“She was so sad, so very sad, that when you saw her standing in the doorway of her house, you would think you saw a funeral pall hanging in front of the door. What ailed her, it seemed, was a kind of fog she had in her head, and the doctors couldn’t do anything, nor the curé either” (Flaubert, Trans. Lydia Davis, 95).

“Elle était si triste, si triste, qu’à la voir debout sur le seuil de sa maison, elle vous faisait l’effet d’un drap d’enterrement tendu devant la porte. Son mal, à ce qu’il paraît, était une manière de brouillard qu’elle avait dans la tête, et les médecins n’y pouvaient rien, ni le curé non plus” (Flaubert, 170).

In honor of books that are banned for their ability to incite thought, and understand multiple points of view, I thought it would be fitting to give a short history of the publishing of “Madame Bovary,” by Gustave Flaubert. In the French town of Croisset, outside of Rouen, in September of 1851, Gustave Flaubert began working on a novel which sought, above all things, to be “simple”. After five years, “Madame Bovary” was published, serially, in six consecutive installments, in “La Revue de Paris,” from October to December of 1856. Just four months before it was to be published in a single volume, “Madame Bovary” was charged, by the Second French Empire, “with offending public morality and religion. In the government’s view, the extreme realism of the novel undermined moral and religious consensus; it threatened public safety” (Haynes, 3). 

“La Revue de Paris” had received two warnings, from the government, while it was conducting serial publications, and the editor of the magazine even requested that Flaubert make minor edits to the manuscript, which he did (Haynes, 3). However, when it came to more extreme edits, Flaubert refused and finally the printer, the publisher, and the author of “Madame Bovary” were put on trial (Haynes, 3). “The trial took place on January 29, 1857, and lasted one day” (Davis, x).

“Madame Bovary” is separate from other popular, yet controversial, novels written during its time, like “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” by Harriet Beecher Stowe, in that it does not criticize the power hierarchy of society in order to spark a revolution of thought, instead, Flaubert is only concerned with portraying society objectively, and in that way, it naturally shows all its own faults and injustices. Flaubert, through this objective portrayal, shows not only the different standards made for women and the often impossible ways in which women can be either free or happy, whilst also uninhibited and unjudged, but he also shows the deprecating ways in which everyday people treat poor, low-income workers along with the physically disabled. To me, it seemed the most powerful theme running throughout the novel is how cruel the powerful can be against the weak and desperate, in everyday life. 

Concerning the characters of the novel, Flaubert is great at making them three-dimensional. None of the characters are caricatures for long, and the more you come to understand them, the less vibrantly you feel about them. You discover the redeeming qualities of those you hated and less-admirable qualities of those you loved: it’s infuriating.

Flaubert can be wonderfully ironic and simultaneously tragic in “Madame Bovary;” and the style makes it so that you can experience the lives of the characters through moments that are described over pages. “Madame Bovary,” in short, gives the reader a picture of life, with all its tragedy and beauty.

Works Cited

Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary. Éditions Gallimard, 2001.

Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary. Translated by Lydia Davis, Penguin Books, 2001.

Haynes, Christine. “The Politics of Publishing during the Second Empire: The Trial of ‘Madame Bovary’ Revisited.” French Politics, Culture & Society, vol. 23, no. 2, 2005, pp. 1–27. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/42843394. Accessed 14 Oct. 2023.

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