Madame Bovary Analysis
In Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, the story predominately follows how Emma Bovary becomes disenchanted with her lifestyle as the wife of Charles Bovary and seeks to find the unobtainable life she so desperately dreams of from the books she reads. However, before all of that, Charles Bovary has a history of his own with a previous marriage and a dreary childhood. In the passage describing a request for his services and his journey to a distance farm, the descriptive imagery and juxtaposition of his thoughts convey how static his character is.
Flaubert chooses to describe Charles Bovary’s demeanor and actions as easy going to illustrate to the audience how his personality is both average and carefree. When a man frantically comes to their home in the middle of the night with a letter requesting Charles to set a broken leg, he “lean[s] his elbow on the pillow to read it” (11). Disregarding the fact that the situation is considered to be an emergency to many, Charles leisurely takes his time in his own comfort.
This goes back to his growing up when chose to not prepare for his examination, resulting in his failure. He does not understand the gravity of circumstances and does everything as he pleases. This is further exemplified when he decides to leave “three hours later,” all “well wrapped” and moving in a “peaceful trot” (11-12).
Rather than trying to get there as fast as he can, he goes at a pace where he can even fall asleep. He has little to no concern for the patient that is urgently waiting for him to put him out of excruciating pain. He has to make an attempt to “recall the broken leg” along with any knowledge he has on how to fix it during the journey (12). His lack of ambition is prevalent in this scene as it brings up his past apathy towards his schoolwork, which is catching up with him now, along with his currently indifference towards his work. He has no desire to excel in his job; he is perfectly content being an average man doing average work. This insight to his character shows how for a good portion of his life already, he has little to no goals in life and will most likely never strive to go above the ordinary. The description of Charles lethargically treating his job reveals his unchanging dispirited outlook on life.
Flaubert’s use of juxtaposition when Charles is confused between his memories from long ago and from now to elucidate the lack of development within his character. He becomes disoriented between his life as a “student and [a] married man” because of his similarities in them, leading back to the idea that he has not changed much within the past years (12). The way he goes about regarding any task, whether it be in school or in his current home, is very calm and passive. He is already a grown man with a job and a wife, yet his personality has remained unchanging. The reflection that he has unveils to us how, due to the stationary nature of his character, time has passed in a continuum such that he cannot distinguish when moments of his life have passed.
Comparing his life in medical school with the “iron rings of the bed curtains running on their rods” to his present life in a home with “his wife sleeping,” though most would think them to be vastly differing, the way he approaches them is the same—laid back to the point where he cannot distinguish between them anymore (12). By placing these two scenarios next to each other, Flaubert signals to the readers that, similar to how Charles has not changed from his childhood to now, he will continue to remain this mediocre man even in the future. Although we do not know why yet, this mindset of his seems to have importance towards the rest of the story. Altogether, the juxtaposition of Charles’ former and current self highlights the importance of his ordinary persona.
Flaubert’s use of language brings out Charles Bovary’s passive behavior, indicating a significance in his sedentary character for later chapters. Charles’ easy going demeanor, not laudable nor detrimental, seems to be a base off which other characters are compared to. Since he does not strive for much nor cause harm, he acts as a norm for people to relate to.
Sympathy for the betrayers and the betrayed
More than would be imagined, it is sometimes more difficult to sympathise with the victims of infidelity; easier than we might have imagined to sympathise with the betrayers themselves.’ To what extent do you agree with this estimation in relation to the three texts chosen?
In none of the three texts can it be said that the adulterers elicit or deserve greater sympathy than the victims of adultery. Despite this imbalance, it would unconsidered and possibly rather supercilious to simply judge the betrayers on their actions without meditating on the reasoning behind the actions and the circumstances in which the adulterers have found themselves.
All the adulterers within the text (apart from Jerry in Betrayal (1978), and Rodolphe in Madame Bovary (1857)) merit a degree of sympathy, yet despite this, their actions cannot be wholly justified, and the characters cannot, therefore, be fully exonerated.
The savage destruction of Emma Bovary by Flaubert, and Cresseid’s gruesome infliction of leprosy are certainly a cause for sympathy in both cases.
Emma Bovary’s death is a painfully drawn out event in which ‘she turned whiter than the sheet at which her fingers kept clawing’ and ‘soon began to vomit blood. Her limbs were contorted, her body covered with brown blotches.’ It is interesting to note the contrast between the description at the beginning of the novel in which Flaubert erotically describes ‘the tip of her tongue poking between her beautiful teeth, delicately licking the bottom of the glass’ and the description post-arsenic in which ‘her entire tongue protruded from her mouth; her rolling eyes dimmed like lamp globes as they fade into darkness.’ Notably, Flaubert focuses on the body and its indignities, which is in contrast to Madame Bovary’s romanticism Similarly, in The Testament of Cresseid, Henryson depicts a disease so realistic and visceral that, as early as 1841, Sir J. A. Y. Simpson was able to diagnose the exact type of disease Cresseid has.
(1) Henryson’s detailed description gave rise to at least one suggestion that he himself was a physician. The Gods marred her, declaring, ‘Your eyes so bright and crystal I make bloodshot / Your voice so clear, unpleasing, grating, hoarse / Your healthy skin I blacken, blotch and spot / With livid lumps I cover your fair face’. Cupid’s declaration of, ‘Your mirth I hereby change to melancholy’ is one of a series of semantically opposite, yet alliterative words, which in this instance, are used to display the unfavourable contrast of Cresseid’s existence before her punishment and afterwards, whilst also augmenting the malicious and sadistic nature of the Gods. In Heaney’s translation he writes, ‘your high estate is in decline and fall’. The is a reference to Edward Gibbon’s work ‘The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,’ (1776) the literary allusion conveying the suddenness and inexplicability of Cresseid’s physical decline. The bleakness of her situation is summarised in the description of her having to ‘make do with a cup and clapper. They remain’ – Her whole life has been reduced to this alliterative phrase, whilst the caesura indicates the sudden nature of her loss.
Not only does Cresseid receive a gruesome affliction, the reader is also left with the feeling that her punishment is undeserved. The reason for her sentence is blasphemy, since ‘whoever blasphemes… all Gods offer insults.’ Betrayal is heavily frequented with profanities such as ‘Good God’, yet nothing results. In Madame Bovary, Charles ‘addressed curses to the heavens, but not so much as a leaf quivered.’ The triviality of Cresseid’s offence in contrast to the magnitude of her chastisement displays an injustice in the name of justice, and this is borne true in the lack of consequence fastened to blasphemy in the other two texts. When Cupid retorts indignantly of Cresseid’s claim that ‘I was the cause of her misfortune,’ one notes an irony given that all the Gods share an overwhelming involvement in all her actions and hence her misfortune. Cresseid is a puppet of the pagan God’s whims, and her lack of volition means that she should not be blamed.
Fate is recurrently referred to, in for example, the lines, ‘Cresseid’s most miserable and fated death’ (‘fatall destenie’), ‘Of Troy and Greece, how it could be your fate’, and ‘Fate is fickle when she plies the shears.’ This predestination is not a problem with which the adulterers in the other two texts must face. Further, the scornfully humorous description of the Gods, particularly Saturn who ‘behaved in a churlish, rough, thick-witted manner,’ and had a ‘rucked and wrinkled face, a lyre like lead’ and a ‘steady nose run’ creates a further sympathy for Emma, since those that condemn her are rendered in an absurd, grotesque and humorous light. Henryson goes further when he describes Cupid as ‘a boar that whets its tusks, he grinds and fumes,’ since it goes beyond anthromorphism to zoomorphism; and the description of Gods that ‘raged, grimaced, rampaged and bawled and scoffed’ is a display of Gods that have unlimited power and limited judgement.
Whilst Madame Bovary does not have to contend with predestination, her actions are still restricted by society’s ambits and the limitations placed on women in the mid-nineteenth century. In societal terms, she has to live in the mediocrity of her provincial surroundings. It is important to note that the novel’s sub-title is ‘Provincial Manners’ – they frustrated Flaubert, and he used Emma Bovary’s disgust with her class as a way of conveying his own hatred for the banality of the middle-classes. Madame Bovary shows how ridiculous the attitudes of the bourgeoisie can be. Homais’s haughtily flamboyant speeches are used by Flaubert to display the pretensions of the bourgeois. The less grandiose act by a woman who received a 25 franc award for 54 years of service giving ‘it to our curï¿½ so he can say some masses for me’ leads the reader not to see this as remarkable, rather to see it as a sign of fanaticism, thus challenging fidelity as a certain good. Madame Bovary longs to be more refined and sophisticated than her environment allows her.
Flaubert’s depiction of ‘a black chalk drawing of the head of Minerva … in the middle of a wall whose green paint was flaking from the damp’ is a visual metaphor for Emma Bovary, a Roman goddess amongst the banalities of life. A recurring leitmotif in the novel is that of Emma Bovary looking ‘with her head against the window pane, gazing into the garden’; it is a poignant allusion to her aspirations for a more interesting existence and also her locomotive desires, in which the garden has both a metaphorical and physically restrictive quality. Her affairs represent her both breaking out of an ‘existence as humdrum and circumscribed as that of their hens and their dogs’ (2) and that she had no ‘qualms about mistaking ‘cul’ for ‘coeur.'(2)
The Emma of Betrayal has a greater degree of freedom than the other two protagonists, she, after all is ‘running a gallery.’ Nevertheless, it could be argued that she is a player in amongst Jerry and Robert’s game of one-upmanship; their self-absorbed competitiveness being encapsulated in their games of squash (note the punning effect with the verb ‘squash’ and Rodolphe’s remark that he will ‘squash him (Charles) like a fly in Madame Bovary). This remark of Rodolphe’s shows that he also gets enjoyment from stamping on other men’s power, which is backed up in the imagery of Rodolphe’s ‘Mounted stags heads’ in his study – he gets a thrill from male conquest as well as female conquest. Harold Pinter himself commented that Betrayal is ‘a play about two close friends’ – perhaps Emma is simply within Jerry and Robert’s story, a victim of psychological determinism, rather than Madame Bovary’s societal determinism and Cresseid’s cosmic determinism.
Both Emma Bovary and Cresseid share an existence in a patriarchal world, which Emma from Betrayal is not a part of. Madame Bovary, for example, is blessed with artistic gifts that cause Charles to proudly display her work to whoever chooses to visit his abode. However, given the restrictions placed on women during the period, the Bovary household’s wall would be the only dwelling for any art she may happen to create; this can be contrasted to Betrayal’s Emma who actually owns her own art gallery and who also has the benefit of the possibility of travelling anywhere she wants (the film notes her possession of a car: making her an agent of mobility), and is not confined to the ennui of a rustic Rouen. Madame Bovary’s gender-founded restrictions are expressed in the structure of the novel.
