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Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Madame Bovary (1857)

by Gustave Flaubert

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
18,75627289 (3.75)4 / 787
  1. 100
    The Awakening by Kate Chopin (StarryNightElf)
    StarryNightElf: This is the American version of Madame Bovary - set in turn of the century Louisiana.
  2. 101
    Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (DLSmithies)
    DLSmithies: Don Quixote was Flaubert's favourite book, and I've read somewhere that the idea of Madame Bovary is to re-tell the story of Don Quixote in a different context. Don Quixote is obsessed with chivalric literature, and immerses himself in it to the extent that he loses his grip on reality. Emma Bovary is bewitched by Romantic literature in the same way. There are lots of parallels between the two novels, and I think putting them side by side can lead to a better understanding of both.… (more)
  3. 101
    Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (roby72)
  4. 90
    The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton (Limelite)
    Limelite: Essentially the same greedy, social climbing woman who gets herself into money troubles and manipulates men to get out of them -- but with more success. Similar commentary on society, but instead of the bourgeoisie of village France it's the upper crust of NYC of nearly the same time but without the trenchant humor of Flaubert.… (more)
  5. 70
    Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (HollyMS)
    HollyMS: Both works are about women who would do anything to gain a life of luxury.
  6. 51
    The Awakening and Selected Short Stories {9 stories} by Kate Chopin (Dilara86)
  7. 40
    The Red and the Black by Stendhal (LittleMiho)
  8. 40
    Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy (Booksloth)
  9. 31
    Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane (roby72)
  10. 32
    The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa (browner56)
    browner56: The stories of two women, separated by 150 years, who search desperately for something they never find. Flaubert's legendary protaganist is the role model for Vargas Llosa's "bad girl".
  11. 11
    Sreemati Craddock by W. Somerset Maugham (soylentgreen23)
    soylentgreen23: 'Mrs Craddock' evidently shares a lot in common with Flaubert's masterpiece, especially in terms of its representation of a woman married to a dull man, who wishes to have a renewed taste of passion, despite the likely terrible consequences.
  12. 11
    Sodom and Gomorrah by Marcel Proust (caflores)
  13. 22
    The Female Quixote by Charlotte Lennox (allenmichie)
  14. 12
    The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore (CGlanovsky)
  15. 01
    Een zuivere liefde by Sofja Tolstaja (Monika_L)
  16. 12
    Contre-enquête sur la mort d'Emma Bovary by Philippe Doumenc (Cecilturtle)
  17. 12
    Serious Men: A Novel by Manu Joseph (orangewords)
  18. 24
    Three Tales by Gustave Flaubert (wrmjr66)
  19. 02
    Victorian Murderesses: A True History of Thirteen Respectable French and English Women Accused of Unspeakable Crimes by Mary S. Hartman (susanbooks)
    susanbooks: Flaubert based Emma, in part, on one of the women profiled in this really great book.
  20. 712
    Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (orangewords)
    orangewords: The language in both of these books is just amazing. Alluring prose covers a multitude of unlikable characters.

(see all 20 recommendations)

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1850s (1)

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Showing 1-5 of 228 (next | show all)
Libro #59 de la lista de los 100 libros de Pasión por la lectura.
  celia.castro | Oct 4, 2017 |
Madame Bovary was one of the first books I read when I studied comparative literature. It may not be a complete page turner but Flauberts writing style makes it all worth it. His language is, atleast what I would describe it as, poetic. I wish that my french was better and that I could read it in it's original form with ease (I did read it in french but my bad french made it a bumpy ride) . I must admit though that it feels like Lydia Davis translation does the book justice. Furthermore, the subject of ennui in the middle class inrigued me and motivated me to plow through the sometimes slow parts. ( )
  Sarahnmagnusson | Sep 12, 2017 |
A beautifully crafted novel depicting a romantic tragedy. The history behind the publication of this novel and its significance as what is considered to be the first modern novel make it a must read. It is richly detailed, and both the landscape and characters come alive. One feel’s Madame Bovary’s despair and her husband’s blind faith leaves the reader aching to shake him to his senses. I’m very interested in the translator’s interpretation of this novels significance, this alone place it in literary history. ( )
  LynneMF | Aug 20, 2017 |
I tried and I failed to finish this for the second time this year. No matter how pretty the prose may be, I cannot stand the drudgery of the endless descriptions. I skipped ahead more times than I could count, skimming all the while. I also cannot stand how Flaubert took great delight in showing us Emma's fall from grace with every minute detail he could think of including her painful, dragged out death. If anyone dares call this a love story, they need to be seriously whacked. Trust me, it is anything but.
  lapiccolina | Jun 23, 2017 |
[From Ten Novels and Their Authors, Heinemann, 1954, pp. 152-70:]

