Realism in Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary

By Agarwal, Ritu R. | IUP Journal of English Studies, March 2012 | Go to article overview

Realism in Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary


Agarwal, Ritu R., IUP Journal of English Studies


An attempt has been made in this paper to justify that Flaubert, way back in the mid-nineteenth century, had used new realism as identified by Raymond Williams, and Madame Bovary is an illustration of a contemporary novel in which description is used as an element of action, new technique has been used to describe new kind of reality, and 'apprehended psychological state' has been portrayed which is a modern feature. It is neither a social nor a personal novel but a novel in which there is a 'reconciliation of the individual and society' and it also reflects 'the struggle for relationships.' Madame Bovary, an 1857 novel, is about a doctor's wife, Emma Bovary, who has adulterous affairs and lives beyond her means in order to escape the emptiness of provincial life. It is a novel which is contemporary in content and form and realistic in intent. Gustave Flaubert adopted a new narrative technique which Williams has focused on in his essay. Flaubert 'shows' rather than 'tells'. The use of symbols, contrast and irony has lent an innovativeness to the novel. Madame Bovary is not a novel of a woman and a town. On the larger scale, it is a novel of a generation and a society. Flaubert's Madame Bovary is a reflection of Raymond Williams' views wherein he believes that "the way of life is neither aggregation nor unit, but a whole indivisible process." and that "a new realism is necessary to remain creative."

Flaubert, an influential French novelist of the nineteenth century, observed, "What distinguishes great geniuses is generalization and creation. They sum up scattered personalities in a type and bring new characters to the awareness of mankind." (Letter to Louise Colet, September 25), and Raymond Williams in his attempt to study New Realism has observed:

Neither element, neither the society nor the individual is there as a priority. The society is not a background against which the personal relationships are studied, nor are the individuals merely illustrations of the aspects of way of life. Every aspect of the personal life is radically affected by the quality of the general life, yet the general life is seen at its most important in completely personal terms. (584)

In view of the above, the present paper aims to justify that Flaubert way back in mid- nineteenth century had used new realism as identified by Raymond Williams, and Madame Bovary is an illustration of a contemporary novel, wherein description is used as an element of action where new technique has been used to describe new kind of reality and 'apprehended psychological state' has been portrayed which is a modern feature. It is neither a social nor a personal novel but a novel wherein there is a 'reconciliation of the individual and society' and it also reflects 'the struggle for relationships', which according to Williams is the 'truly creative effort of our time. '

Madame Bovary an 1857 novel, is about a doctor's wife, Emma Bovary, who has adulterous affairs and lives beyond her means in order to escape the emptiness of provincial life. It is a novel which is contemporary in content and form and realistic in intent. The action is set in the French towns of Tostes, Yonville and Rouen.

Gustave Flaubert adopted a new narrative technique which Williams has focused on in his essay. In the first chapter, Charles' classmates narrate as a first person plural 'we'. For the rest of the novel an omniscient third person narrator tells the story. Although the narrator appears to be objective, he often makes his opinion felt, especially regarding the character's efforts to appear sophisticated. The bulk of the novel records events as she experiences them, though always in the third person. Flaubert has often used free indirect discourse, the narrative integration of thoughts and feelings without quotation marks to show what his characters are thinking. After Emma's death the narration is mostly obj ective. The novel introduces two madams: Bovary and Emma, Charles' mother and his first wife. …

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