The novel initiates with a depiction of Charles’ schooldays, and indeed, starts with the ‘nous’ form, thus centralising Charles’s character. At the end of the novel, Homais becomes the centre of attention, as his mounting successes are described by Flaubert, finally climaxing in ‘Il vient de recevoir la croix d’honneur’ (‘he has been given the Legion of Honour’). Emma’s story is therefore trapped between Charles’ and Homais’; the structure of the novel is mimetic of her entrapment in a male-dominated world, and these restrictions should evoke sympathy in the reader.
Similarly, Cresseid is subject to male authority, which is made clear in the line ‘Yet whatever men may think or say contemptuously,’ and the traditionally accepted belief of her as being merely a lustfully encumbered individual is challenged by the way in which her punishment is portrayed as having resulted from blasphemy. The popular portrayal of Cresseid in both Chaucer’s Troilus and Cresseid (C. 1380) and Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida is challenged by the Testament of Cresseid (1475) and evoke sympathy in the reader.
Madame Bovary and Emma are mutually unique from Cresseid in that their adulterous other halves are base to a level which subtracts from the potential criticism of the primary adulterers themselves. Jerry is emotionally detached from Emma, yet still has a vulgar, sexual interest in her, as indicated in the final (yet chronologically foremost) scene in which he declares, ‘I should have had you, in your white, before the wedding, I should have blackened you, in your white wedding dress.’ He later articulates, ‘you’re banishing me to, a state of catatonia,’ and frequently proclaims ‘you’re beautiful,’ ‘you’re incredible’ etc. However, earlier in the play, he makes short remarks and responses to Emma’s questions – an indication that he has no real emotional interest in her. Jerry also fails to recall with accuracy certain events relating to their relationship.
For example when Jerry recalls throwing Emma’s daughter in the air he believed it to be in Emma’s kitchen, to which she replied, ‘it was your kitchen’. When Jerry calls her ‘darling’ she responds, ‘don’t say that,’ because she knows that this term of endearment is not meant by Jerry. Emma puts in a lot of effort into the affair, as indicated by her yearning for a continuation of their romantic escapades: ‘you see, in the past, we were inventive, we were determined,’ Jerry’s disinterested response is, ‘It would not matter how much we wanted it if you’re not free in the afternoons and I’m in America.’ This is extremely similar to Rodolphe’s remark ‘You’re mad, you really are! … How could we do that?,’ when Emma puts forward the idea of a sojourn in Paris, and is indicative of the contrasting levels of commitment between the adulterer and the adulteress.
When they finally decide on their trip to Paris, Madame Bovary asks, ‘I am counting the days. Aren’t you?’ There is also a link between that and Emma’s question ‘will we ever go to Venice?’ She answers her own question in Betrayal – in Madame Bovary, nothing is said at all. Emma’s desire for something more in their relationship is indicated in her wish for a shared home with Jerry. She is saddened by the fact that ‘the crockery and the curtains and the bedspread’ have been left for so long. She later says to Jerry ‘you didn’t ever see it as a home in any sense did you?,’ to which Jerry replied, ‘no, I saw it as a flat… you know.’ Emma correctly acknowledges Jerry’s desires when she finishes off his sentence with the words ‘for fucking,’ despite Jerry’s protestation of ‘for loving’.
Emma’s inability to let go of the relationship is indicated in the scene where she struggles to take her ring from her keyring and ends up throwing it to Jerry to take it off – Jerry would be happy to end the relationship. Rodolphe is an even more heinous character, as indicated in his objectification of Emma: ‘This one had seemed pretty to him,’ the word ‘one’ rather than ‘she’ makes her merely one of his many inamoratas.
Even more striking is when he says, ‘how to get rid of it afterwards’ (admittedly, the French ‘elle’ can mean both ‘she’ and ‘it,’ but Margaret Mauldon’s Oxford translation, unlike that of the Penguin edition uses the wholly unkind ‘it,’ which is much more effective in making Rodolphe appear objectionable). In both cases, the deplorable adulterers create sympathy when scrutinising the adulteresses and this is not a factor that exists in The Testament of Cresseid. If one were to be overtly cynical, it could be argued that Jerry and Rodolphe are partly correct in their views on the affair. Is an affair really all that romantic, after all? Vargas Llosa would be quick to point out the dangers of equating lust with love. Perhaps the two Emmas are looking for too much in the relationship, and are making it out to be more than it really is.
Emma’s amorous adventures activate an abundance of lies, yet Stephen Heath empathizes with her fabrications. He states that ‘Emma lies, but everything lies'(3), he talks of how ‘the narrating voice enters to state a distance from her, but Flaubert also cuts such statements, reduces their number(3).’ At times, the narration drifts into sympathy with Emma, at other times it condemns her. The use of a style indirect libre causes the narration to be ambiguous, and the truth of description becomes indistinguishable from the subjectivity of opinion.
A characteristic example of this is when Flaubert talks about Rodolphe in the 3rd person ‘Rodolphe had heard these things so many times that they had nothing original for him.’ He then reverts into Rodolphe’s mind: ‘one has to make allowances, he thought, exaggerated declarations masking mediocre affection.’ One gets the impression that Flaubert reverts back to the narrative in the ending lines ‘human language is like a cracked cauldron on which we beat out tunes to make a bear dance when we would move the stars to pity’, however, this is just an assumption – the non-use of quotation marks means the reader can never know when a character’s thoughts have ended, and one gets the impression that the narrator imparts some of his own reflections into the character’s thoughts.
This free and indirect style not only creates a sympathy with regards to her fallaciousness, it is also creates a benignancy by virtue of the way the narration supports her own views. An example of this is when the narration wafts from ‘she wondered if by some other workings of chance it might not have been possible for her to meet another man’ to a sort of agreement from the narrator in the line ‘he might have been handsome, witty, distinguished, attractive.’ Heath describes this free and indirect style as a way in which the ‘the writer and the reader become Emma, are taken up in her reverie, her imaginings.’ The novel, therefore, often cultivates its own sympathy by virtue of its style, which causes the writer and reader to become one with the protagonist and to experience Madame Bovary’s own feelings. This can be paralleled to Henryson’s voice of sympathy The Testament of Cresseid. Henryson is so derisory of the unreasonable nature of the Gods’ ruling that he impulsively breaks into the second person when he declares: ‘Your doom is hard and too malicious,’ thus interrupting the sentencing and displaying contempt of court
Cresseid and Madame Bovary are dissimilar to Emma in so far as they experience a development as a result of their infidelity, the former explicitly and the latter implicitly. Cresseid talks about herself in the second person when she says, ‘Where is your chamber’s cushioned chair and screen / And handsome bed and hand-embroidered linen? The wine and spice, the supper that you supped on.’ The use of the second person is suggestive of self-derision rather than self-lamentation. She understands her situation and she profoundly remarks, ‘All wealth on earth is wind that flits and veers.’ She also criticised herself: ‘I myself will be my own accuser.’
This development from Cresseid makes her worthy of not so much sympathy but respect. Madame Bovary’s development happens in a moment, which makes it more like an epiphany, thus lacking the cognitively prolonged nature of Cresseid’s development. It is also a very implicit moment in which she ‘began to laugh, a ghastly, frenzied, despairing laugh’ after hearing the voice of the blind beggar. At this point, she realises the meaning of the beggar’s words – love is unseeing (thus rendering the beggar as an representation of Cupid. Whilst Cresseid and Madame Bovary cannot be justified in their actions, their realisations do rouse respect from the reader. The Emma of Betrayal experiences no such development.
An aspect of the equation still wants, namely the victims. It is certainly true that the adulterers garner a notable degree of sympathy, yet it would be very mean-spirited to identify more with them than the victims. In the Testament of Cresseid, the affected person is Troilus. Although there are only 2 paragraphs focusing on Cresseid’s betrayal of Troilus, they themselves being sped along by the use of enjambment, this is done more out a desire not to repeat a story successfully written by Chaucer, but also to alleviate the reader’s judgment of Cresseid. Later in the poem, Henryson writes of Troilus in glowing terms, describing him as having ‘beaten down, by war and jeopardy, / The Grecian knights,’ and in a moment of great largesse ‘past where Cresseid with lepers made abode’ and ‘A girdle he took out, / A purse of gold and many shining gemstones / and threw them down into Cresseid’s dress.’ Troilus certainly elicits a huge amount of sympathy from the reader, especially after he ‘for grief almost fell down’ when recalling Cresseid’s physical deformations.
In both Madame Bovary and Betrayal, the victims of adultery are children. Jerry’s lack of concern over his children is encapsulated in his gnomic description of his son Sam: ‘He’s tall. Quite tall. Does a lot of running. He’s a long distance runner. Wants to be a zoologist.’ The waiter in the restaurant scene is similarly an innocent bystander who is subjected to Robert’s frustrations: ‘where’s our lunch. This place is going to pot.’ ‘Same glass. Where’s our lunch?’ Richard Martin, in his letter to The Times Literary Supplement argued that he sees ‘not just ‘displaced emotion’ in Robert’s aggression towards the waiter but the waiter himself as a displaced version of Judith: for she is the hapless, indeed dumb, ‘waiter” (4). Judith, the children, and the waiter, are all correlated because they are all affected onlookers, but they know not what by. It is interesting to note that the children do not feature physically in the play, but in the 1983 film (by David Jones), the children feature in negative-consequences of the character’s adultery-borne vented frustrations; for example, when Jerry hollers at his son for playing music too loudly.
This is paralleled in Madame Bovary, where her daughter is a victim of her infidelity. This is evidenced in the scene where Madame Bovary says to Berthe ”Oh, for heaven’s sake, leave me alone’, shoving her away with her elbow.’ As a result, ‘Berthe fell against the foot of the chest of draws, cutting her cheek on the brass fitting.’ At the end of the novel, Berthe makes her ‘keep at a cotton mill.’ The chief victim of infidelity in the three texts is Charles Bovary. Despite being unsophisticated, dim-witted and a frighteningly bad doctor (his operation on Hippolyte’s club foot, resulting in amputation, as an example), he is still one of the novel’s most moral and sincere characters and he genuinely loved Emma whilst she was having licentious liaisons.
