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Synopsis

As a provocative tale of passion and complacency, ideals and self-delusions, Madame Bovary (1857) remains a milestone in European fiction. In telling his story of Emma Bovary—a farmer’s daughter who, with girlhood dreams fuelled by sensational novels, marries a provincial doctor—Flaubert inaugurated a literary mode that would be called Realism. But so exacting were Flaubert’s standards of authenticity that his portrayal of the breakdown of Emma’s marriage, and the frankness with which he treats her adulterous liaisons, scandalized many of his contemporaries. Yet to others, the mix of painful introspection, emotional blindness, and cynical self-seeking that distinguishes his characters made the novel instantly recognizable as a work of genius. It is a novel fixed upon the idea of romance—of the need for Romance—in the face of day-to-day banalities. It is a theme that is ironic insofar as the exquisite clarity of Flaubert’s prose serves to hauntingly underline the futility of the heroine’s ultimate tragedy.

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