If, as I believe, the sort of books an author writes depends on the sort of man he is, and so it is well to know what is relevant to his personal history, this, as will presently appear, in the case of Flaubert is essential. He was a very unusual man. No writer that we know of devoted himself with such a fierce and indomitable industry to the art of literature. It was not with him, as it is with most authors, an activity of paramount importance but one that allows for other activities which rest the mind, refresh the body and enrich experience. He did not think that to live was the object of life; for him the object of life was to write: no monk in his cell more resolutely sacrificed the pleasures of the world to the love of God than Flaubert sacrificed the fullness and variety of life to his ambition to create a work of art. He was at once a romantic and a realist. Now, at the bottom of romanticism, as I said in speaking of Balzac, is a hatred of reality and a passionate desire to escape from it. Like the rest of the romantics, Flaubert sought refuge in the extraordinary and the fantastic, in the Orient and in antiquity; and yet, for all his hatred of reality, for all his loathing of the meanness, the platitude, the imbecility of the bourgeois, he was fascinated by it; for there was something in his nature that horribly attracted him to what he most detested. Human stupidity had a revolting charm for him, and he took a morbid delight in exhibiting it in all its odiousness. It got on his nerves with the force of any obsession; it was like a sore on the body that is pain to touch and that yet you can’t help touching. The realist in him pored over human nature as though it were a pile of garbage, not to find something he could value, but to show to all and sundry how base, for all their outward seeming, were human beings.


With the exception of La Tentation de St Antoine, the more important of his early works had been strictly personal; they were, in fact, novelizations of his amorous experience: his aim now was to be strictly objective. He determined to tell the truth without being bias or prejudice, narrating the facts and exposing the characters of the persons he had to deal with without comment of his own, neither condemning nor praising: if he sympathized with one, not to show it; if the stupidity of another exasperated him, the malice of a third outraged him, not to allow word of his own to reveal it. This, on the whole, is what he succeeded in doing, and that is perhaps why many readers have found a certain coldness in the novel. There is nothing heart-warming in this calculated, obstinate detachment. Though it may be a weakness in us, my impression is that, as readers, we find comfort in knowing that the author shares the emotions he had made us feel.

But the attempt at complete impersonality fails with Flaubert, as it fails with every novelist, because complete impersonality is impossible to achieve. It is very well that the writer should let his characters explain themselves and, as far as may be, let their actions be the outcome of their natures, and he may easily make a nuisance of himself when he draws your attention to his heroine’s charm or his villain’s malevolence, when he moralizes or irrelevantly digresses, when, in short, he is a personage in the story he is telling; but this is only a matter of method, one that some very good novelists have used and, if it happens to have gone out of fashion at the moment, this is not to say it is a bad one. But the author who avoids it keeps his personality only out of the surface of his novel; he reveals it willy-nilly by his choice of subject, his choice of character and the point of view from which he describes them. Flaubert eyed the world with gloomy indignation. He was violently intolerant. He had no patience with stupidity. The bourgeois, the commonplace, the ordinary filled him with exasperation. He had no pity. He had no charity. Most of his adult life he was a sick man, oppressed by the humiliation which his distemper caused him to feel. His nerves were in a constant state of perturbation. He was, as I have said, at once a romantic and a realist; and he flung himself into the sordid story of Emma Bovary with the fury of a man revenging himself by wallowing in the gutter because life has not met the demands of his passion for the ideal. We are introduced to many persons in the course of the novel’s five hundred pages, and but for Dr Lariviére, a minor character, they have hardly a redeeming feature. They are base, mean, stupid, trivial and vulgar. A great many people are, but not all; and it is inconceivable that in a town, however small, there should not be found one person at least, if not two or three, who is sensible, kindly and helpful. Flaubert failed to keep his personality out of his novel.

