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This essay is a partial analysis of Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary. The story is about a bored housewife (Madame Bovary) living in a provincial town in France who engages in adulterous affairs with other men and live extravagantly to break her boredom. The book stands out as one of the best "realistic" novels, and this is attributed to the honest portrayals of everyday life and people. Realism in art implicates the real representation of the subject matter without inauthenticity and ignoring artistic conventions, implausible, exotic and supernatural elements. In that line, this paper attempts to prove how Madame Bovary is a manifestation of literary realism and clarify my interpretation of nature in work. Apart from that, this paper will discuss how art reflects or distorts nature and the virtues that art possesses over nature and vice-versa.
To begin, Flaubert portrays realism in the novel in different ways. For instance, his ingenuity in capturing reality is evident in the manner in which he can describe the dullness of the middle-class citizens without making the story boring. The way the author captures the average life of the people is artistic. He does this in a genius way by making sure that the piece does not degenerate into dull prose. For example, at the start of the novel, the author creates an effect of reality when he describes the scene in which Charles returns to the Rouault farm, with the pretense to check on Emma's father. Flaubert describes the scene by giving a chronological account of the occurrence of the events from the buzzing of flies that had "drowned themselves in the dregs of the cider" to the "small drops of perspiration on bare shoulders" (Culler, 2007).
Also, another element of realism appears in the chapter where Madame Bovary's husband, Charles Bovary, who happens to be a doctor attempts to perform a complicated operation on Hyppolyte's foot. The author maintains plausibility, or the effect of reality by giving an intricate detail about the patient's clubfoot. The description is straight to the point that the reader is made to believe it is real. The narrative goes like this; "He had a foot forming almost a straight line with the leg, which, however, did not prevent it from being turned in, so that it was an equinus together with something of a varus with a strong tendency to equinus. But with this equinus, wide in the foot like a horse's hoof....Now that it was an equinus, it was necessary to cut the tendon Achilles..." (Flaubert, 2009).
Nevertheless, in as much as the work is a representation of reality, it is also reflective of the "unnatural" or the "supernatural" world. For instance, Flaubert does this by applying the concept of Romanticism in the art. Romanticism is a literary movement that celebrates emotion over reason and subjectivity over objectivity. In the novel, Emma Bovary or Madame Bovary herself is a portrayal of romanticism. She views herself as an unhappy housewife forced by circumstances to stoop below her social status in response to her situation. For example, in chapter eight, despite being beautiful and noble, Emma Bovary lacks self-respect and ungracefully falls on the Vicomte (Ladenson, 2009). Amidst the embarrassment, the Vicomte is then forced to set her back in her seat and look for a more suitable dance partner. While seated, Emma Bovary daydreams about the incident while the Vicomte dances with another lady, a more skillful dancer than Emma.
To add, we can also identify another aspect of romanticism from the relationship between Emma and Rodolphe Boulanger. Rodolphe is a wealthy landowner who happens to have visited Charles Bovary to have one of his workers treated. Upon seeing Emma, he is amazed by her beauty and quickly develops an interest in her (Johnsen, 1979). Rodolphe immediately begins to plan on how to seduce her (element of Romanticism). Conversely, whereas Emma thought that Rodolphe had genuine love for her and would save her from her unhappy marriage, Rodolphe was thinking otherwise. Lust drives Rodolphe's intention. Rodolphe being a known womanizer, his only desire is to have sex with Madame Bovary and nothing more. Soon, she realizes his intentions and the relationship does not survive long. However, the two rekindle their relationship towards the end of the novel, a result of a confrontation by Emma Bovary. Still, the relationship seems false as the intentions of Emma appears to be founded on lies and desire for material gain at the expense of real love. Therefore, the illustrations above indicate that the art in work reflects some aspects of nominalism.
That said, considering the illustrations above, we can say that the author gives privilege to nature over art. This notion is evident from the examples given above. For instance, the author gives more weight to the aesthetic value of the work than the art itself. Flaubert represents the nature of the art-work through various ways. Some of the ways include incorporating some types of theories as to the nature of the art. They include Romanticism and Realism, Emotionalism and Expressionism, Formalism and Instrumentalism. Emotionalism and Expressionism transcend the continuum of conveying message or show of emotion. The novel is action-packed with emotions. One such incident includes the emotional trauma Emma underwent after her separation with Rodolphe. The author achieves Formalism through the compositional form of the novel whereas Instrumentalism involves conceptualizing the art regarding the audience's response to the book.
Virtues Possessed by Art over Nature
Art as an expression of the artist's imagination. Art offers a means to express one's imagination through non-literacy ways like drawings and paintings.
Ritualistic and symbolic functions. Some cultures of the world employ art in conducting rituals and other important occasions as beautification or symbol. Research indicates that these activities are carried from generation to generation.
Experience of the mysterious. Art enables one to experience nature mysteriously. For example, an excellent piece of art-work like that of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa enables an individual to appreciate real art.
Virtues possessed by Nature over Art
Nature is real. Nature is more real as compared to art. This statement means that nature represents events in real time.
Nature is more objective than art. This sentence implies that nature represents actual objects as compared to art that may capture someone's imagination.
Nature has more aesthetic value compared to art. Not only is nature serene but also beautiful. Some aspects of art may not be appealing though. For example, some may contain explicit content or information that is inappropriate to some audience.
In a nutshell, the characters stated above represent different views of Realism and Romanticism. The author combines these differences to create a fascinating piece of literature. Flaubert's criticism of Romanticism is evident through Emma and Rodolphe, their imagination deviating from all aspects of reality while the realistic views of Charles are more fruitful in the story. Therefore, the author's opinion of Romanticism, based on the novel, is more of negative than positive. His ability to represent the life of the middle-class residents of the province in both realistic and entertaining manner provides an excellent look at his own opinions. Therefore, we can deduce that Flaubert preferred objectivity to subjectivity.
Culler, Jonathan D. "The Realism of Madame Bovary." MLN 122.4 (2007): 683-696.
Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary. Hackett Publishing, 2009.
Johnsen, William A. "Madame Bovary: Romanticism, Modernism, and Bourgeois Style." MLN 94.4 (1979): 843-850.
Ladenson, Elisabeth. Dirt for art's sake: books on trial from" Madame Bovary" to" Lolita". Cornell University Press, 2007.
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