Madame Bovary consists of a Realist critique of Romanticism with Emma Bovary portrayed as the emotionally overwrought romantic who destroys herself and others in her attempts to fulfill her unrealistic dreams. For writing about such a horrible woman Gustave Flaubert, the author, was charged with corrupting the morals of French society. He was acquitted of the charge at a public trial.
The major characters of the novel include Emma Bovary, the title character and the villain who brings ruin to herself and others in her efforts to realize her romantic illusions; Charles Bovary, a mediocre country doctor who is lackluster at best but deeply in love with his wife Emma; Leon, a law clerk who is a fellow romantic to Emma with whom he eventually has an affair; Rodolphe, a “gentleman” landowner and womanizer with whom Emma has an affair; and Lheureux, a merchant and money-lender. Lheureux” in French means “the happy,” and this character becomes happy by preying upon Emma as she attempts to buy the reality of her dreams. Selections, Summaries, and Commentary We meet Charles Bovary who struggled in school to become a doctor. He assumed a practice at Tostes, France, and married. But his wife died. One evening, Charles was summoned to a farm to set a broken leg. Here Charles made the acquaintance of Emma Rouault, the daughter of the patient. Charles, at the invitation of Mr.
Rouault, ate breakfast with Emma; and, among other things, they talked of Emma’s dislike for the country. They had closer contact when both of them reached for Charles’ riding crop after it had fallen to the floor. “Instead of returning to [the farm] in three days as he had promised, he [Charles] went back the very next day, then regularly twice a week…. ” Though Charles never had the nerve to ask Mr. Roualt for the hand of his daughter, Roualt figured things out, and the marriage was contracted. “Emma anted a midnight wedding with torches, but old Rouault could not understand such an idea. ” It was a country wedding.
They walked a mile and a half to and from the church, Emma’s dress trailing on the ground and gathering grass and thistles. After the ceremony, the guests ate until night. “Charles, who was anything but quick-witted, did not shine at the wedding. ” Two days after the wedding, Charles and Emma left for Tostes. Charles now “had for life this beautiful woman whom he adored. For him the universe did not extend beyond the silky circumference of her petticoat. For Emma, on the other hand, things were different, “Before [her marriage to Charles] she thought herself in love; but since the happiness that should have followed failed to come, she must, she thought, have been mistaken.
And Emma tried to find out what one meant exactly in life by the words bliss, passion, ecstasy, that had seemed to her so beautiful in books. ” Emma, we learn, had been fed a steady diet of romanticism at the convent where she was placed at age thirteen. “Accustomed to the quieter aspects of life [in the country], she turned instead to its tumultuous parts.
She loved the sea only for the sake of its storms, and the green only when it was scattered among ruins. ” She found herself attracted to the mystical aspects of the religious life. An old maid at the convent kept the girls dreaming. She [the old maid] knew by heart the love-songs of the last century, and sang them in a low voice as she stitched away. She told stories, gave them news, ran their errands in the town, and on the sly lent the big girls some of the novels, that she always carried in the pockets of her apron, and of which the lady herself swallowed long chapters in the intervals of her work.
They were all about love, lovers, sweethearts, persecuted ladies fainting in lonely pavilions, postilions killed at every relay, horses ridden to death on every page, somber forests, heart-aches, vows, sobs, tears and kisses, little boatrides 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. Girls at the convent hid keepsakes with engravings. Here [on the engravings] behind the balustrade of a balcony was a young man in a short cloak, holding in his arms a young girl in a white dress who was wearing an alms-bag at her belt; or there were nameless portraits of English ladies with fair curls, who looked at you from under their round straw hats with their large clear eyes. ” After Emma returned home to the farm, she became disgusted with the country. When Charles came to call on her father, she saw Charles as her knight in shinning armor, come to rescue the damsel in distress.
Something “sufficed to make her believe that she at last felt that wondrous passion which, till then, like a great bird with rose-coloured wings, hung in the splendor of poetic skies, — and now she could not think that the calm in which she lived was the happiness of her dreams. ” Emma is a victim of the mass media, dying because she read the escapist, romantic fantasies and mistook them for reality. She wondered, “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? Charles’ talk, in contrast, was dull. He provoked no emotions in her but disgust; he had no desire to do or see anything. 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. He had never had the curiosity, he said, while he lived at Rouen, to go to the theatre to see the actors from Paris. He could neither swim, nor fence, nor shoot, and one day he could not explain some term of horsemanship to her that she had come across in a novel.
