Madame Bovary   Gustave Flaubert

Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert - A gripping read, fabulous gritty characters and a page turning plot and that's before you even get on to the writing....

A wonderful book for any girls book club. The characters are certainly gritty and there is plenty of passion and lust without the author ever mentioning sex.

When it was first published in the 1850's it caused an outrage and was initially banned. But Flaubert won his court case and the book became a best seller

It's not a particularly easy read due to his amazing descriptive writing, but persevere - it's worth it.


Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert

This story is about a very, very selfish, shallow woman, called Emma or more formally, Madame Bovary, a doctors wife.

She had been indulged by her father when she was growing up, and seems to never be satisfied with what she has.

She believes that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, and despite having a loving husband and little daughter, she shows no real concern for either of them.

Her husband is a good stable (slightly boring) man but she ends up having affairs with a more racy type of man.

She idealises love, to some extent through the reading of Romantic, unrealistic novels,  and  cares absolutely nothing about what other people think about her.

She has no conscience about endangering the future of her husband & daughter through the debt she keeps accumulating, by buying more and more dresses and items.

Needless to say the affair ends and the end of the novel results in her death


Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert

There aren't many characters but each one is carefully created to add to the story.

 Mme. Homais

is very much a contrast to Emma; she is exactly the opposite. She is contented with her domestic life, looking after her husband & four children, whom she loves dearly. She has no need of fancy clothes, could have more domestic help than she has & has no need to have a lodger, but does so because she wants to help out family finances. Yet Emma despises her for all these characteristics.

Her husband isn't as admirable. He pretends friendship with Charles but would really like to be rid of him; the story of the club foot is perhaps the best example of his treachery. He must have been overjoyed when Charles dies; it gives him control of everything medical in the town. He likes power!

M. Heureux is another unsavoury character. He pretends friendship but lends huge amounts of money to Emma, knowing full well that she has no intention of paying it back. No! He is not a nice man!

Neither are Leon or Rodolphe.  Leon is a Romantic like Emma but when he eventually wins Emma, the romance soon wears off. He's another one who lives in cookoo land, loving the idea of romance but being unable to build a stronger longer lasting relationship which is the mark of many long marriages. When he realises Emma is in such debt & is clingy, he soon gets out of her life. He's a cad!

Rodolphe is different again. He is rich but his riches don't bring him happiness, a lesson which Emma fails to learn. He is a shallow character, incapable of commitment, using Emma to fulfil his physical needs, just as his many other women do. He accepts gifts from her all the time knowing that she can't afford them. He's another cad deserting her in her hour of need.

These awful characters, I think, are meant to represent the middle classes emanating from the French Revolution, half a century before. Presumably, Flaubert was disappointed with the outcome of the Revolution & the new power of these middleclass characters. This was not how it  was meant to be.  So these characters enhance the plot but also have an historical importance.

Charles Bovary is a boring, doltish man but he's actually a good man. He loves Emma unconditionally but stupidly risks the future of his family, by handing over their finances to Emma with devastating results. 

Emma Bovary Character Analysis

It is from Emma that we are meant to receive most lessons. As a Romantic, she can never come to terms with the ordinary routine of everyday life which is the lot of most of us. And as we see in our lives & shown here by Rodolphe, riches don't always bring happiness. She throws caution to the wind, cares little for the opinion or needs of others & can be seen as a lost cause almost from the beginning of the novel.


Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert

The Themes in Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert are timeless & universal:

Boredom And Banality

Emma is clearly bored by the domesticated part of her life and clearly finds her husband Charles, a bit of a bore.


This is a surprising theme for a novel of this era. Was the author a feminist perhaps or just very perceptive as to how educated women must feel trapped and limited in a world where men dominate.


Sex seems to scream from every page, yet there is no intercourse or sex in the entire book. Flaubert manages to create a very passionate and sexy ambiance in this book.


Emma is unable to live within her means, always wanting more and ends up racking up debt. It is her envy and need to keep up with the Jones and achieve a higher social class that fuels her desire.

The Grass Is Always Greener Mentality

Emma seems to think that there is always something better out there and she seems unable to accept her lot and be happy. The question is, will she ever be happy?

Book Club Questions

Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert

Discuss the death of Madame Bovary. Did you expect it? Is she brave or a coward?

Can Charles be blamed for Emma's affairs and behaviour? Why or why not?

What would Emma be like in todays world?

Can women really have it all (career and family) in todays world?

Emma clearly dislikes chores and domestic life. Discuss how the sale of magazines about Celebrities and their styles may act as escapism for women in todays society.

Credit cards encourage us to live outside our means. Should banks have a larger social responsibility?

Why do you think this novel was initially banned?

Discuss Gustave Flaubert's writing style. Did the group enjoy his descriptive writing?

The french countryside is the setting for this novel. What do we learn about France during the 1800's?

Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert has been hailed a work of realism. (Realism is a time in french history when books portreyed the real and banal day to day life rather than romantic sensationalised stories.) Do you think it is a true depiction of what life was like in the 1850's or are elements sensationalised?


Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert

Our book club gave this book an 8/10.

For some, it was a little slow at the beginning and far too descriptive. But overall, the group loved it.

We enjoyed discussing how we thought Emma would behave in today's  society where women can have it all. (!!!!)

She would be able to have her affairs without too many recriminations from society. She would be able to use birth control & she wouldn't need to rely on a man to keep her if she'd been well educated, which she probably would have been.

BUT somehow, we thought she would be very similar today, always seeking more, expecting more, selfishly neglecting those who need her & truly love her.

Her grass is greener mentality  would dominate her life now as then.

So far, we haven't shown much regard for Emma but we do have some sympathy for her, with her imagination, passion & need for more stimulation in her stifling situation.

Her big mistake of course is in marrying her boring husband Charles. Some of us thought they could imagine themselves getting in a bit of a mess too! The sale of magazines about Stars & their life styles would perhaps indicate that there are plenty of women out there today who long for another kind of life outside the routine & banality of their own lives.

The writing style in Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert,  is beautifully descriptive. Flaubert's power of description is on a par with the likes of Thomas Hardy. The text is just like a FILM script. When, for instance, at the beginning of the story, he describes the wedding in detail & then the Wedding feast, they took my breath away & I was able to understand immediately, his place in History as a great writer.

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