Three different authors, three different books and three different characters and yet the critics they have received, the praises and accomplishments they achieved and the social issues they face, respectively, are the same. Gustave Flaubert, Kate Chopin and Thomas Hardy who are authors of “Madame Bovary”, “The Awakening” and “The Return of the Native” respectively, experienced critical reviews and was later immortalized because of their novels. The main characters of the three novels, Emma Bovary, Edna Pontellier and Eustacia Vye all experienced society’s views on women and struggled to get away from it.
These three characters, these discontented souls, continue to seek pleasure as they learn by experience the realities and people’s views on them in their respective societies. October 1, 1856 and December 15, 1856, these are the dates when Gustave Flaubert’s novel “Madame Bovary” was first serialized in La Revue de Paris. Flaubert is a French writer who was born on December 12, 1821 and died on May 8, 1880. He was considered to be one of the greatest Western novelists because of his scrupulous devotion to his personal art and style which was observed in his first novel, “Madame Bovary”.
On the other hand, Kate Chopin is an American author who was born on February 8, 1850 and died in August 22, 1904. She is well known for her works which mostly have a Louisiana Creole background and was considered to be a predecessor of feminist authors in the nineteenth century. Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening” which was published in 1899 was also considered to be a proto-feminist forerunner to American modernism. While Thomas Hardy, who was born in June 2, 1840 and died in January 11, 1928 is an English novelist. Just like Kate Chopin, Thomas Hardy is a well-known short story writer.
Furthermore, he is also a poet of the naturalist movement and most of his works are set on the semi-imaginary country of Wessex. Thomas Hardy’s “The Return of the Native” is his sixth published novel and initially came into view in the serial Belgravia. Though these authors may have different styles and art in writing novels, all of them were able to captivate the readers and produced quality works. All of them were able to achieve a higher status of appreciation and immortality from both readers and critics. The road to success of these three authors was not that easy.
Their novels as well did not instantly rise to the top or immediately accepted by the society and literary critics. “Madame Bovary” was publicly attacked because of its “immorality”. By January 1857, “Madame Bovary” was subjected to a trial but the novel was acquitted by February 7. After the acquittal, it became a bestseller in April 1857 in its book for and has ever since become one of the most influential and significant French novels. Chopin’s novel was also bombarded with a lot of violent reactions and comments from critics. The novel was said to be unholy, vulgar and immoral.
Francis Porcher condemned Chopin’s novel and even stated that it was Chopin’s responsibility not to stay or focus on “morally diseased” characters. Francis Porcher’s critique on Chopin’s work ended in a statement wherein she stated that it “leaves one sick of human nature”. On the other hand, another critique states in answer to the melancholy which was going on in the late nineteenth century that “puritan morality turned out to be an unbending monopoly” and that this rigid stronghold poses suppressive control on the imaginative or creative accomplishments of writers (Cullet, 1976).
By the year 1969, the things which were considered to be dishonorable and without any literary value back in the year 1899, was well thought-out to be artistic and noble. In this sense, “The Awakening” received a lot of praises and approval from readers and critics and Kate Chopin finally achieved her immortality on this novel. Thomas Hardy also had trouble with regards to his novel. It was only presented in installments between January and December of the year 1878.
Finding a publisher for his novel was very difficult and such difficulty was due to the novel’s controversial themes and thought-provoking ideas which were placed by Hardy in his novel. At first, comments about his novel were purely negative, but later on, mixed thoughts about his novel came into view. Some praised his description of the setting and paid tribute to him for unusually using the setting as another character. Birgit Plietzch’s statement based on the observation on Hardy’s expressive or evocative powers concluded that Hardy’s novels are poetic (Plietzsch, 2004).
One by one, reviews and critical analysis of his work were generally positive and by the 19th century. Thomas Hardy was able to achieve popularization of his novel. The three authors may have expected to receive a warm welcome immediately or during the release and publication of their works. But in reality, there isn’t much to be expected from a society that dictates what is honorable or not. It may have been difficult for the three authors at first, but their efforts later on gave way to success. The main characters in the three novels, just like the authors, had received a lot of comments and feedbacks from the people around them.
Most of them include praises and admiration from the men in the society generally because of their beauty. Unlike the authors, the main characters were in control in the beginning, especially in the case of Emma Bovary. She was in control of almost everything, even including her husband, Charles Bovary. As Faulbert illustrates that “His (Charles Bovary) wife was master; he had to say this and not say that in company, to fast every Friday, dress as she liked, harass at her bidding those patients who did not pay (9).
