BOOK 174: MADAME BOVARY: GUSTAVE FLAUBERT
This is the debut novel of French writer Gustave Flaubert, published in 1856. 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.
When the novel was first serialized in La Revue de Paris between 1 October 1856 and 15 December 1856, public prosecutors attacked the novel for obscenity. The resulting trial in January 1857 made the story notorious. After Flaubert's acquittal on 7 February 1857, Madame Bovary became a bestseller in April 1857 when it was published as a single volume. A seminal work of literary realism, the novel is now considered Flaubert's masterpiece, and one of the most influential literary works in history.
SETTING: The setting of the novel is important, first as it applies to Flaubert's realist style and social commentary, and, second, as it relates to the protagonist, Emma.
Francis Steegmuller estimated that the novel begins in October 1827 and ends in August 1846. This corresponds with the July Monarchy — the reign of Louis Philippe I, who strolled Paris carrying his own umbrella as if to honor an ascendant bourgeois middle class. Much of the time and effort that Flaubert spends detailing the customs of the rural French people shows them aping an urban, emergent middle class.
Flaubert strove for an accurate depiction of common life. The account of a county fair in Yonville displays this and dramatizes it by showing the fair in real time counterpoised with a simultaneous intimate interaction behind a window overlooking the fair. Flaubert knew the regional setting, the place of his birth and youth, in and around the city of Rouen in Normandy. His faithfulness to the mundane elements of country life has garnered the book its reputation as the beginning of the movement known as literary realism.
Flaubert's capture of the commonplace in his setting contrasts with the yearnings of his protagonist. The practicalities of common life foil Emma's romantic fantasies. Flaubert uses this juxtaposition to reflect both setting and character. Emma becomes more capricious and ludicrous in the light of everyday reality. Yet her yearnings magnify the self-important banality of the local people. Emma, though impractical, and with her provincial education lacking and unformed, still reflects a hopefulness regarding beauty and greatness that seems absent in the bourgeois class.
STYLE: The book was in some ways inspired by the life of a schoolfriend of the author who became a doctor. Flaubert's friend and mentor, Louis Bouilhet, had suggested to him that this might be a suitably "down-to earth" subject for a novel and that Flaubert should attempt to write in a "natural way," without digressions. Indeed, the writing style was of supreme importance to Flaubert. While writing the novel, he wrote that it would be "a book about nothing, a book dependent on nothing external, which would be held together by the internal strength of its style," an aim which, for the critic Jean Rousset, made Flaubert "the first in date of the non-figurative novelists," such as James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. Though Flaubert avowed no liking for the style of Balzac, the novel he produced became arguably a prime example and an enhancement of literary realism in the vein of Balzac. The "realism" in the novel was to prove an important element in the trial for obscenity: the lead prosecutor argued that not only was the novel immoral, but that realism in literature was also an offence against art and decency.
The realist movement was, in part, a reaction against romanticism. Emma may be said to be the embodiment of a romantic: in her mental and emotional process, she has no relation to the realities of her world. Although in some ways he may seem to identify with Emma, Flaubert frequently mocks her romantic daydreaming and taste in literature. The accuracy of Flaubert's supposed assertion that "Madame Bovary, c'est moi" ("Madame Bovary is me") has been questioned. In his letters, he distanced himself from the sentiments in the novel. To Edma Roger des Genettes, he wrote, "Tout ce que j'aime n'y est pas" ("all that I love is not there") and to Marie-Sophie Leroyer de Chantepie, "je n'y ai rien mis ni de mes sentiments ni de mon existence" ("I have used nothing of my feelings or of my life").For Mario Vargas Llosa, "If Emma Bovary had not read all those novels, it is possible that her fate might have been different."
Madame Bovary has been seen as a commentary on bourgeois, the folly of aspirations that can never be realized or a belief in the validity of a self-satisfied, deluded personal culture, associated with Flaubert's period. For Vargas Llosa, "Emma's drama is the gap between illusion and reality, the distance between desire and its fulfillment" and shows "the first signs of alienation that a century later will take hold of men and women in industrial societies."
However, the novel is not simply about a woman's dreamy romanticism. Charles is also unable to grasp reality or understand Emma's needs and desires.
LITERARY SIGNIFICANCE AND RECEPTION: Henry James wrote: "Madame Bovary has a perfection that not only stamps it, but that makes it stand almost alone: it holds itself with such a supreme unapproachable assurance as both excites and defies judgment." Marcel Proust praised the "grammatical purity" of Flaubert's style, while Vladimir Nabokov said that "stylistically it is prose doing what poetry is supposed to do". Similarly, in his preface to his novel The Joke, Milan Kundera wrote, "[N]ot until the work of Flaubert did prose lose the stigma of aesthetic inferiority. Ever since Madame Bovary, the art of the novel has been considered equal to the art of poetry." Giorgio de Chirico said that in his opinion "from the narrative point of view, the most perfect book is Madame Bovary by Flaubert".
An opera Madame Bovary was produced in 1951.
Madame Bovary has been made into several films, beginning with Albert Ray's 1932 version. The most notable of these adaptations was the 1949 film produced by MGM. Directed by Vincente Minnelli, it starred Jennifer Jones in the title role, co-starring James Mason, Van Heflin, Louis Jourdan, and Gene Lockhart.
It has also been the subject of multiple television miniseries and made-for-TV movies. It was adapted by Giles Cooper for the BBC in 1964, with the same script being used for a new production in 1975. A 2000 miniseries adaptation by Heidi Thomas was made for the BBC, starring Frances O'Connor, Hugh Bonneville and Hugh Dancy.
Edwige Fenech starred in a version in 1969, directed by Hans Schott-Schobinger.
David Lean's film Ryan's Daughter (1970) was a loose adaptation of the story, relocating it to Ireland during the time of the Easter Rebellion. The script had begun life as a straight adaptation of Madame Bovary, but Lean convinced writer Robert Bolt to re-work it into another setting.
Claude Chabrol made his version starring Isabelle Huppert in 1991. Jon Fortgang, writing for Film4, praised the film as "sumptuous period piece and pertinent tragic drama".
Indian director Ketan Mehta adapted the novel into a 1992 Hindi film Maya Memsaab, in which Deepa Sahi played the lead role of disillusioned wife.
Posy Simmonds' graphic novel Gemma Bovery (and Anne Fontaine's film adaptation) reworked the story into a satirical tale of English expatriates in France.
Vale Abraão (1993) (Abraham's Vale) by Manoel de Oliveira is a close interpretation set in Portugal, even referencing and discussing Flaubert's novel several times.
Another film adaptation (2014) directed by Sophie Barthes and starring Mia Wasikowska, Henry Lloyd-Hughes, Paul Giamatti, and Ezra Miller
Madame Bovary has been an inspiration for various other projects, such as bovary.gr which is a Greek website dedicated to women, their well-being and beauty.
The novel was loosely adapted in the Christian video series VeggieTales under the name "Madame Blueberry".
Sorry about the long post but I found this all fascinating…
Information from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madame_Bovary