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The book, loosely based on the life story of a schoolfriend of the author who had become a doctor, was written at the urging of Flaubert's friends, who were trying (unsuccessfully) to "cure" Flaubert of his deep-dyed Romanticism by assigning him the dreariest subject they could think of, and challenging him to make it interesting without allowing anything out-of-the-way to occur. Although Flaubert avowed no liking for the style of Balzac, the novel he produced became arguably a prime example and an enhancement of Realism in the vein of Balzac. This fact contributed to a trial for obscenity (which was politically motivated as a government attack on the newspaper in which the novel was being serialized, La Revue de Paris). Flaubert, as the narrator of the novel, does not comment directly on the moral character of Emma Bovary and abstains from explicitly condemning her adultery. This reticence caused some to accuse Flaubert of glorifying adultery.
The Realist movement used verisimilitude through a focus on character development. Realism was a reaction against Romanticism. Emma may be said to be the embodiment of a romantic; in her mental and emotional process, she has no relation to the realities of her world. Gaining experience, layered with distortions she applies, she becomes dissatisfied when her larger-than-life fantasies are impossible to realize. Flaubert declared that much of what is in the novel is also in his own life; he said "Madame Bovary, c'est moi" ("Madame Bovary is me").
Madame Bovary, on the whole, is a commentary on the vanity of hoping for glittering nullity, or a self-satisfied, deluded personal culture, termed 'bourgeois' associated with Flaubert's period. This is not just about a females' dreamy romanticism. (Flaubert knew that Cervantes had dealt with masculine romantic excesses.) Emma is lost in delusions, but Charles as well indulges in absurd and harmful medical experiments with an 'upwardly mobile' intent.
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