A man, on the contrary, should he not know everything, excel in manifold activities, initiate you into the energies of passion, the refinements of life, all mysteries? But this one taught nothing, knew nothing, wished nothing. He thought her happy; and she resented this easy calm, this serene heaviness, the happiness she gave him. Flaubert writes that “ennui, the silent spider, was weaving its web in the darkness, in every corner of her heart. ” But after a few months, Emma and Charles were invited to the Vaubyessard estate by the Marquis d’Andervilliers (“Another Village”).
Charles had cured the Marquis from an abscess in the mouth, and the Marquis had requested some offshoots of the cherry trees that were in the Bovary’s little garden. When the Marquis came to thank Charles personally, he saw Emma. He thought her pretty and sophisticated enough to invite to the chateau. Charles and Emma arrived at nightfall along with many others. An elaborate dinner was served, and they prepared for the ball.
When Charles intimated that he would dance, Emma replied, “Why, you must be mad! They would make fun of you; stay in your place, as it becomes a doctor. And when he kissed her on her shoulder, “’Don’t touch me! ’ she cried; ‘I’ll be all rumpled. ’” The dancing began, and when the atmosphere grew warm and heavy, a servant broke out the window panes. Through the windows Emma “saw in the garden the faces of peasants pressed against the window looking in at them. ” She was reminded of her own heritage, the days of the farm, but “the splendor of the present hour” made her almost doubt she had ever been there. Supper was served, and at three o’clock the cotillion (more dancing) began. Emma danced with a Viscount, and proved to be a highly courted partner.
Charles, in the meantime, had spent five consecutive hours watching people at the card tables “without understanding anything about it. ” Lunch was served the following day, and then Charles and Emma left for Tostes. Emma believed the life of Vaubyessard to be the kind of life she wanted and deserved, and her immediate surroundings grew even more dreary. “She longed to travel or to go back to her convent. She wanted to die, but she also wanted to live in Paris. ” She became increasingly irritated with Charles and her surroundings to the point of becoming ill.
She suffered from heart palpitations, and she exhibited altered states of hyperactivity and torpor. She constantly complained about Tostes, and Charles thought that perhaps her illness was due to the town itself. From that thought on, “Emma drank vinegar to lose weight, contracted a sharp little cough, and lost all appetite. ” The Bovarys moved to a new town, Yonville (“yonder village”), a small market town some twenty miles from Rouen. Here the Bovarys had a daughter, whom Emma names Berthe, after a young lady she had encountered at Vaubyessard, and the Bovarys sent Berthe to be nursed by a carpenter’s wife.
Emma was not a very good mother. She really wanted a son who would be free to “explore all passions and all countries, overcome obstacles, taste of the most distant pleasures. ” She did not care for the realities of motherhood. On one occasion, after returning home, Berthe approached Emma. “‘Leave me alone,’ repeated the young woman quite angrily. Her expression frightened the child, who began to scream. ‘Will you leave me alone? ’ she said, forcing her away with her elbow. Berthe fell at the foot of the chest of drawers against the brass handle; she cut her cheek, blood appeared. Emma then felt sorry for her treatment of the child. The Bovarys met Leon Dupuis, a clerk for the town notary. Leon and Emma were fellow romantics. They spoke of their desire for change as opposed to routine. They talked about their desire for walking in the country, witnessing sunsets, visiting seashores, mountains, lakes, waterfalls. They related their love for music and reading by the fire. The two of them fell in love with one another, but did not yet allow themselves to express their love. “Weary of loving without success,” Leon eventually left for Paris to pursue a law degree.
Emma became unhappy and ill again. A “gentleman” named Rodolphe Boulanger brought one of his workers, who wanted to be bled, to see Dr. Bovary. Rodolphe had just acquired an estate that consisted of a chateau and two farms that Rodolphe cultivated himself, “without, however, taking too many pains. ” Rodolphe “lived as a bachelor, and was supposed to have” a sizeable income. When Emma was called to assist in the bleeding, Rodolphe became infatuated with her beauty. But he only desired her as a mistress.
Flaubert described Rodolphe as “having had much experience with women and being something of a connoisseur. ” Rodolphe thought to himself, “Three gallant words and she’d adore me, I’m sure of it. She’d be tender, charming. Yes; but how to get rid of her afterwards. ” His present mistress, an actress in Rouen, was beginning to bore him. During an Agricultural Fair, Emma and Rodolphe strolled around, arm in arm, eventually ascending to “the council room” on the first floor of the townhall. The room was empty, and Rodolphe suggested they could enjoy the show there more comfortably.