Emma is often very unkind to Charles, for example, when she says; ‘he carries a knife in his pocket like a peasant.’ I cannot help but parallel this to the narrator in Robert Frost’s poem ‘Mending Wall’ who describes his neighbour as ‘Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top / In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.’ It is a particularly significant line, since Rodolphe wields a knife at one point, and this fails to elicit the same response from Emma. One strikingly poignant scene is when Charles finally sees all the letters from Emma’s lovers: ‘his deep despondency caused general amazement. He no longer went out, he saw no one, he even refused to visit his patients. People began saying that he ‘shut himself off to drink.” The final description of him is as a ‘long-bearded, wild-looking man in filthy clothes who paced up and down noisily.’ For all Charles’ faults, it seems unthinkable to sympathise more with Emma than Charles. In all three cases, the victims garner more sympathy than the betrayers.
One should not nonchalantly accept the three primary adulterers’ actions as morally reprehensible; but we should acknowledge that their actions are borne out of something more complex than it would at first appear. The greatest sympathy should be given to Cresseid because her life was subject to fate; she lacked all volition owing to Henryson’s depiction of the all-encompassing control of the Gods. I say ‘Henryson’s depiction’ because Chaucer’s original has been manipulated by Henryson such that it rapidly avoids the issue of her affair whilst also removing all her volition.
Madame Bovary represents the repressed sensuality within us, and the reader can certainly feel for her more than the prudish and monotonous environment she inhabits (ironically, it was a puritanical society that condemned Flaubert’s novel for being too sympathetic to an adulteress). It is difficult to sympathise with Betrayal’s Emma. It is true that she longed for a more meaningful relationship with Jerry, but her dedication to Jerry is severely questioned given the initiation of her additional affair with Casey. One would have to question the disposition of any individual who sympathises with the adulterers more than the victims of adultery, as any reader of Madame Bovary would attest to.
2. ‘The Perpetual Orgy’ (Vargas Llosa)
3. ‘Madame Bovary’ (Stephen Heath)
4. Letter from the Times Literary Supplement
Word count with quotes: 3720
Word Count without quotes: 2895
In the novel Madame Bovary the author portrays flaws that are driven
In the novel, Madame Bovary, the author portrays flaws that are driven by passion and the need to find love as it is described in the books that the character reads from a young age. Emma lacks pride and satisfaction due to a trapped marriage. Through this tragic heroines attempt to discover the best version of herself and what she believes she deserves, readers are able to leaven a more serious subject.
In the beginning of the novel Emma is an educated young girl with a newly found passion for reading due to an encounter at the convent.
This drives her idealistic thoughts and causes many problems throughout her life. As a young teenager she always pictured her life as a novel and would often daydream. Eventually, Emma goes on to marry Charles Bovary, by doing so she has faith that he will be the answer to all her problems. “ Before she had married she thought she was in love. But the happiness that should have resulted from this love had not come; she must have deceived herself, she thought”(Flaubert pdf).
Due to having an idealistic vision about romance from the novels she reads, Charles does not live up to her expectations and she becomes bored and starts to distance herself from their relationship. Due to becoming miserable and suffering from boredom with her husband she even begins to despise meals with him, and her health declines due to her depression. Charles, with good intentions in mind, only wants the best for his wife and believes moving to the town of Yonville will make her happy, and overall improve her health. Little does he know, the move begins a story of lies and deceit as Emma begins to indulge in her sexual temptations with other men. The end of part one concludes with Emma rediscovering her flower bouquet from her wedding, instead of reminiscing about happy memories she decides to burn the flowers in order to represent the unhappiness she has in her marriage. “ The little pasteboard buries burst, the wire twisted, the gold lace melted; and the shriveled paper corollas, fluttering like black butterflies at the back of the stove, at lest flew up the chimney. The burning of her flowers foreshadows the young wife’s life that will be cut short at the hands of her own self. Although Charles has great love for his wife, Emma can not confirm that she feels the same.
The main characters downfall of corruption both financially and morally begins as the newly weded couple moves to Yonville, Emma’s lack of lust and love for Charles makes it easier for her to commit the multiple acts of adultery she engages in.
Flaubert presents recurring themes throughout the novel Emma Bovary’s lust for wealth and true love caused her to become a tragic heroine stuck in a plummet of tragedy which ultimately lead her to her own demise. Flaubert creates this young girl to be a tragic heroine with pitiful traits, her recurring motives to find what she believes she truly wants not only makes her a slave for love, but also a victim.
Class Conflict in The House of the Spirits and Madame Bovary
German philosopher Friedrich Engels once said “All history has been a history of class struggles between dominated classes at various stages of social development”. In all societies, each social class has unique characteristics and distinctions, especially in lifestyles and privileges within their respective cultures; however, when differences between social classes become too great, problems begin to arise. Despite the different settings of Allende’s The House of the Spirits and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, the distinctions between social classes in each novel produce the same problematic results for the characters; the problematic results demonstrate the negative effect of vast distinctions between social classes.Allende depicts the differences between the social classes in The House of the Spirits well through the interaction between the people of Tres Marías. Tres Marías contains two major social classes: the landowning class and the peasant class. The landowning class consists of the Trueba family, for Esteban Trueba is the patron of the hacienda, while the peasant class consists of the hacienda’s workers, including the García family. Allende presents the two classes as foils of each other. While Allende portrays the wealth of the landowning class through their fancy clothing, she depicts the peasant class as poor through their filthy rags. Relationship-wise, the landowning class has complete control over the peasant class; the Truebas have control over the happenings in the hacienda and the people who work there. While the peasants toil over the land, all of the rewards go towards the Truebas. The distinctions between the two social classes make them too different to live in harmony, causing major problems for the characters. Because of his title as the patron of Tres Marías, Esteban Trueba finds himself superior to the peasants and expects the rest of his family to feel the same. However, the other family members’ involvement with the lower social class causes tensions within the family. To get around her father’s prohibition, Blanca hides her relationship with Pedro Tercero. “Without anyone telling them, they realized that they could not act so freely in front of others… they began to hide when they wanted to play. They stopped walking hand in hand within sight of the adults, and they ignored each other so as not to attract attention” (Allende 147). Once Esteban Trueba discovers Blanca’s secret, he becomes furious with her. Blanca’s brothers Jaime and Nicolas also have interactions with the peasant class. Both feel sympathetic and charitable towards the workers of Tres Marias and other people less fortunate. Their involvement with the peasants causes tension between them and their father because Esteban Trueba does not want them to ruin the family reputation by becoming involved with people below them. Because of the great differences between the two classes, jealousy arises. Esteban García provides a perfect example; Esteban García envies the Truebas’ luxurious life and believes that if Esteban Trueba realizes and accepts that the Trueba blood flows through his veins as well, he too can live that life. However, Esteban Trueba fails to acknowledge Esteban García as his illegitimate grandson, which results in a growing hatred within Esteban García. This hatred fuels Esteban García’s desire for revenge.In Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, differences between social classes also cause problems for the characters. As a member of the bourgeoisie, protagonist Emma Bovary finds herself bored with the lifestyle of her social class and desires the elegant life of the aristocrats. Emma uses her affairs with Rodolphe and the new, cosmopolitan Leon in order to feel like she belongs in higher society. As the story continues, her desire for acceptance by the aristocrats becomes out of control and her endeavors fail to meet her expectations. Ironically, as Emma tries to force her way into a higher class, she ends up falling down a class. “The men whispered in one corner, probably discussing the expenses. There were a clerk, two medical students, and a shop assistant. What company for her! As for the women, Emma quickly realized from their voices that almost all of them were from the dregs of society. Then she grew frightened, pushed back her chair, and lowered her eyes” (Flaubert 273). Flaubert uses irony to show how Emma realizes that she has failed to live the social lifestyle she originally envisions. The difference and the isolation of the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy cause Emma to concoct ideal visions of the lives of the aristocrats, which does not reflect reality. This results in Emma trying to realize her ideal expectations of the upper class, which eventually leads to her death. The House of the Spirits and Madame Bovary incorporate the dangers of the vast differences in social class in similar ways. For example, both authors have social class bring about tragedies in their novels’ plots. In The House of the Spirits, Esteban García personifies the struggle involving social class. As a child, Esteban García aspires to become a recognized part of the Trueba family and the landowning class. However, his illegitimate grandfather fails to acknowledge him as part of the family, spurring hate within Esteban García which intensifies as he becomes older. This hate fuels his desire for revenge on the Trueba family, which he releases upon Alba Trueba, who he keeps as a personal prisoner. In Madame Bovary, Emma’s desire to change social classes brings about her ultimate downfall. Desiring to enhance her social class, she buys extravagant gifts for her lovers. Her expenses, however, bring her deeper into debt. Under desperate measures to get herself out of debt, she takes her own life. Also, both Esteban García and Emma Bovary, the characters involved with the social class-caused tragedies, aspire to rise in social classes; in the end Esteban García succeeds while Emma does not. Allende and Flaubert use different distinctions between their cultures’ social classes in order to create the conflict in their respective novels. In The House of the Spirits, Allende describes the peasant class as less classy than the landowning class. In fact, Allende describes them in a negative way. “They were a sorry lot. He saw various women of indecipherable age, their skin dry and cracked, some apparently pregnant, all of them barefoot and dressed in faded rags” (49). The landowning class, the Trueba family, owns a large estate, has a lot of power over the other class, and benefits from the peasants’ work. In Madame Bovary, Flaubert uses the protagonist’s influence on the reader to characterize the two classes. Emma finds her bourgeoisie life boring and mediocre. The reader perceives the aristocratic class as superior because Emma believes so. Also, the two novels have different settings. Allende’s novel takes place in a Latin American country whereas Flaubert’s novel takes place in France. The novels, which have similar conflicts that revolve around distinctions between social classes, occur in different settings, but still produce the same, tragic result. This proves that issues caused by the differences in social classes can happen in any culture.In their respective novels, Allende and Flaubert demonstrate that the differences between social classes can have negative impacts on the lives of the characters. The great differences cause Emma Bovary and Esteban García to strive to become part of the better class. As a result of their efforts, they cause tragedies within their respective novels’ plots. The novels teach its readers that the increase in differences between social classes can have dire results. They also encourage the readers keep these results in mind while they look at our own culture in order to make sure that differences in social classes do not have the same or similar negative impacts.
