Madame Bovary
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The Trial

Though Madame Bovary was written about one hundred and fifty years ago, critics still feel the need to give their opinion of this book. When it was written in the 1850's, much controversy surrounded the book due to the subjects of adultery and suicide. Today, many critics still feel this book was written in poor taste, while others believe that Madame Bovary was and still is a masterpiece. Below, there are some examples of modern critics' views on Madame Bovary.

Vladimir Nabokov said that "A book lives longer than a girl" in reference to Madame Bovary.(Salon Group) By saying this, he meant that a book's life span is always much longer than a person's life since a book never dies. Nabokov praised Flaubert's clinical style, the way he transformed the materials of pulp fiction- adultery, suicide- into a poetic masterpiece through his very detailed description of bourgeois life in mid-nineteenth-century France. Another point that interested Nabokov was the fact that Emma died because she had attempted to make her life into a novel. Flaubert himself said," By making fun of Emma's obsession with novels, I was in a sense mocking myself." Nabokov went on to say that many people identified with Emma, because both parties feel an emptiness at the center of things; an emptiness people try to fill with books, fantasies, sex, or just with things. 

Mark Furnell, a leading expert on Madame Bovary, wrote that the book was so true in its characterizations, so vivid in its setting, and so convincing in its plot that it was indeed a literary masterpiece. Many critics including Furnell noted how it was very unusual for Flaubert to use Emma, an adulteress, as the book's heroine. This was a huge step in novels, for up until the time Madame Bovary was written, almost all the hero and heroines had been good, honest characters. Like other critics, Furnell recognized how remarkable it was for Flaubert to use a beautifully, sustained, writing style when writing about such a banal subject matter. Furnell was also one of the first critics to divide Madame Bovary into three separate parts, with each part being controlled by an action or a dominant image. During the first part, Emma marrying Charles was the dominant image along with the ball. The second parts central image was the fair, and Emma meeting Rodolphe. The third parts main image was when Emma committed suicide. Overall, Furnell like other critics thought of Madame Bovary as a literary masterpiece.

Eric Auerbach was another critic who found Madame Bovary to be an extremely interesting book on many different levels. Auerbach like many other commentators saw Flaubert as one of the first modern novelists mainly, because Flaubert picked scenes which he thought were significant and endowed them with a language that allowed them to be interpreted clearly. Auerbach also found that Flaubert could be considered a modern novelist, since he dealt with a subject matter in an untraditional manner by not having the whole novel be narration. Flaubert made the novel over, in his own words, with "a coloration, or a nuance." Auerbach said another factor pointing toward Flaubert as a modern writer was the fact that he did not just narrate the story but instead used a series of perspectives. He shifted the points of view repeatedly so the reader could obtain multiple angles of the story. Not only was Auerbach impressed by the literary greatness of Madame Bovary, but he was also impressed by the way Flaubert was able to reinvent the novel.

Martin Turnell, who wrote The Novel in France, found many weaknesses in Madame Bovary. Turnell said that the book was remarkable because of the subtlety with which Flaubert explored his theme, but it was definitely not a flawless masterpiece like others have said. Turnell went on to say that the books' weaknesses lie partly in its execution and partly in Flaubert's attitude towards Emma Bovary. He said that Flaubert deliberately played down many of Emma's solid virtues making her seem at times almost unreal. Flaubert exaggerated Emma's weaknesses to a point that she seemed to have no good qualities which was pretty unbelievable to the average reader. Also in portraying his characters, Flaubert sometimes tried to attach to much symbolism to them, and the characters could not carry the weight of the symbolic meanings. 



© Barbara Stawarz, Jan Rybicki 2003-8