The control that Emma was able to exercise upon her husband is due to her charm. After all, she has a really good physique and beauty even up to the small details. Gustave Flaubert further illustrates that “Charles was surprised at the whiteness of her (Emma Bovary) nails… they were shiny, delicate at the tips… her real beauty was in her eyes… although brown, they seemed black because of the lashes” (15). Edna Pontellier as well has a very unique beauty that lets her stand out of the crowd and charms her husband well. “The charm of Edna Pontellier’s physique stole insensibly upon you.
The lines of her body were long, clean and symmetrical… a body… fell into splendid poses. He has recognized the noble beauty of its modeling, and the greaceful severity of poise and movement” (Chopin, 1978, p. 39). On the other hand, Eustacia Vye, who was considered “Queen of Night” also has her own exotic beauty because of her father who was non-English. “Her appearance accorded well… the shady splendor of her beauty… a true Tartarean dignity sat upon her brow” (Hardy, 1999, p. 70). Their beauty, charm and characteristics are simply beyond extraordinaire.
Their qualities do not simply explain their similarities but may also show similarities of their experiences, their desires and the pleasures that they seek, even the tragedies that they meet. The main character, Emma Bovary has adulterous affairs in the story and she constantly lives beyond her means. Emma Bovary often breaks away to a world of idealism due to the lack of purpose and banalities of the life she experiences in the province. She merely cannot accept reality. As such, issues of free will and destiny arise as she struggles from society.
Edna Pontellier, who was 28 years old and a respected woman of the late 1800s, desires and urges for sexual satisfaction and freedom soon took over her as she forgets the image that society sees of her. She breaks through from the responsibilities that were placed on her by society. She deviates from society and lives the life that fulfills her own self. . On the other hand, Eustacia Vye lived in Egdon Heath during her youth in physical isolation. She stays away from heath dwellers and often goes out at night taking trips to the summit of Rainbarrow.
It is somehow similar to Emma Bovary’s life in the convent. In addition to this, Eustacia’s trips could be similarly related to Emma’s escape through the romantic novels that she reads. Eustacia is similar to both Emma and Edna Pontellier for she also dreams of romantic recollections. The battle between free will and destiny succumb these characters into a tragic end, resulting frustration, prostitution and even death. Just like the main character, their partners also share certain similarities with one another. Emma Bovary’s husband belongs to a family that has wealth. Faulbert illustrates that “he (Mr. Bovary’s father) lived … on his wife’s fortune, dining well, smoking long porcelain pipes, not coming in at night till after the theatre” (5).
Furthermore, he lives in a family who is well-known in their society. “His father, Monsieur Charles Denis Bartolome, retired assistant-surgeon-major… a fine man, a great talker” (Flaubert, 1992, p. 5). Edna Pontellier’s husband as well has wealth and holds a certain status in the society. “Mr. Pontellier had the privilege of quitting their society… wore eye-glasses. He was a man of fort, of medium height and rather slender build” (Chopin, 1978, p. -4). Their wealth could also be observed from their children who are always accompanied by a quadroon nurse. “A quadroon nurse followed them (Mr. and Mrs. Bovary’s children)” (Chopin, 1978, p5). Clym Yeobright, Eustacia’s husband, could also be comparable to the other two gentlemen. “I am astonished, Clym” (Hardy, 1999, p. 174).
This was a remark following a series of discussions wherein Clym receives praises and starts to become more known. Furthermore, Clym may not have all the wealth similar to the Emma and Edna’s husbands but he has the intelligence comparable to any wealth. A schoolmaster… to teach them what nobody else will” (Hardy, 1999, p. 174). Here, Clym becomes the mentor of other people in the novel and it shows that his intelligence, as well as his morals and integrity are indeed comparable to what Mr. Bovary and Mr. Pontellier have. Such similarities of these three gentlemen seem to connect the three different novels. Furthermore, their characteristics and status in the novel seems fit to the personalities of their wives. From the lives of the authors and their characters, audience and readers could depict how one’s life could be similar with the other.
It could also be seen in a perspective that they are related with one another, in one sense to the other. With the walls, eyes and ears of society, they become related and barred to a certain path set upon them. They may have started with different styles and forms of art in the first, different actions taken in the beginning, but in the end, they all seem to fall to similar positions. Society, critics and readers, play their hidden roles in the lives of these characters and authors. One after the other, they achieve success or failure, and in this case, the failure and tragedies of the characters became the tool of success for the authors.