The Spiritual Doldrums of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary
The Spiritual Doldrums of Flaubert’s Madame BovaryThe narrative of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary cannot be completely separated from the commentary on religion and spiritual deficiency in the novel. Segments of Flaubert’s masterpiece are clearly satirical—and if they are not bitingly so, they subtly stir up a criticism of the institution of the church. Specifically, Madame Bovary deals with the ineptitude of the church, and sometimes religion itself, to provide spiritual succor and hope in the face of fear. Emma Bovary is the embodiment of the hopeless, spiritually depraved sinner whom religion has failed to comfort—whom the church has failed to aide. The novel catalogues the journey by which she sets toward salvation and achieves only the self-induced doom of suicide.One of the earliest instances of a turn from faith occurs not with Emma but with her father, Rouault. Rouault’s memory is momentarily piqued as he recalls the small delights his now-deceased wife’s presence had once afforded him. The bittersweet is evoked as he watches the wheels of Emma’s bridal buggy cart her off into the world, just as his wife’s bridal cart had drawn her indelibly into his own world. Seeking solace, Rouault contemplates a visit to the church; yet the church, with its ghosts of bliss (marriage) and woe (death) offers no salve for his wounded sense of spirituality. Of Rouault, Flaubert intimates:“He felt dismal…and as memories and black thoughts mingled in his brain, dulled by the vapors of the past, he considered for a moment turning his steps toward the church. But he was afraid that the sight of it might make him even sadder, so he went straight home.” (Flaubert, pg. 870)In the very upbringing of the immoral, even amoral, Emma Rouault, Flaubert infuses commentary on the superficial nature of the church as a vehicle for salvation. The churchly concerns pressed upon Emma’s soul only cause her spirit to rebel:“The good nuns, who had been taking her vocation quite for granted, were greatly surprised to find that Mademoiselle Rouault was apparently slipping out of their control. And indeed they had so deluged her with prayers, retreats, novenas and sermons, preached so constantly the respect due to saints and the martyrs, and given her so much good advice about modest behavior and the saving of her soul, that she reacted like a horse too tightly reined: she balked, and the bit fell from her teeth.” (Flaubert, pg. 873)As Flaubert later describes, Emma succumbs to fleshly desires and with animal abandon engages in adulterous affairs. Her extramarital escapades and her eventual suicide make a mockery of an institution so bent on spiritual salvation and so confident in its moral enforcement. Afflicted with boredom, Emma flouts her religious rearing and blames God for her sober, stagnant position in life: “It was God’s will. The future was a pitch-black tunnel ending in a locked door.”(Flaubert, pg. 887) Emma’s listlessness causes her to shed any feigned exterior interest in those hobbies in which she once appeared to delight. With hopeless rhetoric she questions, “Who was there to listen…What was the use of anything?” (Flaubert, pg. 887) Emma has nowhere to turn but inward—gnawing deeper into her own despair. Religion offers her no comfort, only greater gloom: “How depressed she was on Sundays, when the churchbell tolled for vespers! With a dull awareness she listened to the cracked sound as it rang out again and again…the bell would keep on giving its regular, monotonous peals.” There is nothing spiritually transforming—nothing spiritually uplifting—about the church in Emma’s dull world. The sound of the bells tolling excites nothing romantic within her, but instead serves as a metaphor for her own life, which drones on tediously.“Part Deux” of Madame Bovary opens with the seemingly arbitrary notation on the Yonville-l’Abbaye—the town to which Charles Bovary and his restless wife Emma move. Is it random that Flaubert—slave to meticulous detail—would include a mention that “even the ruins of the ancient Capuchin friary from which it derives its name are no longer there”? Viewed in the light of Flaubert’s notions of an inexorable fate, this scene of a church-less church town elucidates the grim progression of time—not even this friary could escape decay and ultimate disintegration. A small, remodeled church does stand in the town—but is located across the street from the finest house in Yonville-l’Abbaye. The church’s rotting wooden vaulting and black cavities present a stark contrast to the luxurious and flourishing home across the way. The church and its shambles are left to ruin; the wealthy lack the gratitude to repair it, and the poor lack the means. Small wonder then that it is here in this decrepit town that Emma’s own character will moulder and putrefy into nothingness.Emma undergoes a sort of spiritual resurrection, but quickly her insincere contrition dissipates with the prospect of a new lover. Just as her moral character has departed from the church, so too does Emma depart from the cathedral in the scene of her fever-pitch affair with her second lover, Leon. With little hesitation, the demoralized Emma accepts the pleas of the eager Leon and climbs into the Parisian cab that will host the first of their sexual episodes. Her flight from the Church is so clearly a flight from her already debased moral standing that one can read a hint of foreshadowed doom when the verger cries to Emma and Leon: “Drive past the north door, at least!…Take a look at the Resurrection, the Last Judgment, Paradise, King David, and the souls of the damned in the flames of hell!” (Flaubert, pg. 997) It is as though Flaubert were painting Emma into the history of salvation: hers will be among the souls of the damned in the flames of hell.Having gone to Monsieur Bournisien, the parish priest, in search of spiritual guidance, Emma Bovary encounters only greater despair. With an air of indifference the priest brushes aside her very real, very severe spiritual malaise. When Emma responds to his question—“How are you?”—with a plea—“Poorly”—the uncomprehending Bournisien asks why her husband has yet to prescribe a treatment. “Ah!” Emma replies. “It isn’t earthly remedies that I need” The apathetic priest simply keeps “looking away, into the church, where the boys were kneeling side by side.” (Flaubert, pg. 917) Emma reveals a need for salvation, for a source of happiness in her turbulent woe, and Bournisien offers a paltry, “But what can we do? We’re born to suffer.” (Flaubert, pg. 917)As she lies in bed—a wretch of arsenic and misery—Emma is almost brought to comfort by religion. Upon recognizing the purple stole of the priest who has come to administer her final rites, her mind attaches itself to the “lost ecstasy of her first mystical flights and the first visions of eternal bliss.” (Flaubert, pg. 1047) All is a show, however, and even as she pants closer and closer toward death, Emma kisses the crucifix with overly ecstatic manner—still trying to seize the passion and romantic melancholy that she was so sure life contained. Consider in particular the manner in which Monsieur Bournisien anoints the dying Emma. To exorcise the vice from her corrupted soul, the priest performs chrisms: “He anointed her eyes, once so covetous of all earthly luxuries; then her nostrils, so gluttonous of caressing breezes and amorous scents; then her mouth, so prompt to lie, so defiant in pride, so loud in lust; then her hands, that had thrilled to voluptuous contacts; and finally the soles of her feet, once so swift when she had hastened to slake her desires.” (Flaubert, pg. 1047)To the expiring Emma, the priest is cool and uncomforting—religion offers scarcely any cushion to death’s approach—and the priest’s routine style reflects little personal care for the plight of the self-damning woman. Having performed the rituals, Monsieur Bournisien stoically “wiped his fingers, threw the oil-soaked bits of cotton into the fire, and returned to the dying woman, sitting beside her and telling her that now she must unite her sufferings with Christ’s and throw herself on the divine mercy.” (Flaubert, pg. 1047) In a profound display of symbolic mastery, Flaubert describes the priest’s attempt to have the failing Emma grasp a candle—the symbol of the “celestial glories” which characterize heaven. At the point of death, Emma is too weak to grasp the candle and its religious implications, just as her moral character had been too weak to grasp virtue and battle worldly temptation. As Emma’s convulsions come to a climax, and death finally besets her, the lackluster image of the tolling bells winds its way back into her tale: “everything seemed drowned by the monotonous flow of Latin syllables that sounded like the tolling of a bell.” (Flaubert, pg. 1048)Madame Bovary’s banal existence has fallen far short of her romantic ideals, and the Catholic mysticism with which she had once been enamored proves to be a charade. Her shallow devotion to religion cannot endure the depths of her dejection—and it is without real peace of mind that Emma passes from this anguished life into the next. The novel lilts to a finale of despair, and closes like Emma’s life, with the melancholy song of the blind beggar who captures in his notes of woe the hapless misery of the human condition.