His deliberate intention was to choose a set of characters who were thoroughly commonplace, and devise incidents that would inevitably arise from their nature and their circumstances; but he was well aware of the possibility that no one would be interested in persons so dull, and that the incidents he had to relate would prove tedious. How he proposed to deal with this I will come to later. Before doing so, I want to consider how far he succeeded in his attempt. The characters are drawn with consummate skill. We are persuaded of their truth. We no sooner meet them than we accept them as living creatures, standing on their own feet, in the world we know. We take them for granted, as we take our plumber, our grocer, our doctor. It never occurs to us that they are figures in a novel. Homais, to mention one, is a creature as humorous as Mr. Micawber, and he has become as familiar to the French as Mr. Micawber is to us; and we believe in him as we can never quite believe in Mr. Micawber, for, unlike Mr. Micawber, he is always consistently himself. But Emma Bovary is not by any means the ordinary farmer’s daughter. That there is in her something of every woman and of every man is true. We are all given to extravagant and absurd reveries, in which we see ourselves rich, handsome, successful, the heroes or heroines of romantic adventures; but most of us are too sensible, too timorous or too unadventurous to let our day-dreams seriously affect our behaviour. Emma Bovary was exceptional in that she tried to live her fantasies; she was exceptional in her beauty. As is well known, when the novel was published author and printer were prosecuted on the charge that it was immoral. I have read the speeches of the public prosecutor and of the defending counsel. The prosecutor recited a number of passages which he claimed were pornographic: they make one smile now, they are so restrained in comparison with the descriptions of sexual intercourse to which modern novelists have accustomed us; but one cannot believe that even then (in 1875) the prosecutor was shocked by them. The defending counsel pleaded that the passages were necessary, and that the moral of the novel was good because Emma Bovary suffered for her misconduct. The judges accepted this view, and the defendants were acquitted. It is evident, however, that if Emma came to a bad end, it was not, as the morality of the time demanded, because she had committed adultery, but because she run up bills that she hadn’t the money to pay, and if she had had the notoriously thrifty instincts of the Norman peasant, there was no reason why she should not have gone from lover to lover without coming to harm.

On publication, Flaubert’s great novel was enthusiastically received by readers and immediately became a best-seller, but the critics were, when not hostile, indifferent. Strange as it may seem, they were more inclined to attach importance to a novel called Fanny by a certain Ernest Feydeau, which was issued about the same time; and it was only the deep impression that Madame Bovary made on the public, and the influence it had on subsequent writers of fiction, that obliged them in the end to take it seriously.

Madame Bovary is a hard-luck story rather than a tragedy. I should say that the difference between the two is that in a hard-luck story the events that occur are brought about by chance, whereas in a tragedy they are the result of the characters of the persons engaged. It was bad luck that, with her looks and charm, Emma should have married such a dull fool as Charles Bovary. It was bad luck that when she was pregnant and wanted a son to make up for the disillusionment of her marriage, she should have a daughter. It was bad luck that Rodolphe Boulanger, Emma’s first lover, was a selfish, brutal fellow who let her down. It was bad luck that her second was mean, weak and timorous. It was bad luck that when she was desperate, the village priest, to whom she went for help and guidance, should be a callous and fatuous dolt. It was bad luck that when Emma found herself hopelessly in debt and, threatened with proceedings, so far humiliated herself as to ask Rodolphe for money, he couldn’t give it her, though we are told he would have been ready to do so, because he didn’t happen to have any with him. It was bad luck that it ever occurred to him that his credit was good and his lawyer would immediately have given him the required sum. The story Flaubert had to tell necessarily ended in Emma’s death, but it must be confessed that the means by which he brought it about strains the reader’s credulity to the breaking-point.

