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Madame Bovary: Provincial Manners
Title page of the original French edition, 1857
AuthorGustave Flaubert
Original titleMadame Bovary: Mœurs de province
GenreRealist novel
PublisherRevue de Paris (in serial) & Michel Lévy Frères (in book form, 2 Vols)
Publication date
1856 (in serial) & April 1857 (in book form)
Original text
Madame Bovary: Mœurs de province at French Wikisource
TranslationMadame Bovary: Provincial Manners at Wikisource

Madame Bovary (/ˈbvəri/;[1] French: [madambɔvaʁi]), originally published as Madame Bovary: Provincial Manners (French: Madame Bovary: Mœurs de province [madambɔvaʁimœʁ(s)pʁɔvɛ̃s]), is a novel by French writer Gustave Flaubert, published in 1857. The eponymous character lives beyond her means in order to escape the banalities and emptiness of provincial life.

When the novel was first serialized in Revue de Paris between 1 October and 15 December 1856, public prosecutors attacked the novel for obscenity. The resulting trial in January 1857 made the story notorious. After Flaubert's acquittal on 7 February 1857, Madame Bovary became a bestseller in April 1857 when it was published in two volumes. A seminal work of literary realism, the novel is now considered Flaubert's masterpiece, and one of the most influential literary works in history.

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Plot synopsis

Illustration by Charles Léandre Madame Bovary, engraved by Eugène Decisy [fr]. (Illustration without text on page 322: Emma in male costume at the ball)

Charles Bovary is a shy, oddly dressed teenager who becomes an Officier de santé in the Public Health Service. He marries the woman his mother has chosen for him, the unpleasant but supposedly rich widow Héloïse Dubuc. He sets out to build a practice in the village of Tôtes.

One day, Charles visits a local farm to set the owner's broken leg and meets his patient's daughter, Emma Rouault. Emma is a beautiful, poetically dressed young woman who has a yearning for luxury and romance inspired by reading popular novels. Charles is immediately attracted to her, and when Héloïse dies, Charles waits a decent interval before courting Emma in earnest. Her father gives his consent, and Emma and Charles marry.

Emma finds her married life dull and becomes listless. Charles decides his wife needs a change of scenery and moves his practice to the larger market town of Yonville. There, Emma gives birth to a daughter, Berthe, but motherhood proves a disappointment to Emma. She becomes infatuated with Léon Dupuis, a law student who shares Emma's appreciation for literature and music. Emma does not acknowledge her passion for Léon, who departs for Paris to continue his studies.

Next, Emma begins an affair with a rich and rakish landowner, Rodolphe Boulanger. After four years, she insists they run away together. Rodolphe does not share her enthusiasm for this plan and on the eve of their planned departure, he ends the relationship with a letter placed at the bottom of a basket of apricots delivered to Emma. The shock is so great that Emma falls deathly ill and returns to religion.

When Emma recovers, she and Charles attend the opera, at Charles' insistence, in nearby Rouen. The opera reawakens Emma's passions, and she re-encounters Léon who, now educated and working in Rouen, is also attending the opera. They begin an affair. Emma indulges her fancy for luxury goods and clothes with purchases made on credit from the merchant Lheureux, who arranges for her to obtain power of attorney over Charles' estate.

When Lheureux calls in Bovary's debt, Emma pleads for money from several people, only to be turned down. In despair, she swallows arsenic and dies an agonizing death. Charles, heartbroken, abandons himself to grief, stops working, and lives by selling off his possessions. When he dies, his young daughter Berthe is placed with her grandmother, who soon dies. Berthe lives with an impoverished aunt, who sends her to work in a cotton mill. The book concludes with the local pharmacist Homais, who had competed with Charles' medical practice, gaining prominence among Yonville people and being rewarded for his medical achievements.


Emma Bovary is the novel's eponymous protagonist. She has a highly romanticized view of the world and craves beauty, wealth, passion, as well as high society.

Charles Bovary, Emma's husband, is a very simple and common man. He is an officier de santé, or "health officer".

Rodolphe Boulanger is a wealthy local man who seduces Emma as one more in a long string of mistresses.

Léon Dupuis is a clerk who introduces Emma to poetry and who falls in love with her.

Monsieur Lheureux is a sly merchant who lends money to Charles and leads the Bovarys into debt and financial ruin.

Monsieur Homais is the town pharmacist.

Justin is Monsieur Homais' apprentice and second cousin who harbors a crush on Emma.


The book was in some ways inspired by the life of a schoolfriend of the author who became a doctor. Flaubert's friend and mentor, Louis Bouilhet, had suggested to him that this might be a suitably "down-to-earth" subject for a novel and that Flaubert should attempt to write in a "natural way," without digressions.[2] The writing style was of supreme importance to Flaubert. While writing the novel, he wrote that it would be "a book about nothing, a book dependent on nothing external, which would be held together by the internal strength of its style",[3] an aim which, for the critic Jean Rousset, made Flaubert "the first in date of the non-figurative novelists", such as James Joyce and Virginia Woolf.[4] Though Flaubert avowed no liking for the style of Balzac, the novel he produced became arguably a prime example and an enhancement of literary realism in the vein of Balzac. The "realism" in the novel was to prove an important element in the trial for obscenity: the lead prosecutor argued that not only was the novel immoral, but that realism in literature was an offence against art and decency.[5]

