Madame Bovary was written in 1856 by the French writer, Gustave Flaubert. Highly influential, he has been considered the leading exponent of literary realism in his country. He is known especially for his debut novel Madame Bovary, his Correspondence, and his scrupulous devotion to his style and aesthetics. He is known for several quotes: “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” “There is no truth. There is only perception.” “Reality does not conform to the ideal but confirms it.”

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The story focuses on a doctor’s wife, Emma Bovary, who has adulterous affairs and lives beyond her means in order to escape the banalities and emptiness of provincial life. Though the basic plot is rather simple, even archetypal, the novel’s true art lies in its details and hidden patterns.

Flaubert was a notorious perfectionist and claimed always to be searching for le mot juste (“the precise word”). When it was first serialized in La Revue de Paris between 1 October 1856 and 15 December 1856, the novel was attacked for obscenity by public prosecutors. The resulting trial, held in January 1857, made the story notorious. After Flaubert’s acquittal on 7 February 1857, Madame Bovary became a bestseller when it was published as a single volume in April 1857. The novel is now considered Flaubert’s masterpiece, as well as a seminal work of realism and one of the most influential novels ever written. In fact, the notable British American critic James Wood writes in How Fiction Works: “Flaubert established for good or ill, what most readers think of as modern realist narration, and his influence is almost too familiar to be visible”.

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Study Questions

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1. How does Flaubert depict women’s power or lack of it?

2. In what ways is Charles Bovary a sympathetic character?

3. In what ways is Emma Bovary a tragic heroine?

4. In what ways does Flaubert challenged the feminine stereotype in his era?

5. In what ways does Flaubert challenge the idea of fate and destiny?

6. How do Charles and Emma compare in their attitudes toward love?

7. How does Flaubert portray Emma Bovary’s attitude toward motherhood?

8. What is the role of social class and its influence in the characters actions?

9. In what ways is Flaubert’s Madame Bovary a work of realism?

10. How is Charles Bovary characterized as a young man ?


France in 1856 was the time setting for this novel, the sensational and successful book of Gustave Flaubert. The action is around the woman whose name is the title. There is no way from the book to determine if the driven desires of Emma are common among women of the time or unique and hers alone. The best guess from reading would favor the latter.

Emma’s actions started with a basis of contrariness. She loved the convent at first and excelled at winning praise from her teachers. Then it all ended and she wanted to leave. Her marriage to Charles could have been a combination of wishful thinking and escape. It is not clear to the reader if she really tried in the beginning, but it was clear she would not succeed as an obedient wife or there would be no reason for the book.

Her affairs were persistent and predictable and her awe of the rich and titled never ceased. She went from being dominated in an affair the reader knew would end badly for her and she finished with a second affair, really a continuation of a flirtation, where she dominated.

Her machinations with finance could lead to nothing but the disaster that ensued and which accompanied, or caused, her suicide.

The relationship between Charles the doctor and Homais the druggist/chemist is interesting. In that period, especially in rural France, these peripheral healers held sway with availability, cheap prices, poor results, and little accountability. The Church which had had a long history of unholy practice was treated with little respect.

The book’s significance resides mostly in the time and the launching of the author.

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