Some have found it a fault that, though Emma is the central character, the novel begins with an account of Bovary’s early youth and his first marriage, and ends with his disintegration and death. I surmise Flaubert’s idea was enclose the story of Emma Bovary within that of her husband, as you enclose a painting in a frame. He may have felt that thus he rounded off his narrative and gave it the unity of a work of art. If this was his intention, it would have been more evident if the end were not hurried and arbitrary. Throughout the book, Charles Bovary has been shown to be weak and easily led. Flaubert tells us that after Emma’s death he changed utterly. That is very summary. Broken as he was, it is hard to credit that he should have become quarrelsome, self-willed and obstinate. Though a stupid man, he was conscientious, and it seems strange that he should have neglected his patients. He badly needed their money. He had Emma’s debts to pay and his daughter to provide for. The radical change in Bovary’s character requires a good deal more explanation than Flaubert has given it. Finally he dies. He was a robust man in the prime of life, and the only reason one can give for his death is that Flaubert, after fifty-five months of exhausting labour, wanted to be done with the book. Since we are expressly told that Bovary’s memories of Emma with time grew dim, and so presumably less poignant, one cannot but ask oneself why Flaubert did not let Bovary’s mother arrange a third marriage for him, as she had arranged the first. It would have added one more note of futility to the story of Emma Bovary, and accorded well with Flaubert’s ferocious sense of irony.


On the whole, Madame Bovary gives an impression of intense reality, and this arises, I think, not only because Flaubert’s characters are eminently lifelike, but because he has described detail with extreme accuracy. The first four years of Emma’s married life were passed in a village called Tostes; she was hideously bored there, but for the balance of the book this period had to be described at the same pace and with the same detail as the rest. Now, it is difficult to describe a boring time without boring the reader; yet you read the long passage with interest. Flaubert has narrated a series of very trivial incidents, and you are not bored because you are reading something fresh all the time; but since each little incident, whether it is something that Emma does, feels or sees, is so commonplace, so trivial, you do get a vivid impression of her boredom. [...] Flaubert introduces his characters in action, and we learn of their appearance, their mode of living, their setting, in a continuous process; as, in fact, we come know people in real life.
1 vote WSMaugham | Apr 25, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 228 (next | show all)
It is a shame Flaubert will never read Davis’s translation of “Madame Bovary.” Even he would have to agree his masterwork has been given the English translation it deserves.

