Essay, Research Paper: Madame Bovary By Flaubert

Literature: Romanticism

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Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary tells the story of a woman’s quest to make
her life into a novel. Emma Bovary attempts again and again to escape the
ordinariness of her life by reading novels, daydreaming, moving from town to
town, having affairs, and buying luxurious items. One of the most penetrating
debates in this novel is whether Flaubert takes on a romantic and realistic
view. Is he a realist, naturalist, traditionalist, a romantic, or neither of
these in this novel? According to B. F. Bart, Flaubert “was deeply irritated
by those who set up little schools of the Beautiful -- romantic, realistic, or
classical for that matter: there was for him only one Beautiful, with varying
aspects...” (206) Although, Henry James has no doubt that Flaubert combines
his techniques and his own style in order to transform his novel into a work
that clearly exhibits romanticism and a realistic view, despite Bart’s
arguments. Through the characters actions, especially of Emma Bovary’s, and of
imagery the novel shows how Flaubert is a romantic realist. Flaubert gives Emma,
his central character, an essence of helpless romanticism so that it would
express the truth throughout the novel. It is Emma’s early education,
described for an entire chapter by Flaubert, that awakens in her a struggle
against what she perceives as confinement. Her education at the convent is the
most significant development in the novel between confinement and escape. Vince
Brombert explains “that the convent is Emma’s earliest claustration, and the
solitations from the outside world, or through the distant sound of a belated
carriage rolling down the boulevards, are powerful allurements.” (383) At
first, far from being bored, Emma enjoyed the company of the nuns; “the
atmosphere of the convent is protective and soporific; the reading is done on
the sly; the girls are assembled in the study” are all primary images of
confinement and immobility. (Brombert 383) As this chapter progresses, images of
escape start to dominate and Emma begins to become more romantically inclined.
In romantic fashion, she seeks her own, individual satisfaction, she is
necesarily doomed in Flaubert’s eyes. Complete love he envisaged as
aspiration, outgoing rather than self-centered. But he made Emma, from the very
start, seek only a personal profit from any emotion, even from a landscape. This
is what romanticism as she knew it in the convent invited her to desire. In
facile, romantic novels the lover and his mistress are so much at one that all
desires are held in common. Any romantic girl, Emma for instance, will then
suppose that a lover is a man who wants what she wants, who exists for her.
Nothing in Emma’s character led her to doubt this, and nothing in her training
could teach her otherwise. This, perhaps the most commom and most serious of the
romantic illusions, is at the core of Madame Bovary and helps to keep the book
alive. (Benjamin 317) We see this when Emma is seduced by Rodolphe who believes
that all woman are exactly alike and love the same way. Unfortuntely for her she
sees only illusions as to how romantic Rodolphe is and when he leaves her to
return to his old dreary lifestyle his existance as an exhilarating and exciting
personality is in Emma’s mind and imagination alone.
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