Madame Bovary


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.