Madame Bovary

The Effect of Literature

As Gustave Flaubert wrote the novel Madame Bovary, he took special care to examine the relationship between literature and the effect on its readers. His heroine Emma absorbs poetry and novels as though they were instructions for her emotional behavior. When her mother dies, she looks to poetry to decide what degree of mourning is adequate; when she becomes adulterous she thinks immediately how she is like the women in literature that she has read about. In one scene, Emma is with her second lover, Leon, rowing in a boat, and she begins to sing several lines from the poem "Le Lac" by the romantic poet Alphonse de Lamartine. The poem is about two lovers rowing on a lake as well, which is undoubtedly why Emma chooses this particular verse to sing. However, Lamartine's piece expresses much more than the serenity of love, a depth that Emma fails to see. By having Emma naively invoke the words of Lamartine, Flaubert brings the heaviness of the poem to a scene of otherwise lighthearted beauty. This poetic reference not only suggests a greater depth to the scene, but also serves, through the hand of Flaubert, to allude to the death of Emma.

Flaubert refers to Lamartine at the beginning of the novel when Emma's mother...

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