The Dynamics of Fantasy and Reality in Madame Bovary
I.Artist M.C. Escher, famous for his deceptive manipulations of vignettes, once asserted that “Reality cannot exist without illusion, and illusion not without reality.” There is no telling why Escher or countless others are preoccupied with the absurd, with the gray matter of the world; it is difficult to understand how reality can become so stale and trite as to force one to escape from it altogether. After all, there are so many paradigms left to break, so many conceptual questions left unanswered. Perhaps there are some who are innately lacking this recognition of the beauty and paradox of actuality, some who choose to ignore the authenticity of self and escape into some misapprehension, some dream. In few works is this persona better epitomized than in Gustave Flaubert’s classic 1857 publication Madame Bovary. Though the novel is often considered to be a commentary on the corruptible French Bourgeois, the story centers around the selfish machinations of Emma Bovary, a stifled housewife unsatisfied with the life she is leading. Emma, perhaps inadvertently, falls into a parallel world of wining and dining, balls, and other opulent misgivings that eventually lead her to a feeling of disgust for her true vitality, consequently ending her life in suicide. Emma is never able to see the magnificence in relationships and love; she is swept away by the pretentious ideas of Romanticism and luxury. Her husband, Charles, is sadly also in an imaginary world of his own. He cannot detect the indiscrete schemes of his plotting wife. Charles believes he is living a fairy tale with a loving and obedient wife, when in fact it couldn’t be farther from the truth. Ironically enough, those the couple encounter in the treacherous society encroaching on them are the ones closest to reality. In Madame Bovary and in civilization today, both the beauty and danger of illusion is that it removes one from reality in such a way that the latter then loses some splendor of its own. II Lawrence Thornton, in his 1978 criticism of the piece, proposes that Emma Bovary exists in a fantasy world fabricated by “Three visual modes…descriptive, hallucinatory, and autoscopic.” He asserts the descriptive manner of vision explains Madame Bovary’s internal condition and conveys why she reacts to external stimuli in the way she does. Thornton believes Flaubert uses imagery of Emma’s surroundings to parallel her innermost emotions. In her hallucinatory state, Madame Bovary loses all sense of time and becomes engulfed in her latest whim – be it a man or some other object of her ephemeral affection. Temporarily, she forgets she is married and forgets she is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Thornton seems to condone her behavior because of this delusional mode, blaming it and not the person upon whom it manifests. The autoscopic vision seems to combine the former two, explaining the merging of past and present and how it prevents Emma from ever differentiating between fantasy and reality. Flaubert’s style seems to fade out behind Emma’s own articulations, making this mode the most revealing of Emma Bovary’s psyche. Thornton’s ideas on Flaubert’s use of imagery to parallel Emma’s feelings are brilliant, but his analysis of three different modes of vision seems far-fetched and overreaching. Emma Bovary’s notions and emotions seem to almost always be paired with a similar vignette, be it quixotic, desolate or even promising. Flaubert is indeed revealing in this technique how easily Emma is affected by the most subtle of subtleties around her. Thornton claims that Emma no longer understands the concept of time, when in fact it is quite the opposite. Emma is existing in her plight precisely because she is so aware of time. Madame Bovary knows she cannot waste time as an obedient housewife and must expel her desires somehow. Thornton mistakes Emma’s desires for fleeting wants indifferent to time. Though Emma may long to stay young forever, she knows exactly where and how she is, and is doing what she can to inject excitement into her life. If Emma were to have no concept of time, she would not be so desperate and willing to fall into illusion. Her perception of time is why her illusions are so dangerous. III If ever there were evidence of Emma Bovary’s false sense of what is ideal and what is just, it lies in the style of Flaubert’s writing. Emma persistently scrutinizes her situation and has not the appreciation of the most self-absorbed and pompous in society. The journeys into Emma’s thoughts express Flaubert’s style flawlessly, manipulating the reader into detecting the detrimental effects of a false reality. Madame Bovary ponders: “Would this misery last forever? Would she never be out of it? She certainly deserved as much as all those women who were living happily. She had seen duchesses at Vaubyessard who had clumsier figures and more common manners than she, and she cursed God’s injustice; she would lean her head against the wall and cry; she envied tumultuous lives, masked balls, and insolent pleasures with all the mad distractions they probably offered and that she had never known.” (83) This self-inquiry conveys Emma’s insight that probes no further than the material level, the outer surface of things. She continues to create a chasm between her own life and that which she desires, evident in Flaubert’s sentence structure. To begin the passage, Madame Bovary uses two simple, segregating sentences referencing the life she currently leads. As the segment progresses and Emma draws into the life she yearns for, however, her thoughts are materialized into freight-train sentences, displaying her boredom with the present circumstances and a garnished, romantic idea of what she thinks she deserves. Flaubert employs this concealed technique throughout the novel, slowly increasing the breach between whim and actuality. The tone is melancholic, but in being so it is also latently manipulative. Emma is so distraught, so desperate for a new existence, she almost provokes empathy from the reader. This is precisely Flaubert’s strategy – he wants the audience to feel compassion for Emma. The reader soon realizes he should not be feeling sympathy for such an ungrateful adulteress, and has encountered the hazards of illusion. Emma is so out of touch with reality she invokes the audience to side with her, proving the power of fantasy. Emma is already too justified in her mind to revert back to reality, as evident in the phrase “She certainly deserved as much…” She is convinced that what could be should be, and Flaubert exquisitely portrays this through his style. IV Society is a corruptible entity; it is flawed and responsible for the perils in the world today. There are many reasons for this imperfection in civilization, and, as exemplified in Madame Bovary, misapprehension is among the most paramount. It is not to say goals or ambitions are among these terrible misgivings, rather it is the arbitrary and lustful desires or impressions that weave the flaws into the fabric of mankind. Illusion is a chief catalyst behind ignorance, sin, and disgrace. Emma Bovary possesses the most frivolous desires in the story, and, fittingly, she carries the most ignominy. Her wants stem from readings of quixotic tales filled with lacy imagery of swoon and fancy possessions, leading her to an idea of what her vitality should be. Despite the lack of money flowing into the household, Emma sinks herself into debt purchasing needless item after needless item, killing her sense of moderation and modesty. After the ball in Vaubyessard, she then begins to conjure up an idea of the perfect man, not appreciating the loving one she actually has. With each day, Emma comes to loathe the true possessions and the genuine man in her life, leaving her perpetually yearning for something more. Spawned from this cycle is Madame Bovary’s eventual committals of adultery and deceit, displaying the ease with which fantasy may cause transgression and dishonor. A spurious idea of reality is also responsible for temporal blindness and denial. Charles never suspects any wrongdoing on Emma’s behalf, despite the mounting evidence against her. He believes from day one he is living out the typical bourgeois lifestyle, loving Emma as a trustworthy wife. His fantasy, though more innocent and respectable than Emma’s, is just as thoughtless and contributing to the faults in society. Because he believes the marriage is perfect, Charles never attempts to change his monotonous and predictable ways. The two have no idea what the other wants because they are blinded by two unrealistic fantasies. A fantasy can only go as far as one wants it to, but, sadly, society is plagued by those who cannot distinguish it from actuality. Emma Bovary’s illusions produce sin and ignominy while her husband’s create an impermeable ignorance and blindness. Illusion, as shown in these examples, is the cause of the many defects of the human condition. V Reality indeed cannot exist without illusion, because without the latter there is nothing to compare what is real to what is not. Likewise, illusion will never stand alone because there must exist an entity from which to escape. Few recognize that this subtle relationship is a beautiful one – it has led to innovation, discovery, and love. But it is also treacherous, as some will polarize to total fantasy and may never fall back into a healthy balance of both it and reality. This is so in the disastrously exquisite tale of Madame Bovary. Charles and Emma Bovary are a tragic couple, doomed from the start, and impeded by a lack of genuine vitality. It frustrates the reader that the two can never escape from their fantasies of opulence, excitement, or true love and companionship. The story presents beauty as well, however – Charles and Emma salvage some joy out of lives they were unfortunately thrown into. As the saying goes, ignorance is bliss, and indubitably, both Charles and Emma find pleasure only in their fantasies. People will always find ways to achieve happiness, be it in illusion, actuality, or a combination of the two. Of course, there are perils in escaping into a fantasy world, but who is anyone to say what one should or shouldn’t do? It is the wonderful complexity of the human will that will dictate where our lives will lead us. When I look at another M.C. Escher drawing, perhaps I will divert into illusion for one moment – for that may be where satisfaction lies.
Continually Thwarted: A Minor Character Analysis of Berthe Bovary
Berthe appears only a few times in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and is too young to contribute much to the novel by her speech or actions, but she is nevertheless extremely important to the story. Emma’s lack of maternal aptitude and weakness of moral character are made evident by Berthe’s presence. Because of Berthe’s young age and innocence, she is able to act as a foil to contrast with Emma’s lifestyle of immorality and self-gratification. Berthe’s primary functions in the novel are to bring to light Emma’s character flaws as well as the consequences of her actions and to serve as a symbol of Emma’s union with Charles.The first reason for the inclusion of Berthe in the novel is that Berthe’s presence exposes Emma’s maternal ineptitude. Flaubert makes it apparent from the beginning that Emma Bovary is far from being the ideal mother. Although she is not altogether against the idea of having a child, Emma views motherhood simply as a way to try something new and fuel the romantic fire within her. She cares little for her relationship with her child. At the beginning of her pregnancy, Emma showed little interest in becoming a mother. Charles, however, convinced her by his continual enthusiasm about their future roles as parents that it would be an interesting experience (902). While Emma does view parenthood as something novel and fascinating, she fails to show true love for her child throughout the remainder of her life.Emma’s reaction to having a daughter reveals her selfish attitude. She wants a baby boy who “would be strong and dark” and “free to range the passions and the world” (902). Contrarily, Emma herself certainly embodies this sort of freedom much more than her husband Charles does. She wants a boy so that he can live the passionate and romantic life that she dreams of and attempts to live for herself. Flaubert states that “a woman is continually thwarted” and that “there is always a desire that entices, a convention that restrains” (902). Emma, however, defies this restraint, opting to yield to the temptation provided by Rodolphe and Lon. Although she proves that it is quite possible for a woman to live a “free” life, Emma wants a son so badly that she convinces herself that her child will be a boy. Upon learning that her child is a girl, her disappointment is so great that “she turned her head away and fainted” (902). Emma has not yet even considered a name for a daughter because she has been so confident that she would have a baby boy, thus demonstrating her desire not to experience the joys of motherhood, but instead, to placate her own selfishness. She wishes not for the joy of having and nurturing a child, but rather a child through whom she can vicariously experience the same thrills that she seeks in her own life.Berthe’s existence provides a catalyst for Emma’s relationship with Lon, and thus brings to light another flaw in Emma’s character – infidelity. It is on the way to visit her daughter that Emma goes on the first of several walks with Lon. When Emma meets Lon on the road to the nurse’s house, Lon begins to ask Emma if she would like his company. He stops short though, realizing the awkwardness that would be created if he were to accompany another man’s wife to visit her child. Emma, however, is not deterred and asks Lon to go along with her, unimpeded by the thought of losing her reputation. Throughout the visit, Lon’s discomfort with the situation is evident, while Emma does not appear at all bothered by the fact that she is holding Charles’ child in the company of another man. Even Berthe seems to realize her mother’s faults when she throws up on Emma (904-905). Although this is a common behavior in babies, it is also indicative of disgust with Emma’s actions.Emma’s selfishness and lack of concern for Berthe are demonstrated yet again during her next affair when she is making plans to move to Genoa with Rodolphe. Their lust for each other has become too great for the two to remain apart, and Emma asks Rodolphe to run away with her. She does not consider what would happen to her daughter until Rodolphe asks her, “What about your little girl?” Emma pauses to think and then replies, “We’ll take her with us – it’s the only way” (967). Rather than doing everything she can to make her daughter’s life better, Emma decides to drag Berthe along with her in order to please her own illicit desires.Emma’s maternal incompetence is further exemplified when she grows tired of Berthe’s playful attempts to be close to her and pushes the child away so hard that she falls into a cabinet and cuts her face. When Charles arrives, Emma tells him calmly that Berthe “fell down and hurt herself playing” (919). Emma’s mild and quickly dissipating concern for her child again demonstrates her selfishness. She appears to be more worried that she will appear inept because Berthe was hurt under her care than she does about the fact that her child has been hurt. As Emma is caring for Berthe during the evening after the girl was hurt, she notices “what an ugly child [Berthe] is” (919). Far from being a typical motherly thought, this observation indicates a tremendous lack of maternal love. This is another example of the same unnatural attitude that led to Berthe’s injury. Instead of feeling tender compassion for her daughter, Emma feels only frustration and disgust.In addition to highlighting Emma’s faults, both as a person and as a mother, Berthe serves as a constant reminder to Emma of her union with Charles. While packing to move to Yonville, Emma discovers the bouquet from her wedding. She then tosses this symbol of her marriage in the fireplace and watches it burn. After demonstrating the extent to which she deplores her marriage by destroying this transient icon of her union with Charles, Emma ironically obtains a much more enduring symbol. The chapter ends with the short and seemingly trivial sentence, “When they left Tostes in March, Madame Bovary was pregnant” (890). Although Emma’s pregnancy receives little attention here, Berthe becomes a pungent reminder of Emma’s tie to Charles later in the novel.Berthe acts as a symbol of Emma’s marriage when Emma’s relationship with Rodolphe leads to the discussion of running away together. Rodolphe presents Emma with the question of what to do about Berthe. She answers that the child will have to go with them; “it’s the only way” (967). Emma’s struggle to achieve her romantic ideals is emphasized by the fact that the only way for her to pursue her passion for Rodolphe is to take with her a reminder of her union with Charles.Finally, Berthe serves as a means to accentuate the effects of Emma’s attitudes and actions. This is most apparent after Emma’s death. Soon after the funeral, Berthe asks Charles where her mother is, and Charles responds that she is “away on a trip.” Berthe “mentioned her again several times, then gradually forgot her” (1057), but Berthe would never recover from the effects of Emma’s behavior.Berthe was doomed to a life of poverty by her mother’s unconscionable lifestyle. Not too long after her mother’s death, Berthe finds her father dead. In Charles’s hand was the lock of hair that he took from Emma after her death (1063). In this way, Flaubert brings the deaths of both of Berthe’s parents together, as if they were both lost at the same time. As an orphan, Berthe is sent to live with her aunt who can not afford to take care of her, so she is forced to work in a cotton mill to pay for the necessities of life. Emma’s extravagance and romantic idealism will never have a place in Berthe’s life because she lacks the means to pursue those dreams. Although Emma claimed that she wanted her child to be “free to range the passions and the world, to surmount obstacles, to taste the rarest pleasures” (902), she failed to provide Berthe with the necessary resources to achieve this freedom. Berthe was “thwarted” not by her status as a woman, as Emma implies (902), but rather by her mother’s poor choices and selfishness.Berthe’s presence is vital to the novel because Flaubert uses her character to develop Emma, the protagonist. Without Berthe, the reader would not understand the character flaws in Emma that Flaubert wishes to convey. Emma’s worst attributes are brought forth only when she is contrasted with the foil of Berthe’s innocence and placed in a position where her maternal inability makes evident her selfishness and depravity. Without Berthe, the effects of Emma’s actions after her death would not have been as apparent. Berthe plays an important symbolic role in the novel as well, most notably by serving as a constant reminder of Emma’s marital attachment to Charles. Even though Berthe does little in the way of acting or speaking throughout the novel, Flaubert uses her effectively to help to define Emma as a character and to show the effects of Emma’s lifestyle upon those who truly loved her.