The realist movement was, in part, a reaction against romanticism. Emma may be said to be the embodiment of a romantic: in her mental and emotional process, she has no relation to the realities of her world. Although in some ways he may seem to identify with Emma,[6] Flaubert frequently mocks her romantic daydreaming and taste in literature. The accuracy of Flaubert's supposed assertion that "Madame Bovary, c'est moi" ("Madame Bovary is me") has been questioned.[6][7][8] In his letters, he distanced himself from the sentiments in the novel. To Edma Roger des Genettes, he wrote, "Tout ce que j'aime n'y est pas" ("all that I love is not there") and to Marie-Sophie Leroyer de Chantepie, "je n'y ai rien mis ni de mes sentiments ni de mon existence" ("I have used nothing of my feelings or of my life").[7] For Mario Vargas Llosa, "If Emma Bovary had not read all those novels, it is possible that her fate might have been different."[9]

Madame Bovary has been seen as a commentary on the bourgeoisie, the folly of aspirations that can never be realized or a belief in the validity of a self-satisfied, deluded personal culture, associated with Flaubert's period, especially during the reign of Louis Philippe, when the middle class grew to become more identifiable in contrast to the working class and the nobility. Flaubert despised the bourgeoisie. In his Dictionary of Received Ideas, the bourgeoisie is characterized by intellectual and spiritual superficiality, raw ambition, shallow culture, a love of material things, greed, and above all a mindless parroting of sentiments and beliefs.[10]

For Vargas Llosa, "Emma's drama is the gap between illusion and reality, the distance between desire and its fulfillment" and shows "the first signs of alienation that a century later will take hold of men and women in industrial societies."[11]

Literary significance and reception

Long established as one of the greatest novels, the book has been described as a "perfect" work of fiction. Henry James wrote: "Madame Bovary has a perfection that not only stamps it, but that makes it stand almost alone: it holds itself with such a supreme unapproachable assurance as both excites and defies judgment."[12] Marcel Proust praised the "grammatical purity" of Flaubert's style, while Vladimir Nabokov said that "stylistically it is prose doing what poetry is supposed to do".[13] Similarly, in his preface to his novel The Joke, Milan Kundera wrote, "not until the work of Flaubert did prose lose the stigma of aesthetic inferiority. Ever since Madame Bovary, the art of the novel has been considered equal to the art of poetry."[14] Giorgio de Chirico said that in his opinion "from the narrative point of view, the most perfect book is Madame Bovary by Flaubert".[15] Julian Barnes called it the best novel that has ever been written.[16]

The novel exemplifies the tendency of realism, over the course of the nineteenth century, to become increasingly psychological, concerned with the accurate representation of thoughts and emotions rather than of external things.[17] As such it prefigures the work of the great modernist novelists Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf and James Joyce.

The book was controversial upon its release: its scandalous subject matter led to an obscenity trial in 1856. Flaubert was acquitted.[18]

Translations into English



Madame Bovary has had the following film and television adaptations:

David Lean's film Ryan's Daughter (1970) was a loose adaptation of the story, relocating it to Ireland during the time of the Easter Rebellion. The script had begun life as a straight adaptation of Madame Bovary, but Lean convinced writer Robert Bolt to re-work it into another setting.

Other adaptations

See also


  1. ^ "Madame Bovary". Unabridged (Online). n.d.
  2. ^ Flaubert, Oeuvres, vol. 1, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1972, p. 305.
  3. ^ Byatt, A. S. (26 July 2002). "Scenes from a provincial life". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 December 2015.
  4. ^ Quoted in Madame Bovary: a Reference Guide, Laurence M. Porter, Eugene F Gray, 2002, p. 130.
  5. ^ Lalouette, Jacqueline (2007). "Le procès de Madame Bovary". Archives de France (in French). Retrieved 5 December 2015.
  6. ^ a b "Gustave Flaubert". Encyclopédie Larousse en ligne (in French). Retrieved 5 December 2015.
  7. ^ a b Yvan Leclerc (February 2014). "" Madame Bovary, c'est moi ", formule apocryphe". Le Centre Flaubert (in French). l'Université de Rouen. Retrieved 5 December 2015.
  8. ^ Pierre Assouline (25 October 2009). "Madame Bovary, c'est qui?". La République des Livres. Archived from the original on 28 October 2009.
  9. ^ Vargas Llosa quoted in Zuzanna Krasnopolska (November 2010). "Lectures d'Emma Bovary et Teresa Uzeda: deux cas de boulimie littéraire". Le Centre Flaubert (in French). l'Université de Rouen. Retrieved 5 December 2015.
  10. ^ Davis, Lydia (2010). Madame Bovary. London: Viking. p. xii.
  11. ^ Jong, Erica (15 September 1997). "Fiction Victim". Retrieved 5 December 2015.
  12. ^ James, Henry (1914). Notes on Novelists. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 80.
  13. ^ Quoted by Malcolm Bowie, Introduction to Madame Bovary, translated by Margaret Mauldon, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. vii.
  14. ^ Kundera, Milan. The Joke.
  15. ^ Siniscalco, Carmine (1985). Incontro con Giorgio de Chirico. Matera–Ferrara: Edizioni La Bautta. pp. 131–132. See excerpt on
  16. ^ Barnes, Julian (18 November 2010). "Writer's Writer and Writer's Writer's Writer". London Review of Books. 32 (22): 7–11.
  17. ^ "Modernism Lab – Collaborative Research on Literary Modernism".
  18. ^ Blakemore, Erin (16 December 2016). "What Madame Bovary Revealed About the Freedom of the Press". JSTOR Daily. Retrieved 12 August 2022.
  19. ^ "Madame Bovary / Gustave Flaubert ; translated by Eleanor Marx-Aveling ; introduction by George Saintsbury". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 30 October 2023.
  20. ^ Jon Fortgang. "Madame Bovary". Film4. Retrieved 5 December 2015.
  21. ^ Zaleski, Carol (28 August 2002). "Hooked on Veggies". The Christian Century. The Christian Century Foundation. 119 (18): 31 – via Gale Academic Onefile.

External links

This page was last edited on 29 November 2023, at 06:50
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