» Add other authors (166 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Flaubert, Gustaveprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Achille, GiuseppeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ajac, BernardIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bair, LowellTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bakker, MargotTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bersani, LeoIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bodegård, AndersTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brissaud, PierreIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Carifi, RobertoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Davis, LydiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Édouard MaynialIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gendel, EvelynTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Konstantinov, KonstantinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lacretelle, Jacques deIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marmur, MildredTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mauldon, MargaretTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
May, J. LewisTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McCarthy, MaryForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Palola, EinoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pinxteren, Hans vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schmied, TheoIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Speziale Bagliacca, RobertoIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stahl, BenIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Suffel, JacquesPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thorpe, AdamTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Viitanen, Anna-MaijaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wall, GeoffreyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Information from the Italian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
A Marie Antoine Jules Senard- Membro del Foro di Parigi ex presidente dell'Assemblea Nazionale già Ministro degli Interni. -
"Caro e illustre amico, consentitemi di iscrivere il vostro nome in apertura di questo libro, e prima ancora della dedica: è soprattutto a voi che devo la sua pubblicazione. Passando attraverso la vostra magnifica arringa, la mia opera ha acquisito anche per me una sorta di autorevolezza imprevista. Accettate perciò qui l'omaggio della mia gratitudine, che, per quanto grande possa essere, non sarà mai all'altezza della vostra eloquenza e della vostra dedizione."  Gustave Flaubert....Parigi 12 aprile 1857
Marie-Antoine-Jules Sénard
Member of the Paris Bar
Ex-President of the National Assemly
Former Minister of the Interior
To Louis Bouilhet
First words
Nous étions à l'Etude, quand le Proviseur entra suivi d'un "nouveau" habillé en bourgeois et d'un garçon de classe qui portait un grand pupitre.
We were in study hall when the headmaster walked in, followed by a new boy not wearing a school uniform, and by a janitor carrying a large desk.
We were at prep, when the Head came in, followed by a new boy not in uniform and a school-servant carrying a big desk.
We were at prep when the Headmaster came in, followed by a 'new boy' not wearing school uniform, and by a school servant carrying a large desk.
We were in class when the head master came in, followed by a "new fellow," not wearing the school uniform, and a school servant carrying a large desk.
What would _they_ be doing now? ... the sort of life that opens the heart and the senses like flowers in bloom. Whereas for her, life was cold as an attic facing north, and the silent spider boredom wove its web in all the shadowed corners of her heart.
Surprised by the strange sweetness of it, they never though to describe or to explain what they felt. Coming delights, like tropical beaches, send out their native enchantment over the vast spaces that precede them -- a perfumed breeze that lulls and drugs you out of all anxiety as to what may yet await you below the horizon.
'Have you got your pistols?'
'What for?'
'Why, to defend yourself,' Emma replied.
'From your husband? Ha! Poor little man!'
Gone were those tender words that had moved her to tears, those tempestuous embraces that had sent her frantic. The grand passion into which she had plunged seemed to be dwindling around her like a river sinking into its bed; she saw the slime at the bottom.
She repented her past virtue as though it were a crime; what still remained of it collapsed beneath the savage onslaught of her pride.
Last words
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Wikipedia in English (4)

Book description
"Madame Bovary", apparso a puntate sulla "Revue de Paris" nel 1856 e integralmente un anno dopo, incontrò subito un grande successo di pubblico - dovuto anche al clamore del processo a cui il suo autore, incriminato per oltraggio alla morale e alla religione, fu sottoposto -, imponendosi all'attenzione della critica come il capolavoro assoluto del romanzo moderno. Incentrato sulla superba figura di Emma Bovary - donna inquieta, insoddisfatta, simbolo di un'insanabile frustrazione sentimentale e sociale - e giocato su un antiromanticismo ideologico e formale di fondo, "Madame Bovary" come ha scritto Vladimir Nabokov, "dal punto di vista stilistico è prosa che fa ciò che si suppone faccia la poesia. Senza Flaubert non ci sarebbe stato un Marcel Proust in Francia, né un James Joyce in Irlanda. In Russia, Cechov non sarebbe stato Cechov".
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140449124, Paperback)

For this novel of French bourgeois life in all its inglorious banality, Flaubert invented a paradoxically original and wholly modern style. His heroine, Emma Bovary, a bored provincial housewife, abandons her husband to pursue the libertine Rodolphe in a
desperate love affair. A succès de scandale in its day, Madame Bovary remains a powerful and arousing novel.

@TheRealDesperateHousewife My sadness is bothersome. He says I need to change scenery. That will help like a trip to Italy cures TB. What I need is a good poking.

From Twitterature: The World's Greatest Books in Twenty Tweets or Less

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:01 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

"Emma Bovary is beautiful and bored, trapped in her marriage to a mediocre doctor and stifled by the banality of provincial life. An ardent devourer of sentimental novels, she longs for passion and seeks escape in fantasies of high romance, in voracious spending and, eventually, in adultery. But even her affairs bring her disappointment, and when real life continues to fail to live up to her romantic expectations the consequences are devastating. Flaubert's erotically charged and psychologically acute portrayal of Emma Bovary caused a moral outcry on its publication in 1857. It was deemed so lifelike that many women claimed they were the model for his heroine; but Flaubert insisted: 'Madame Bovary, c'est moi'." -- BOOK JACKET.… (more)

» see all 34 descriptions

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