Illusion and Disappointment in Madame Bovary
In Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert attacks all sorts of vice and virtue; his targets include adultery, romance, religion, science, and politics. The characters are almost universally detestable; those who are not are merely pathetic. But the negativity throughout the book, always in contrast with impossible happiness, is not as black as it appears. Or if the characters truly do face bleak situations, they do so out of an inability to accept a reality that was perhaps less than what they wanted, but better than they let it become.
Madame Bovary is foremost a novel about romance, and it is reasonable that marriage should come under attack. Charles' first marriage is arranged by his mother to Madame Dubuc, an ugly, domineering woman thrice Charles' age, who is supposed to be rich. Charles' wedded life is miserable, and yet when his wife finally dies, he reflects that "she had loved him, after all" (42). Thus Dubuc, who claimed that "if [Charles] hovered near her, it was surely in order to see her die" (35) becomes the novel's first and only loving wife. Charles' mother, faced with an adulterous and spendthrift husband, "stifle[s] her rage" (30); the only other wife in the story,...
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