Gustave Flaubert`s first published novel, Madame Bovary is a masterpiece you do not want to miss reading. The value of this book comes from its attention to details and hidden patterns, even if the plot is quite simple.
Written in 1856, Madame Bovary was accused of obscenity by public prosecutors at first, went to trial and became very popular because of the controversial story around it. Despite the notoriety achieved by the scandal, Madame Bovary is one of the most important Realistic and influential novel ever written.
Emma, a farmer`s daughter, surrounds herself with wild fantasies inspired from the books she read and dreams about a passionate love that will carry her away from the boring provincial life. She marries a doctor, Charles Bovary, but marriage is not as expected for Emma and transforms her from an interesting and vivid young girl into a dull woman. Her reveries start affecting her health, so her husband decides to move from countryside to a larger town, Yonville.
Motherhood is also a disappointment for Emma, so she starts looking for something else. At first she starts a chaste friendship with Leon, an intelligent law student who also returns her admiration, but shame and fear make her remain a faithful wife and mother and hides her love for the young man.
Rudolph, a ruthless playboy, seduces Emma and they start a tawdry affair for three years. Emma lets herself taken by romantic fantasy and starts risking everything by indiscreet letters and visits while dreaming about running away with him. On the other hand, Rodolphe has no such intention and breaks up with her. Emma is shocked, falls ill, then returns to religion.
After she is recovered, she meets Leon again and they begin an affair. Even if at first their love is ecstatic, Leon loses interest in Emma because of her emotional excesses. Emma begins buying expensive items on credit from a crafty merchant. When the merchant calls for the debt, Emma cannot find money and kills herself by swallowing arsenic. Charles, her husband, falls into grief, stops working and worships her dead wife. After he finds the love letters to Leon and Rodolphe, he tries to forgive her by finding all kind of excuses. He loses all his possessions and finally dies.
Themes and style
Some of the themes of the book are: family, adultery, desire, consumerism, fidelity, passion, French rural life, social rules and constraints, suicide and sufferance.
Emma Bovary`s psychological portrait is carefully built and truly captivating. Flaubert`s supporting characters and memorable scenes describing rural French society, along with the language and pattern are great examples of Realism.