We would like to think that everything in life is capable, or beyond the brink of reaching perfection. It would be an absolute dream to look upon each day with a positive outlook. We try to establish our lives to the point where this perfection may come true at times, although, it most likely never lasts. There’s no real perfect life by definition, but instead, the desire and uncontrollable longing to reach this dream.
In the novel Madame Bovary, it’s easy to relate to the characters as well as the author of this book. One can notice that they both share a fairly similar view on life, and that their experiences actually tie in with each other.
Emma Bovary dreamed of a life beyond that of perfection as well. She realizes that she leads an ordinary and average life, but simply does not want to abide by it. In the novel, Emma meets a pitiful doctor named Charles Bovary. The first time they meet, Charles falls instantly in love with her. They begin to see more and more of each other until Charles asks Emma’s father for her hand in marriage. They end up getting married and everything goes fine, just like a normal couple, for awhile. They did things with each other, went out, and were extremely happy. Although, this love and passion for life shortly ended when Emma’s true feelings began to come about. We soon come to realize that “the story is of a
woman whose dreams of romantic love, largely nourished by novels, find no fulfillment when she is married to a boorish country doctor” (Thorlby 272).
This is completely true because Emma really does get caught up in her reading. She wonders why she can’t have a flawless love as well as a flawless life, just as the characters do in the novels she reads.
Once Emma becomes fed up and realizes that he is “a sad creature” (Flaubert 78), she begins her little quest to find the right man through a binge of affairs and broken hearts.
The author of Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert, was born in Rouen France (Kunitz 280). He grew up in a rather wealthy and prosperous family as a result of his father being a successful doctor (Kunitz 280). This could easily relate to the fact that Charles Bovary was a doctor too.
During Flaubert’s younger years, he was alone most of the time. He didn’t have any friends and normally spent his days in solitude. This gave him time to focus on his literature (Flaubert i). Since Flaubert’s academics and knowledge of literature were released at such an early age, it is explainable to see how his profound talent was released (Flaubert i). He began to write plays at around the age of ten. These were in-depth, romantic plays that adults would learn to appreciate (Kunitz 280). At that time Flaubert focused his attention on the study of History and the writings of numerous romantics as well (Kunitz 280).
Flaubert was later sent to an intermediate school in Paris to further strengthen his academic standings (Kunitz 280). Upon completion of that, he enrolled into law school but found no interest in it (Thorlby 250). This allowed him to do some drifting, while taking the time to realize that literature would be his destiny (Kunitz 281).
Although all of this schooling and work helped Flaubert become an extremely talented writer, he thought writing to be one of the most difficult things (De Man xi). He wrote very slowly in fact, while reflecting on his painful life experiences. It took over five years to perfect his most famous novel, Madame Bovary (Thorlby 272).
Although some people, as well as I, believe that Flaubert based the character of Emma Bovary on himself, he was very unhappy with the subject of the book upon finishing (Thorlby 272). Maybe Flaubert figured her character to be too provocative and heartless. Otherwise, he might have simply reflected upon the theme, and thought it to be uninteresting.
In 1856, the novel Madame Bovary was actually condemned as being pornographic. This was a result of Flaubert’s eminently honest and descriptive themes. He, along his publisher were charged with offending public morality and went to trial, but were soon acquitted (Magill 616). This publicity obviously helped bring the book out into the public while establishing popularity and praise.
Sure, Flaubert was probably disappointed when this negative publicity about Madame Bovary. But, he realized that criticism could be ignored and his objective is “to understand humanity, not to explain or reform it” (Magill 616).
By reading Madame Bovary, it’s easy to notice that Flaubert is a perfectionist. In fact, he sometimes rewrites his books 3-4 times to establish perfection. When he finished Madame Bovary, he said, “C’est Moi,” meaning in French, “that’s me” (Kunitz 281). This could symbolize the incredible comparison between Flaubert and the character Emma Bovary.
Although Flaubert detested the thought of being famous, his work titled him France’s most renowned writer (Magill 617). According to Sainte-Beuve, Flaubert’s scenes were “pictures which, if they were painted with a brush as they are written, would be worthy of hanging in a gallery beside the best genre painting” (Kunitz 281).
In 1846 Flaubert met the poet Louis Colet, who became his mistress. Although he admired her, he couldn’t “find the ideal love” (Kunitz 280). This could symbolize the comparison between Flaubert and Emma as well. Along with Louis Colet, Flaubert had a few more adulterous relationships too. But, when his work became too important, Flaubert gave up everything to devote himself to his writing. He even broke off his affair with Mme. Colet because got in the way (Thorlby 272).
Flaubert soon became a pessimist and basically had a cheerless view of life (Magill 617). He became the victim of nervous apprehension and depression (Kunitz 282). Flaubert frequently felt with drawled from society and longed to commit suicide (Kunitz 282). It’s plain to observe that Flaubert was an idealist that dreamed, just as the characters in his novel did. “These perpetual conflicts,” writes Troyat, who has been listing some of the paradoxes in Flaubert’s life, “made him a profoundly unhappy man” (Kunitz 282).
Emma would sit on the grass into which she would dig the tip of her parasol with brief thrusts and would ask herself, “My God, why did I get married” (Flaubert 108)? Flaubert was the same way, deliberating whether marriage was one of the biggest mistakes to have been made or not. “Madame Bovary,” writes A de Pontmartin in the correspond and, “is the pathological glorification of the senses and of the imagination in a disappointed democracy.” “It proves once and for all that realism means literary democracy” (De Man ix). Emma and Flaubert are very ordinary middle-class people, with banal expectations of life and an urge to dominate their surroundings. Their personalities are remarkable only for an unusual defiance of natural feelings (Flaubert 152). People even say that the myth surrounding the figure of Emma Bovary is so powerful, that one has to remind oneself that she is fiction and not an actual person (De Man vii).
By reading this book, and accurately analyzing the author’s significant events, one can plainly conclude that Flaubert actually did tie in those events with the theme of Madame Bovary. Madame Bovary is a creation of one’s conscience which can only be explained through the eyes of another. It’s about love, hate, and destiny, while holding every true emotion in the context as well. “Something in the destiny of the heroine and of the main supporting characters, as well as in the destiny of the book itself, surrounds it with the aura of immortality that belongs only to truly major creations” (De Man vii). And it is fair to say that Madame Bovary is a true creation, at least one in the eyes of Gustave Flaubert.
De Man, Paul, ed. Gustave Flaubert: Madame Bovary: Backgrounds and Sources, Essays in Criticisms. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1965 Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary. New York, New York, 1964
Kunitz, Stanley J., Vineta Colby, eds. European Literature (Authors) 1800-1900: A Biographical Dictionary of European Literature. New York: The H.W. Wilson Co., 1967
Magill, Frank N., ed. Critical Survey of Long Fiction: Foreign Language Series. vol. 2; New Jersey: Salem Press Inc., 1984
Magill, Frank N., ed. Cyclopedia of World Authors. New Jersey: Salem Press Inc., 1958
Thorlby, Anthony, ed. The Penguin Companion to European Literature. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1969