as
something he has conquered. As soon as Rodophle succeeds in his mission he tries to figure out how he’s going to make his exit. They then start talking of running away together and Rodophle sees this as an opportunity to finally leave Emma. As the day approaches, he writes her a letter stating he is unable to go through with their plans and leaves Emma devastated.
As a result of her devastation, Emma becomes physically ill. As she recuperated, she became extremely dedicated to her daughter and household. But Emma quickly began to become bored with her everyday routines, as she is with everything else in her life. She then gets word that Leon is back in Rouen, they quickly started up their friendship that led up to her second affair. This second affair is when Emma starts to loose control of her life, she continuously lies to Charles and is slowly getting into tuns of debt.
The most apparent character in the novel is Emma, the woman. As Henry James describes her, “as a victim of the imaginative habit, and doomed by consequences and causes.” (11) Emma can be easily portrayed as the victim of romance novels, or of her foolish imagination, but more so than anything, she is the tragic consequence of not being free, of being a woman.(12) Llosa observes the biggest
contradiction in Emma’s character ” heroism, daring, prodigality, freedom are, apparently masculine prerogatives; yet Emma discovers that the males in her life-Charles, Leon, Rodolphe-become weaklings, cowards, mediocrities, and slaves the moment she assumes a masculine’ attitude.”(13)
Lubich observed that “since the reality of her life will not deliver the high promises of her novels Emma looks for romantic redemption in extramarital affairs.”(14) One can easily agree with this statement because throughout the novel Emma considers herself as the victim’, she blames everybody else, especially Charles for her disappointments, and tries to compensate by lavishing herself with expensive articles.
Emma lives with an emptiness in her heart, because of the
romance novels. She is so accustomed to the great excitement and
passion found in her novels, that she cannot begin to see what is real, the real love that Charles had for her. She’s a dreamer, which is not necessarily bad as long as u can wake up to see the reality around you, that is what Emma lacks, the ability to wake up from her dreams.
Throughout the novel, Emma is looking out the window, as
though it possessed a secret. It was also her way of having control
over the world that she wanted to see, in other words, she controlled
when she looked out side, when she wanted to be part of the outside world and when she wanted to be shut out from it.
Emma believed that if she ignored a problem, it would disappear but that was not the case at all, instead she was “eventually undone by the realities she had been trying to ignore.” (15) As Berg and Martin observed:
the main elements of modern tragedy that occur throughout Madame Bovary entrapment, boredom, alienation, and lack of communication. (16)
These are the main reasons Emma’s life is a tragedy, she lacked so many crucial necessities that were needed to have good relationships.
Emma grew blind she couldn’t understand the extremity of her actions, upon other people. For instance, her suicide left her husband devastated, which led to his untimely death, while her daughter was condemned to a life of poverty because of her mother’s search for a more glamorous life.(17)
In conclusion, Flaubert tries to convey the roles of the middle class women of his time. In this novel, he portrays a lonely, na ve woman who longs for the passion and intensity she discovered in her romance novels, but in the end she only discovers that her quest was all in strive. -9-
(1) William F. Berg and Laurey K. Martin, Gustave Flaubert
(New York: Twayne Publishers, 1997) p.3
(2) Ibid., p.3.
(3) Ibid., p.13.
(4) Mrs. Harold Sandwith, “Becky Sharp and Emma Bovary”. Nineteenth Century and After 91, No.1 (January 1922) p.62
(5)Mario Vargas Llosa, “Emma Bovary, a Man,” The Perpetual Orgy:
Flaubert and Madame Bovary, tr. Helen Lane (New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1986), pp.144-145.
(6) Berg and Martin, p.46.
(7) Sandwith, p.64-65.
(8) Berg and Martin, p.46.
(9) Ibid., p.52.
(10) Frederick Alfred Lubich, “The Parody of Romanticism: Quixotic
Reflections in the Romantic Novel,” European Romanticism:
Literary Cross Currents, Modes, and Models, ed. Gerhart Hoffmeister (Detroit: Wayne State University Press,1990)
(11)Henry James, ” Gustave Flaubert”, Notes on Novelists (New York:
Scribner’s, 1914) pp.75-77.
(12) Llosa, p.140.
(13) Ibid., p.144.
(14) Lubich, p.323.
(15) Edmund Wilson, “Flaubert’s Politics”, The Triple Thinkers,(New York:
Harcourt, Brace, 1938) pp.106-7.
(16) Berg and Martin, p28.
(17) Wilson, p106-107.