"Madame Bovary" by Gustave Flaubert. Psychology in Action


So far, our examples of a realistic novel of the XIX century were related to the early stages of its development. Since the second half of the century, realism, which has already accomplished the task of cataloging and scientific systematization of public life, increasingly concentrates on depicting an individual personality, deepens the attention of realists to the inner world of a human, a new, more accurate picture of mental processes leads to the development of new methods of depicting the reactions of an individual to the proposed circumstances.

Accordingly, in the realism of the second half of the century, the principle of panorama departs and the volume of a novel diminishes, and a tendency to weaken significance of the external plot is outlined. A novel fade away from the romantic beauty, concentrates on the image of an ordinary person in the most typical circumstances. Along with "averaging" of the novel material, there is a process of refinement of its artistic instrumentation, elaboration of an increasingly sophisticated form that ceases to be perceived as a "form," that is, something external with respect to content, but, completely coinciding with the tasks of content, it becomes transparent shell. The greatest innovator in this reform of a novel, in approving it as a genre, in no way aesthetically inferior to poetry or drama, was the writer Gustave Flaubert.

Gustave Flaubert is a great French writer of the 19th century. He was a supporter of realism, although he repeatedly denied this, and, as a proof, he created his own individual style – "exact word". He wrote many novels, but the most famous of them is "Madame Bovary", written in 1857. He was instigated to write this novel by his friend Louis Buile, reminding of the tragic fate of the Delamar family. It is believed that the prototype of Madame Bovary was Delphine Couturier, the second wife of Eugene Delamar, who wanted more than life in a remote province and who also committed suicide in her twenty-seventh year of life. But Flaubert himself repeatedly said that Madame Bovary is he himself.


Long five years have passed since the birth of the idea and to the publication of the work. All this time, Flaubert carefully worked on the text of the novel, which originally had a thousand pages and was cut down to four hundred. In "Madame Bovary", as in no other work of the French classic, his unique artistic manner was manifested, consisting in laconism, clarity of expression and utmost precision. Work on the book was difficult. On the one hand, it was unpleasant for him to write about the vulgar life of the average bourgeois, on the other hand, he tried to do this as best as possible in order to show all ins and outs of provincial philistine life.

The process of creativity has always been selfless work for him – often the only phrase was the result of the working day, because the writer was sure that there is the only possible expression for every thought and duty of the writer is to find this only possible form. This distinguishes the creative process of Flaubert from the titanic productivity of Balzac, about which Flaubert, with his mania of form, said: "What a brilliant writer he would be if he could write!"

However, Flaubert owes a lot to his elder contemporary, we can say that he directly continued the Balzac’s tradition at a new literary stage.

The psychological novel "Madame Bovary" brought glory to the author. The innovation of Flaubert manifested itself in full and amazed readers. It consisted in the fact that the writer saw material for art in everything and everywhere, not avoiding some low and supposedly unworthy themes. He urged his colleagues to approach science more and more. The scientific approach includes impartiality and objectivity of the image and the depth of research. And that is because a writer, according to Flaubert, must be consonant with everything and everyone if he or she wants to understand and describe. Art, like science, should differ not only in completeness and scale of a thought, but also in undisputable perfection of a form. These principles were called Flaubert's "objective method" or "objective writing".


The artistic problematic of the novel is closely related to the image of the main character – Emma Bovary, embodying a classic romantic conflict, consisting in striving for the ideal and rejection of the base reality. The young woman's emotions, however, pass on a purely realistic background and have nothing in common with exalted positions of the past.

Obtained standard female education in the monastery of Ursulines, Emma, all her life, wants something unusual, but every time she encounters vulgarity of the world around her. The first disappointment overtook the girl immediately after the wedding, when instead of a romantic holiday she receives a farmer's feast in the light of torches, instead of a honeymoon she takes care of the new home, instead of a smart husband trying to make a career she gets a good man with ugly manners, interested in nothing but her. The accidental invitation to the ball becomes crushing for Emma: she understands how much she does not like her life, falls into depression and regains consciousness only after moving to Yonville.

Maternity does not bring her joy. Instead of the long-awaited son, Emma gives birth to the daughter. She cannot buy the desired children's dowry because of a lack of funds. The girl, like her father, has an ordinary appearance. Emma calls her daughter Berta – in honor of an unfamiliar woman from the ball – and practically forgets about her. Love for her daughter wakes up with her vain attempts to love her husband, which she does throughout the whole novel, disappointed in her passions.

Emma’s love affairs go unnoticed for her husband. Charles worships his wife and blindly trusts her in everything. Being happy with Emma, the is not interested in what she feels, whether all is good for her, whether everything suits her in life. Madame Bovary is infuriated with this attitude. Perhaps, if Charles was more attentive (or perhaps, if she was more straightforward), she would be able to establish good relations with him, but every time she tries to find something positive in him, he invariably disappoints her – with his mental frailty, helplessness, and even his grief after the death of his father.

Confused in feelings, Emma is simultaneously confused in money. In the beginning, she buys things for herself – to have fun, to calm down, to approach beautiful life. Then she begins to make gifts to lovers, to spend money on material pleasures. The financial collapse leads Emma to a spiritual collapse. She wholeheartedly feels the moral superiority of her husband, and purposely leaves her life, in which she does not find happiness. Charles forgives his wife's betrayal and loss of fortune. He loves her in spite of everything, and dies after her, because he cannot live without her.

Author's Techniques

Flaubert deliberately minimizes external action of the novel, focusing on the causes of events. He analyzes the thoughts and feelings of his characters, skipping every word through the filter of the mind. The novel produces surprisingly integral impression, a feeling of regularity, irreparability of what is happening, and this impression is created due to not numerous artistic means.

The writer shows the unity of the material and spiritual world, understood as a kind of captivity of the spirit, as the fatal power of circumstances. His heroine cannot escape from stagnation of provincial existence, she is depressed by petty-bourgeois way of life.

The author uses the method of poetics of details. He was convinced that unnecessarily detailed descriptions interfere with a book, and he reduces descriptions to a minimum: only a few strokes of portraits of heroes, such as a parting in the middle of Emma's black hair, become a sort of power lines around which imagination of a reader builds up exterior characters, the appearance of little towns, and landscapes.

In "Madame Bovary", the external world flows together with moral life of Emma, and sheer hopelessness of her struggles is determined by the stubborn immobility of the outside world. Flaubert discreetly and succinctly describes all changes in moods of his character, all stages of her spiritual life, trying to translate his principles of impersonal, or objective, art. He does not make it easier for a reader to determine the author's attitude to the events described, does not give ratings to his characters, fully upholding the principle of self-disclosure of the characters. As if reincarnating in his characters, he shows life with their eyes – that is the meaning of the famous Flaubert statement: "Madame Bovary is me".

All these components of Flaubert's artistic innovation led to the scandal at the time the novel was published. The author and publishers of the novel were accused of realism, insulting public morals and religion. The novel was justified, and the long history of this masterpiece began, which, undoubtedly, is the link between literature of the XIX and the XX century.

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