Illusion and Disappointment in Madame Bovary
In Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert attacks all sorts of vice and virtue; his targets include adultery, romance, religion, science, and politics. The characters are almost universally detestable; those who are not are merely pathetic. But the negativity throughout the book, always in contrast with impossible happiness, is not as black as it appears. Or if the characters truly do face bleak situations, they do so out of an inability to accept a reality that was perhaps less than what they wanted, but better than they let it become. Madame Bovary is foremost a novel about romance, and it is reasonable that marriage should come under attack. Charles’ first marriage is arranged by his mother to Madame Dubuc, an ugly, domineering woman thrice Charles’ age, who is supposed to be rich. Charles’ wedded life is miserable, and yet when his wife finally dies, he reflects that “she had loved him, after all” (42). Thus Dubuc, who claimed that “if [Charles] hovered near her, it was surely in order to see her die” (35) becomes the novel’s first and only loving wife. Charles’ mother, faced with an adulterous and spendthrift husband, “stifle[s] her rage” (30); the only other wife in the story, Madame Homais, seems to get along with her husband, but her feelings are not addressed. The single loving husband besides Charles is Monsieur Rouault, Emma’s father, but his wife died several years before the action of the book begins, and we never meet her.The reality of marriage contrasts with Emma’s ideas of love. In the beginning of their marriage, Emma and Charles are “happy and without a care in the world” (53). Charles devotes himself to his wife, yet for Emma, “the happiness that should have resulted from this love had not come” (55). Her expectations of life outside the farm: “gloomy forests, romantic woes, oaths, sobs” (57) etc. are nowhere to be found in marriage, and indeed Charles’ happiness consists of the opposite: Emma’s “comb, her rings, her shawl” (55), mundane pleasures. The Bovary’s marriage begins well, but Emma’s ideas of wedded bliss fall short of reality and doom her life with Charles. Marriage is not perfect, but not every married character is unhappy.Emma’s efforts to attain happiness within her marriage are misguided, the result of fantasy. She thinks that by being a good wife she will raise her existence closer to an ideal. When she falls in love with Léon, she perceives a chance to overcome temptation and transform her life into a moral exemplum. Emma begins to raise her own child, to attend church, to worry about Charles; she tells herself “I am virtuous” (118) and in short becomes the unattainable woman of her courtly love stories. There is no reason why this should make her happier, and Emma’s fantasy soon clashes with the reality of her surroundings; “[Charles’] conviction that he was making her happy seemed an imbecilic insult….For whom then was she being virtuous?” (118). In the same measure that her marriage is less than her ideals, Emma becomes a less than ideal wife. The blame for this lies in equal measure with reality, for Charles really is dull and boring, and Yonville able to bore the strongest constitution, and with Emma herself.For example, a later attempt of Emma’s to perfect her life is her encouraging Charles to operate on the clubfoot of Hippolyte, a stableboy at the local inn. For Homais and Emma to think the procedure has a chance of working is sheer fantasy, rooted in ambition for success. “Emma had no reason to think [Charles] wasn’t a capable doctor” (173) except for her disgust at his obtuseness, a thought she puts aside, for it conflicts with her fantasy that Charles could “increase his reputation and his fortune” (173). Charles, who is a health officer, not a doctor, attempts a new procedure in a magazine and operates on a perfectly healthy patient. Emma’s ideals to do Hippolyte just what they are doing to her marriage; the boy’s leg has to be amputated. The situation appalls Canivet, a real doctor. Medical science is just as bad as marriage, that is, it can work (Homais may be a crank, but Canivet is not), but it is fallible and even disastrous when embarked upon without reason but with absurd expectations. Furthermore, when its practitioners ignore warning signs, such as Hipployte’s swelling and convulsing foot, a parallel to Emma’s restlessness and crying spells, the situation gets worse; in their disgust and optimism, Charles and Homais continue their procedure when stopping could have saved their victim’s foot.Religion suffers the same failures as science, for the same reasons. The local priest is to souls what Charles is to bodies, and in respect to Emma the curé is, like Charles, completely out of his depth. “‘I am suffering'”, Emma tells him; “‘these first hot spells weaken one terribly'” (121), is his response. The priest is full of concern for the cold and the hungry, but he cannot understand why Emma would be upset. Whenever Emma turns to religion, she expects miracles; she visits the church “prepared for any act of devotion as long as she could give up her soul there and make her entire existence disappear” (120). No wonder she is so annoyed by books like “The Man of the World at Mary’s Feet, by Monsieur de ____, Holder of Several Decorations” (208), she cannot accept that religion is usually prosaic in its daily operation. When Emma “address[es] to the Lord the same fond words she had formerly murdered to her lover in the ecstasies of adultery” (208), she is trying another fantasy world that proves itself grounded in reality. Religion is like adultery for Emma, and she finds “in adultery all the banalities of marriage” (272).Most of Emma’s disillusionments do, in fact, involve adultery. Her meeting with Rodolphe at the Agricultural Show vividly reveals the extent to which she is insulated by her illusions. As Rodolphe offers such alluring sentiments irresistable to Emma as “I bury myself, in my sadness” (143) and “our duty is to discern the great and cherish the beautiful” (148) they are interrupted by men carrying chairs and announcers offering prizes for best manure. According to Homais, Yonville “believed itself transported to the heart of an Arabian Nights dream” (156) at the Show, but Emma does not notice the disparagement of her fantasies. Rodolphe, her first lover, is pragmatic and manipulative, not the romantic she imagines him. They plan to go away, or rather Emma plans to and Rodolphe does not contradict her. In the end, Rodolphe backs out, and Emma contemplates suicide and falls into catatonia. Rodolphe, who has had many other lovers, does not understand that Emma loves him more than other women have. “Emma resembled all his old mistresses….This man, who was so experienced in love, could not distinguish the dissimilarity in the emotions behind the similarity of expressions” (188). He considers Emma an entirely typical lover, while she, as is her wont, dreams of traveling with him to “some splendid city with domes, bridges, cathedrals, ships, forests” (192). Emma is once more disappointed because she expects the affair to be more than it is.Emma’s affair with Léon is worse than her affair with Rodolphe, if only in respect to the debt she incurs during it. Money feeds Emma’s fantasy life, and the more she spends to be with her lovers, ignoring reality, the further she drives her family into ruin. Her delight with Léon begins to pale when he is unable to make a rondezvous because Homais has pinned him down; from this insignifigant slight and tiny flaw in perfection comes the destruction of her love. Léon is falliable, and therefore Emma “detest[s] him….One must not touch idols; the gilt rubs off on one’s hands” (265). At this point, the reader is more dismayed by this turn of events than Emma is. Emma Bovary, romantic and idealist, has, à la Dorian Gray, become ever more corrupt as the trappings of her life have increased in opulence. While visiting Léon, Emma would “laugh loudly and dissolutely when the champagne froth spilled over the fragile glass onto the rings on her fingers” (251), and Léon finds her “the amoreuse in every novel, the heroine of every drama…an angel” (251). She has transformed herself into her ideal, at least to her lover. But she pays for the rings and the champagne with her daughter’s inheritance and her husband’s present; she can only grasp her fantasy at reality’s expense. “One evening she did not go back to Yonville [from a visit to her lover in Rouen]. Charles was out of his mind with worry, and little Berthe, who did not want to go to bed without seeing her mama, sobbed as if her heart were breaking” (260). It is emphatically Emma who creates this situation, Emma who ruins her daughter’s life, who makes her own deathbed, rushed into on account of debt. When “lying [becomes] a need, a mania, a pleasure” (256) for her, when she runs to Rodolphe for money, “prostituting herself” (283), or when she suggests to Léon that he embezzle from his employer to pay her debts, Emma is being far worse than mundane. She sacrifices her life, her family’s life, and her morals to fantasy.After Emma’s suicide, Charles is possessed by her spirit, but in a way it inhabited him throughout his marriage. It is only the content of his fantasies that changes. Charles assumed Emma was happy; he loved her, and he thought she loved him back. He was the only person in Yonville who did not suspect Emma of having an affair. “Maybe [Emma and Rodolphe] loved each other platonically” (316) he thinks, upon finding Rodolphe’s farewell letter. Charles did all he could to make Emma happy, but when it came to her affairs and her spending, he lived in a fantasy world. When his mother protested Emma’s power of attorney, “Charles, rebelling for the first time in his life, took his wife’s part” (259). Any force that could make Charles contradict Madame Bovary senior would have to be powerful indeed. As long as he could believe that Emma was his, Charles was content, and he never dared recognize that she is disloyal. He cared about her, spending over a month at her bedside when she fell ill, but at the same time she fit into his dream of a perfect bourgeois life; her accomplishments in entertaining and running the house made him think “all the more highly of himself for possessing such a wife” (61). So instead of addressing Emma’s unhappiness, Charles ended up unwittingly abetting her adulteries, suggesting that she visit Léon and paying for her fictional music lessons in Rouen. And if Charles is not responsible for Emma’s death, he is for his own. He dies having learned of his wife’s affairs and one day after his meeting with Rodolphe. Charles is killed by sheer disillusionment–Canivet “performed an autopsy but found nothing” (322). Charles’ failure to recognize Emma’s imperfections not only kills him but orphans Berthe, who is forced into poverty and labor in a cotton mill. Combined with Emma’s spending, Charles’ death dooms his hope of sending Berthe to boarding school and marrying her off to “some fine young man with a solid business who would make her happy” (192), for it “would be expensive” (191). Charles has only vauge ideas of how to finance his idea, such as purchasing “stock somewhere, it didn’t matter where” (191. His dreams, unlike Emma’s, could have been realized if he had been willing to accept reality: his wife’s faithlessness, her disgust of him, and her massive spending. Even Emma could have been content, albeit with unrealized dreams, had she recognized the unlikelihood of her ever finding “the heart of a poet in the shape of an angel” (267). Happiness is not impossible for those whose goals, unlike Emma’s, are reasonable and limited, and unlike Charles’, are sought with open eyes.Lheureux and Homais, devoted to the pursuit of realistic, if mundane, goals (monopolizing Yonville’s businesses, receiving the Legion of Honor), live without illusions, except for Homais’ conviction that he is not an idiot, a belief that grants him obstinacy. Besides, when confronted with the fact that he cannot earn his goal, Homais does not seek solace in the idealized Church or in redoubling his efforts for science, rather “he [sells] himself; he prostitute[s] himself” (320) by courting the powerful. He tries unlikely methods, such as the operation on Hippolyte’s clubfoot, only when he can weasel out of the blame. Lheureux does not scruple to practically blackmail Emma into entering his debt nor to have his friend Vinçart play the bad creditor for him so as not to “appear a bloodsucker before his fellow townspeople” (282). Both Lheureux and Homais do well, and apparently money can buy happiness; Lheureux (whose name means “fortunate”) sets up his business and does not, as far as the reader knows, suffer from unquiet sleep; Homais gains his medal, and moreover his children’s accomplishments make him “the happiest of fathers, the most fortunate of men” (320).To Lheurex and Homais, the world is not such a bad place. While they do have to act immorally to get what they want, they show that Emma Bovary is wrong; it is possible to be happy. The means and even the ends do not involve ideals, things that Emma’s novels present as beautiful, like romantic love, but they exist all the same. Happiness is intimately connected to wealth, as Emma learns, and to be happy one must be able to deal with the minutiae of bills that confuse her and make her retreat into fantasy. Emma and Charles cannot build their dreams on dreams of money, but the money is there to be had.
