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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.

Madame Bovary is the greatest novel written by Gustave Flaubert. The 1855 masterpiece portrays in searing detail the tragic tale of a young girl whose dreams turned into nightmares; whose sandcastles are swept away by unfulfilled passion; whose young life is ended in a tragic death. Years before Tolstoy limned the adultress woman in his Anna Karenina we see the consequences which ensue when a middle class wife and mother breaks the seventh commandment.

What makes this novel of adultery, satirical views of provincial life, mockery of the relgious hypocrisy in the French countryside and lacerating portraits of such types as the village atheist Homais so great? In my opinion the reasons this is such a landmark work must include:

a. A picture of a woman seeking to break out of the nineteenth century bourgeoisie view of females as placid wives and mothers with no aspirations of their own. Throughout the novel there are images of birds seeking freedom from cages. Emma is a modern feminist in the nineteenth century society she finds impossible to escape. Emma is an iconoclastic rebel.

b. A satirical and cynical view of human hypocrisy drawn with skill in the pictures Flaubert draws of such figures as the village priest, scientist, merchants and moneylenders. Society is concerned with money and social status to the detriment of more spiritual and ethical values.

c. Flaubert introduces a new realism to the novel which will influence such naturalist as Emile Zola and others. The novel reads as if it was written today instead of over 150 years ago.

d. Flauberts descriptions of the beauty of nature (and its indifference to human suffering and troubles) are beautifully etched. His use of language and the level of suspense he maintains throughout the work are excellent.

e. Flaubert is not afraid to describe female sexual longings. His sex scenes are tasteful to our eyes but viewed as prurient reading in his own day. Penguin editons are always a joy to read with their critical apparatus and excellent introductions.

Enjoy this great work of literature as soon as you can!

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