Madame Bovary (1856) is the French writer Gustave Flaubert's debut novel. 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 ...Read MoreMadame Bovary (1856) is the French writer Gustave Flaubert's debut novel. 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. Flaubert's masterpiece is now considered 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"Read Less
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Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary is fully deserving of its canonical status. The portrait of Emma Bovary, whose extravagant passions and dreams that cannot be contained by a dull marriage, result in adulterous affairs, debt, and suicide, is unforgettable. The reader is absolutely persuaded of her fullness of character; indeed, this is woman as seductress in part, but she can hardly be regarded as a type. If anything, her husband Charles, adoring, long-suffering, and deluded, might be more archetypal. Leslie Fiedler has observed that while Flaubert wrote of adult male-female relationships in the 1850s, American male novelists wrote gothic "boy's books" almost in evasion of those same themes. In Flaubert's novel, there is a knowingness about marriage, sexuality, the bourgeoisie and its values, obsession, deception, and death, even a prefiguring of black comedy and the grotesque in the eyeless beggar whose song ironically foretells Emma Bovary's demise.
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