Flaubert showed his appreciation of irony when, in the background, he awarded the first prize for manure at the same time Rodolphe told Emma, “A hundred times I tried to leave; yet I followed you and stayed…. As I would stay to-night, to-morrow, all other days, all my life! ” Also, as Emma and Rodolphe gazed at each other, “as their desire increased, their dry lips trembled and languidly, effortlessly, their fingers intertwined,” a prize was awarded to an old peasant woman for fifty-four years of faithful service at one farm. Emma was susceptible to Rodolphe’s charms.
After some six weeks, a time chosen by Rodolphe for the purpose of not appearing too eager, he visited Emma. He knew just how to play her. When Charles returned home, Rodolphe suggested that riding might be good for Madame Bovary’s health. Charles thought it a good idea. At first, Emma objected, but Charles talked her into it. She and Rodolphe rode and walked. Sometime into their first outing, Emma “abandoned herself to him. ” Charles bought her a horse. Emma and Rodolphe rode regularly, and they began exchanging letters, placing them in the cracks of a wall located near the river at the end of the garden attached to the Bovary home.
If Charles left early enough, she would sneak off, on foot, to see Rodolphe at his estate and return to Yonville before anyone awoke. She would cry when she had to leave Rodolphe, and her farewells would go on forever. Rodolphe suggested her visits were too dangerous; she was compromising herself. So, Rodolphe began coming to the garden at night, throwing sand against the shutters, and Emma would sneak out after Charles had retired. Six months passed. Rodolphe became increasingly indifferent, and Emma became uncertain herself.
One day, news of a new surgical procedure for curing clubfoot reached the apothecary at Rouen. Emma, who wanted more fame and excitement for her husband, and the apothecary, who wanted fame for himself, urged an unwilling Charles to carry out the new operation on a crippled servant at the inn. The servant was pressured and finally consented after the operation was offered to him at no charge. At first, the operation appeared successful, and Emma was delighted with Charles and his prospects. But the device in which they strapped the servant’s foot caused swelling.
In response, the device was tightened even further, and gangrene set in. A surgeon was called in for consultation. He laughed and scolded Charles. The surgeon had to amputate the servant’s leg to the thigh. Emma was no longer delighted. “Everything in him [Charles] irritated her now; his face, his dress, all the things he did not say, his whole person, in short, his existence. ” The disastrous operation was further proof of Charles’ stupidity and incompetence, and Emma turned to Rodolphe to fulfill her dreams. She sent Rodolphe love notes, and the two of them made plans to leave for Italy.
Emma was apparently willing to leave without Berthe. When she firsts suggested the idea of leaving, Rodolphe asked about the fate of Berthe. Then, Emma, who had obviously not thought of Berthe before, said they would take Berthe with them. But no further mention of Berthe was made in their succeeding plans, and Emma rarely gave Berthe any attention. Rodolphe, who had no real intentions of running off with Emma, postponed the departure on several occasions, and then they set a specific date. On the day of their departure, however, Rodophe sent a letter to Emma through a servant.
In the letter he ended the affair and announced that he was leaving without her. He had his servant echo his plans to depart, but he was not actually planning to go anywhere. Though, later in the day, he did decide to go to Rouen. Emma saw him leaving as he passed by the Bovary home. She was devastated and became ill. Charles stayed by her side for forty-three days, neglecting his own affairs. Charles thought the theatre may be good medicine, and so he and Emma went to Rouen to see an opera. The whole experience began to reawaken Emma’s romantic being.
After the second act, Charles went to get Emma something to drink and ran into Leon. As the third act began, the three of them left to talk elsewhere. Leon, as it turns out, after his schooling in Paris, had come to Rouen to work as a clerk. Because the three old acquaintances talked through the opera, Emma did not get to see the third act; and since Emma now seemed energized, Charles suggested that she stay the night and see the third act the next day. Charles, however, must return home. Emma stayed, and she and Leon began an affair.
As Flaubert wrote it, Emma and Leon apparently consummate their feelings for one another during a long carriage ride through Rouen. When she returned to Yonville, she was informed that Charles’ father has died. Emma was by this time substantially indebted to a shopkeeper and moneylender by the name of Lheureux (“the happy,” as in the seller of happiness), and he suggested that Emma obtain the power of attorney over Charles’ father’s estate. She manipulated Charles into giving her this power of attorney, and she even earned his gratitude for going to Rouen to have Leon look over the legal papers.