The Frailty of Best Intentions in Madame Bovary: Inadequacy and the Agricultural Fair
The literary set piece of the Agricultural Fair is the stuff of cinema. The set piece is a linear pan-opticon of images and events, given unity through the magic of editing. Flaubert, as the cameraman, moves in and out of focus, craning in to catch an important strain of dialogue and panning out to capture the entirety of the surrounding spectacle. As is the case with cinema, context is derived from the clever sequencing of disparate images and actions, which are then made into a convergent whole by the connections the reader draws between the images. The descriptive power and the cut-and-paste movement of Flaubert’s Agricultural Fair glue all the disparate characters and dialogues into one neat super-organism of hypocrisy and seduction in the provinces. The set piece is an exercise in the grotesque; meaning that what comes across as funny in our first reading, seems tragic in our re-reading of it, and then, in a deeper third reading, is quite horrific.Flaubert’s description of the Fair succeeds in compressing all the characters of Yonville-l’Abbaye into the manifest character of a single body politic. The thick description of the assembled townspeople (and their cattle) gel to create a congruous density of scent, sense and color. The mass of “flabby, fair-suntanned faces” of the crowd are presented with no more distinction or detail than are the rumps of livestock.Set at each corner of the courthouse is a flag commemorating “Agriculture,” “Commerce,” “Industry,” and “Fine Arts,” in a garish presentation of civic dignity, what would nowadays be called ‘Rotarian.’ Embodied in this image of the four corners of each courthouse, is the idea of an agrarian utopia, reminiscent of wood-block prints from the 19th century where the farmer is leaning against his ox-plow and reading a copy of Harper’s. Industry barely fits into the spectrum of Yonville, and the Fine Arts are an outright joke, shoved in absurd extreme with “Commerce” and “Agriculture.” The Fair represents an extraneous, desperate effort—an attempt to celebrate a town that is in every aspect unremarkable and even awful. It is bare picture of the provinces, one which would essentially presume to render Emma and Rodolphe almost sinless for attempting to escape it through an affair.Yonville itself is a model of self-limiting provincial meanness and imposed conformity. In trying to present itself at its very best, the town is revealed at its very worst. The pomp, ceremony and patriotism celebrated there is a thin shadow over the sense of self-conscious inadequacy permeating the event. Binet drills his local fire brigade against the National Guard’s brigade, out of competition and spite. Later, Tuvache, the mayor, recoils as if stung when a prefect councilor shows up instead of the prefect himself. The crowd listens agog to the words of the councilor, who reaches to define a particular type of rural ‘intelligence’ that is hardly distinguishable from blind patriotism and good ignorance.At its keenest, provincial intelligence is a boorish kind, like Homais’s, one that yearns passionately to scientifically increase crop yield through the thorough study of manure. The case in the provinces is that you have dumb people who pretend to be smart (which is acceptable, because everyone knows Homais is a bore, anyways), and conversely, smart people, like Rodolphe, who are looked down upon for putting on airs and not acting dumb. By this declension, the ideas of rustic virtue and modesty celebrated at the fair are self-limiting strictures set to guard the insecure confidences of townspeople from the fearful potential of individuals who might be remarkable, and might some day distinguish themselves.The proceedings of the fair are a spiraling torus through which the primary action, Rodolphe’s seduction of Emma, lances through the center like a shuttle through weft. Together, they flit through the bedlam, held high by a sense of untainted inviolability. Bolstered by their own sophistication, Charles and Rodolphe are given leave to pass through the fair, disassociated, at least in their own minds, from the provincial fecundity surrounding them. They deftly sidestep the bore Lhereux’s attempts to intrude into their conversation. Moving through the spectacle they complain to one another about “the mediocrity of provincial life” and the sore lack of people who can’t recognize the cut of a good coat. They watch the councilor’s speech from the high, private vantage of the 2nd story council chambers, viewing the processes with the observant remove of dreamers at play. While the bourgeoisie and farmers listen to the speech below with mouths agape as if to eat the words, Emma is similarly absorbed by Rodolphe’s intimate diatribe on love, freedom, and passion.It’s puzzling to establish the measure by which traditional ideas of ‘goodness’ or ‘villainy’ could be attributed to the characters existing in the relative blur of Flaubert’s naturalistic world. Madame Bovary addresses the frailty of the best and most sincere human intentions. The theme is established at the book’s very outset when young Charles Bovary trys failingly to pronounce his own name, “Charovari! Charovari!” to the ridicule and punishment of his classmates and teacher. What is wrong in this case? Is it that Charles can’t pronounce his name, or is it that the classroom laughs at him for not being able to do so? Likewise, in the inter-weaving of Emma and Rodolphe’s mutual seduction amidst the ridiculous environment of the Agricultural Fair, one is not sure whether to criticize Emma’s weak integrity or pity her for the hopelessness of her circumstances.Rodolphe’s speech cuts between the hot-air political prating of the councilmembers. The inter-weaved juxtaposition creates an odd synchronicity between the two speeches, and both are seductions in their own way. For Emma, the speeches are representative of the two lives she can choose for herself: a country wife, or a mistress.Commerce and the arts are thriving everywhere; everywhere new channels of communication, like so many new arteries in the body politic, are multiplying contacts between its various parts; our great manufacturing centers have resumed their activity; religion, its foundations strengthened, appeals to every heart; shipping fills our ports; confidence returns; at long last, France breathes again!The councilmember’s words promise a ‘great day’ that has already arrived, wherein one may find the ultimate sense of satisfaction by offering him or herself to the public weal. His promises, ludicrous and absurd, represent the bland comfort existing within the structures of rural life. An example of the ends to that life is when Catherine Leroux, wrinkled; with hands gnarled by toil and possessing the stare of a farm beast, is called up to receive 25 francs and a token medal for obedience and duty to the provincial life. By becoming Rodolphe’s mistress, Emma is indiscreetly breaking pact with the town, laying her reputation open, ultimately, to the vicious grapevine of tongue-clucking and whispered judgement meant to destroy those who try to rise above their station.Adversely, Rodolphe’s speech, being a refutation of those notions of duty and an endorsement of the individual, makes a similar promise of an approaching ‘great day’.We feel the need to pour out our hearts to a given person, to surrender, to sacrifice everything. In such a meeting no words are necessary: each senses the other’s thoughts. Each is the answer to the other’s dreams. There it is then, the treasure so long sought for—there before us: it gleams, it sparkles. But still we doubt; we daren’t believe; we stand there dazzled, as though we’d come from darkness into light.Both promises, the civic dream and the individual one, are unsustainable in the world of Flaubert, where dreams wither under the ineptitude and inadequacy of those who nurse them. It is not good enough to say that promises are deceptions, for the characters lack the self-awareness to offer anything earnest in their statements. In the end, everyone is like the example of the young “Charovari!” They try their hardest and they fail. The sublime fails to exist in Flaubert’s world. Both seductions offered to Emma, civic and intimate, are unknowing lies, unable to pierce, for one second, the indistinct cloud which obscures meaning in life. No option offered to Emma is good enough to save her from decline and self-deterioration.Do you really not know, that there exist souls that are ceaselessly in torment? That are driven now to dreams, now to action, driven from the purest passions to the most orgiastic pleasures? No wonder we fling ourselves into all kinds of fantasies and follies!In this statement, Rodolphe is commenting, in some part, on the pointlessness of the ceremony below. The fair is the folly of the town trying to break free of its own limits, to attach itself to a fantastic ideal of the great French Society. Without knowing it yet, Emma and Rodophe are engaging in the same folly, by offering themselves to one another as an escape from reality. The further they attempt to distance themselves from social reality, the tighter the close walls of the provinces will lean into their affair, and all that will be left for Rodolphe and Emma is the inadequacy of each other.In light of what we learn about provincial life through the agricultural fair, can one blame Emma and Rodolphe for flinging themselves selfishly and recklessly into a doomed romance? For those who might still label Rodolphe a villain, let us translate his case through the moral lens of another great Modern mind. Chekhov wrote a famous letter to A.S. Suvorin addressing his anger towards the public’s reception of his first play Ivanov. Ivanov is an aging and depressed provincial landowner who spurs his wife’s death by initiating an affair with the young girl next door. Chekhov wrote that the ‘villain,’ is not Ivanov, as the public had interpreted him to be, but the blandly self-righteous rural doctor, a secondary character who unloads his own virtuous standards on the desperate Ivanov: “[The doctor’s] judgement about everything is preconceived. . . A man has an ailing wife yet he visits a rich woman living near by—there, isn’t he a scoundrel?” The temptation to make a neat moral incision of this novel cheats the complex frailty of the human spirit, which provides Madame Bovary with its greatest allure.
