Madame Bovary

The Frailty of Best Intentions in Madame Bovary: Inadequacy and the Agricultural Fair

The literary set piece of the Agricultural Fair is the stuff of cinema. The set piece is a linear pan-opticon of images and events, given unity through the magic of editing. Flaubert, as the cameraman, moves in and out of focus, craning in to catch an important strain of dialogue and panning out to capture the entirety of the surrounding spectacle. As is the case with cinema, context is derived from the clever sequencing of disparate images and actions, which are then made into a convergent whole by the connections the reader draws between the images. The descriptive power and the cut-and-paste movement of Flaubert's Agricultural Fair glue all the disparate characters and dialogues into one neat super-organism of hypocrisy and seduction in the provinces. The set piece is an exercise in the grotesque; meaning that what comes across as funny in our first reading, seems tragic in our re-reading of it, and then, in a deeper third reading, is quite horrific.

Flaubert's description of the Fair succeeds in compressing all the characters of Yonville-l'Abbaye into the manifest character of a single body politic. The thick description of the assembled townspeople (and their cattle) gel to create a congruous density of scent,...

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