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Romance and Reality in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary Essay

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Romance and Reality in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary

In the story of Alice in Wonderland we follow Alice down a rabbit hole into a land of pure wonder, where the logic of a little girl holds no sway. In Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, we witness exactly the opposite as Emma Bovary, a most romantic creature, is purposely cast into a harshly realistic world. In either case, a creature is put into an environment unnatural to her disposition, yet in Flaubert’s example, Emma shares the world we inhabit, and thus the message her story brings is much more pertinent. To convey this message, Flaubert replicates not a world of fantasy, but rather the real world, with all its joy, sadness, and occasional monotony intact. Then he proceeds to dump an
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All the bitterness of life seemed to be served up to her on her plate, and as the steam rose from the boiled meat, waves of nausea rose from the depths of her soul. (Flaubert 58)

This image and atmosphere of mundane imperfection is a far cry from what Emma expects after reading the romantic novels she smuggled in at the convent. From those foppish texts she gathers the impression that ladies such as she should be “lolling on carriages” or “dreaming on sofas,” or perhaps embracing some dashing “young man in a short cloak” (Flaubert 32). Yet such is not the reality in which she lives.

Flaubert adds to his stark images the homey atmospheres and settings of the provincial towns in which Emma lives, places which by their very simplistic natures are anathema to a romantic such as Bovary. It is only through Emma’s depiction of these villages that they are cast as mundane and drab. Though the image exists of the small and backward town with its town gossips and town idiot, it can be seen that it is simply a town, one in which a person can be content—that is, if she is not the always-unfulfilled Emma Bovary. Thus the setting and the stereotypical characters add to the realistic atmosphere that confronts Emma.

Into the midst of this hodgepodge of unflattering images and commonalties, Flaubert then tosses Emma and Charles. To Emma, Charles is
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