Madame Bovary

The Spiritual Doldrums of Flaubert's Madame Bovary

The Spiritual Doldrums of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary

The narrative of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary cannot be completely separated from the commentary on religion and spiritual deficiency in the novel. Segments of Flaubert’s masterpiece are clearly satirical—and if they are not bitingly so, they subtly stir up a criticism of the institution of the church. Specifically, Madame Bovary deals with the ineptitude of the church, and sometimes religion itself, to provide spiritual succor and hope in the face of fear. Emma Bovary is the embodiment of the hopeless, spiritually depraved sinner whom religion has failed to comfort—whom the church has failed to aide. The novel catalogues the journey by which she sets toward salvation and achieves only the self-induced doom of suicide.

One of the earliest instances of a turn from faith occurs not with Emma but with her father, Rouault. Rouault’s memory is momentarily piqued as he recalls the small delights his now-deceased wife’s presence had once afforded him. The bittersweet is evoked as he watches the wheels of Emma’s bridal buggy cart her off into the world, just as his wife’s bridal cart had drawn her indelibly into his own world. Seeking solace, Rouault contemplates a visit to the church; yet...

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