Emma’s stay in Rouen lasted three days, after which Leon came to Yonville at times and sent Emma secret letters. Emma then began to make weekly trips to Rouen under the pretense of taking piano lessons. She manipulated Charles into asking her to refresh her skills in this area. She and Leon would stay in a hotel, and she was running up all kinds of debts with Lheureux, spending freely on her trips to Rouen and satisfying all of her whims. Lheureux lent her money on the value of Charles’ father’s estate. Charles was unaware of her spending and her adultery.
Leon and she began seeing each other more frequently. She began billing Charles’ patients herself, without his knowledge, and selling things in order to pay on her bills. She gave Berthe no attention. Finally, someone wrote Leon’s mother, telling her that Leon was ruining himself with a married woman. Leon’s mother wrote her son’s employer who then indicated to Leon how important it was to break off the affair. Leon wanted to end it, but he was in love. Eventually Emma’s unpaid bills ran long overdue, and her creditors obtained a judgment against her.
On her return from a visit to Rouen, the maid showed her a judgment that commanded her “by power of the king” to pay the sum of eight thousand francs. She went to Lheureux, who by this time had sold the debt at a discount to a banker at Rouen. Emma tried to talk Lheureux out of the judgment. She “even pressed her pretty white and slender hand against the shopkeeper’s knee,” but Lheureux would have none of that. She owed a vast sum of money, and the sheriff’s officers arrived to confiscate the family property. Emma tried frantically to raise the money.
She went to Leon at Rouen and urged him to borrow the money for her, and she even suggested that he steal the money from his office. Leon tried to borrow the money from lenders, but to no avail. On the next morning, people gathering in the market read a notice indicating that the Bovarys’ furniture was for sale. Madame Bovary went to see the town notary. The notary was in business with Lheureux and, so, knew all about Emma’s plight. But he listened as she told him all about it. He then made it clear, in a not so subtle manner, that he would expect a sexual relationship if he were to lend her the money she needed.
Emma appeared insulted by his forwardness, shouted that she was not for sale, and left in a fury. She was surely not opposed to exchanging herself for money, but the notary was too crass and straightforward about it. Had he concealed it in more romantic language, she probably would have consented. Later, as Flaubert wrote, “perhaps she began to repent now that she had not yielded to the notary. ” At last, when she heard the sound of Charles coming home, she went to the town’s tax collector and offered herself to him in return for the money.
He was offended by Emma’s advances. While Emma was running around, thinking about how to get the money, Charles learned of his family’s financial ruin. Emma, at least, turned to Rodolphe. But even though it seemed the two of them could once again become lovers, Rodolphe was either unwilling or unable to help. Out of shame and despair, Emma poisoned herself with arsenic she obtained from the pharmacy through an unwitting assistant. She hoped to make her death short and sweet. She said, “Ah! It is but a little thing, death! “I shall fall asleep and all will be over. ” But she suffered long and horribly with vomiting, sweating, pain, moaning, and convulsions. Charles, unable and in no shape to help his wife, called in another doctor, but to no avail. “A final spasm threw her back upon the mattress,” and she died. Charles appears to be the true hero of the novel. He genuinely loved Emma, would have done anything for her, offered her a decent life, was a good husband, a good provider and a good father. But, he was a real human being with real human characteristics and flaws.
At the end of the novel, however, Charles becomes a genuine romantic, engulfed by authentic and understandable emotions. Charles decided in favor of a mausoleum for Emma’s tomb, and he wrote the following instructions: “I wish her to be buried in her wedding dress, with white shoes, and a wreath. Her hair is to be spread out over her shoulders. Three coffins, one oak, one mahogany, one of lead. Let no one try to overrule me; I shall have the strength to resist him. She is to be covered with a large piece of green velvet.
This is my wish; see that it is done. The pharmacist and the priest, we are told, “were much taken aback by Bovary’s romantic ideas. ” Charles’ mother shared their view. But Charles now had become a romantic just like Emma, emotionally overwrought with the death of this woman he so dearly loved, refusing to sell any of her possessions to satisfy her debts. Flaubert writes of Charles, “He was a changed man. ” “To please her, as if she were still living, he adopted her taste, her ideas; he bought patent leather boots and took to wearing white cravats. He waxed his moustache and, just like her, signed promissory notes.
She corrupted him from beyond the grave. ” Soon, though, Charles discovered the love letters from Leon and Rodolphe hidden in a secret drawer of Emma’s desk; and, shortly thereafter, Charles died of love sickness. A surgeon “performed an autopsy, but found nothing. ” All of Charles’ belongings were sold to satisfy debts, and there remains just enough to send Berthe off to her grandmother. But the grandmother died the same year, and Berthe fell under the care of a poor aunt who sent her “to a cottom-mill to earn a living. ”
Courtney from Study Moose
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