The Effect of Literature
As Gustave Flaubert wrote the novel Madame Bovary, he took special care to examine the relationship between literature and the effect on its readers. His heroine Emma absorbs poetry and novels as though they were instructions for her emotional behavior. When her mother dies, she looks to poetry to decide what degree of mourning is adequate; when she becomes adulterous she thinks immediately how she is like the women in literature that she has read about. In one scene, Emma is with her second lover, Leon, rowing in a boat, and she begins to sing several lines from the poem “Le Lac” by the romantic poet Alphonse de Lamartine. The poem is about two lovers rowing on a lake as well, which is undoubtedly why Emma chooses this particular verse to sing. However, Lamartine’s piece expresses much more than the serenity of love, a depth that Emma fails to see. By having Emma naively invoke the words of Lamartine, Flaubert brings the heaviness of the poem to a scene of otherwise lighthearted beauty. This poetic reference not only suggests a greater depth to the scene, but also serves, through the hand of Flaubert, to allude to the death of Emma.Flaubert refers to Lamartine at the beginning of the novel when Emma’s mother dies. Emma “Ölet herself meander along with Lamartine, listened to harps on lakes, to all the songs of dying swans, to the falling of leaves, the pure virgins ascending into heavenÖ” (28). Emma uses this poetry as a way of inducing herself into sadness; she reads his poetry as a way of finding the right mood for her mourning. However, imitation of grief is the only thing that she achieves; her readings afford her no great insights other than her sadness. Later, when Emma calls once again on Lamartine to help her with her mood, she invokes one of the only lines of solace that the poem “Le Lac” possesses. She sings, while rowing with her lover, ” One night, do you remember / We were sailingÖ”(186). These lines, though they seem appropriate in the moment, barely scratch the surface of the poem’s meaning.Lamartine wrote “Le Lac” about Madame Julie Charles, a woman that he took with him one summer to vacation at the Lake Bourget. Lemartine fell passionately in love with Mme Charles. However, the following winter Charles fell ill and passed away, never to return to the lake. The poem discusses the happy memories of the summer, but that is not its primary purpose. Mme Charles’ death forces Lamartine to recognize the constant and continual passing of time, a theme that is very present in “Le Lac”. More specifically, Lamartine discusses the inevitable end of happy moments, such as the ones he shared with Charles. He begs time to “Suspendez votre course! / Laissez-nous savourerer les rapides delices / de plus beaux des nos jours!” (31-31). Throughout “Le Lac,” the death of Mme Charles is always forefront. It is her death that inspires the poet to revisit the lake, and it is her death that causes the realization of the passing of time. Although her actual death is only briefly referenced at the beginning of the poem when Lamartine comments on “des flots cheris qu’elle devait / revoir”(7-8), the idea of death remains present throughout the entire work. It is Mme Charles’ passing that spurs the poet’s realization of unstoppable time, and the vulnerability that the realization brings. He understands that even his own life is transitory; “l’homme n’a point de port, le temps n’a / point de rive;/ il coule et nous passons!” (48-50).When Emma sings from “Le Lac,” she likens her affair with Leon to the two lovers who enjoyed a night on the water just as they did. It is interesting, however, that Flaubert chooses to have Emma quote from a poem which possesses much more, when he could have chosen something that discussed only love just as easily. It is also significant that Emma is quoting a poem inspired by a woman who dies. Neither Emma’s choice of lines, nor the context in which she sings the lines suggests that she is aware of the death of Mme Charles, or the full meaning of the poem.Flaubert, however, is acutely aware of the meaning. The scene between Emma and Leon in many ways mirrors the scene in “Le Lac,” in both the scene’s setting and word choice. Flaubert , even before Emma begins to invoke Lamartine, indicates to the reader the scene’s likeness to romantic poetry by commenting “Öthey did not fail to recognize how melancholical and poetic it appeared to them”(186). Both writers choose to have the heroine break the silence; Mme Charles asks time to move more slowly and Emma begins to sing from “Le Lac.” This is significant because it brings reality into both moments. Mme Charles’ words remind the reader that time will continue to pass, inevitably ending her happiness; Emma’s words quoting the poem indirectly refers to the same realization.Both scenes are characterized with a sense of serenity, and both writers describe the serenity in a musical way. In “Le Lac,” Lamartine describes the moment, saying “que les bruits qui frappaient / en cadence / tes flots harmonieux” (21-23). Similarly, Flaubert uses sound to describe the calmness of the scene, saying “the square-tipped oars sounded against the iron oar locks; in the stillness, they seemed to mark time like the beat of a metronome”(186). The musicality of Flaubert’s words serves to unite the scenes not only in their serenity, but also in their connection with music. Emma chooses to sing her words, not speak them, a choice that invokes the musical word choice of the poem, and heightens the presence of music for Emma at that moment.Both Flaubert and Lamartine use the heavens in their descriptions. For Lamartine, he believes that he and Mme Charles are “sur l’onde et sous / les cieux” (19-20). Flaubert, as well, describes Emma with “her hands clasped, her eyes turned towards heaven”(186). Although this reference is clearly intended to parallel the word choice in “Le Lac,” Flaubert uses these words in a different way. Lamartine speaks of heaven because of its perfection; he and his lover are witness to its majesty because they are beneath its skies. Flaubert’s language is not as straightforward. It is as if Emma is following a script; to perfect the moment she must look at the heavens just as in “Le Lac”. Because her action carries specific purpose it is not as innocent as Lamartine’s. The purity of the moment is tainted; Emma looks to the heavens for the same reason that she sings.Similarly, both Lamartine and Flaubert describe the moon in their scenes. Lamartine comments on the moon’s reflection, saying ” Dans les bruits de tes bords par tes bords / repetes, / dans l’astre au front d’argent qui blanchit / ta surface /des ses molles clartes!” (84-88). In “Le Lac,” the moon provides reflections that add light, making everything brighter. Lamartine sees the moon as helping to make the night more beautiful. Flaubert, while using the same image as Lamartine, again gives it a layered meaning. Flaubert discusses the moonlight in the way that it affects Emma, saying “At times the shadow of the willows hid her completely; then she reappeared suddenly, like a vision in the moonlight” (186). The sentence is described from the perspective of Leon, who, enchanted by Emma’s sentimentality, adds to it by looking at her as a “vision.” However, instead of affording beauty as in “Le Lac,” the moonlight gives and takes sight. It distorts Emma’s image, passing her in and out of Leon’s perceptibility.The word “pass” is very important to both narratives. For Lamartine, it’s repetition is central to his theme of passing time. Flaubert, mirroring Lamartine, uses the word in one instant when describing Emma as she sings, saying: “The wind-born trills pass by him like a fluttering of wings.” This description serves to infuse the poem’s entire theme into this moment, this time without an ironic undertone. Leon and Emma are just as vulnerable as Lamartine and Mme Charles; happy moments will inevitably end. Also, by using the phrase “fluttering of wings,” Flaubert gives the passing Emma’s voice a physical, yet ghostlike quality, suggestive of the movement of a soul after death.Flaubert laces the entire scene with images of death. He describes how Emma’s “thin, musical voice died away over the water” (186), marking an end to musicality of the scene and suggesting that it is of a darker nature. Emma’s entire appearance enhances this idea; she is described as wearing a long, black dress that Leon believes makes her appear “thinner,” and “taller,” abstracting her normal appearance. The fact that Emma is hidden behind the shadows of a willow, and then reappears as a “vision,” also adds to her ghostly image, suggesting she is not always perceptible to the eye. The willow itself is a symbol of death and suffering; it is not an accident that Flaubert chooses this tree to obstruct Emma’s image. The moment when Emma clasps her hands and looks towards at the heavens is an insinuation towards death as well; it suggests her propensity for it, and it foreshadows her fate. Flaubert’s recurring allusions to death provide the final connections between the two scenes; like M. Charles, Emma will die before she can experience this moment again.The boat scene in Madame Bovary appears to be a simple moment between lovers, filled with romantic imagery. Even when Emma begins to sing, the lines she invokes are simplistic as well, drawing a connection only on the fact that both couples spent an evening on a lake. However, by choosing to quote “Le Lac,” Flaubert adds layers to the scene which serve many purposes. By continuing to draw parallels between the two scenes in both the word choice and action, Flaubert is not only able to point out how superficial Emma’s choice of song was, but also the irony of her words. Ultimately, the scene between Emma and Leon is just as fleeting as with Lemartine and M. Charles; their happy moments fade into something darker. Just as Emma cannot understand the importance of the words she sings, she does not understand the gravity of the moment she is in. Only the reader is aware of this depth, a depth achieved through the careful maneuvering of Flaubert.