Gustave Flaubert was born in 1821 in Rouen, France. His father was a respected surgeon and he raised his family in quarters near the hospital where he worked.
Young Gustave would sometimes observe his father performing autopsies, which influenced his later writing style. His clinical, almost detached detail with which Flaubert depicted Emma Bovary became a famous cartoon where Emma appears on the cadaver’s block, being dismembered by the surgeon’s son.
Flaubert was a romantic young man and swiftly developed a hatred for the life of the French bourgeoisie. He felt trapped by their banalities and, as he was encouraged to study law, became, on the surface, a respectable bourgeois son.
In 1844, his schooling in Paris came to an abrupt end due to serious health problems, such as seizures and a coma. These attacks, now though to be epilepsy, led Flaubert to leave school and return to the provinces. On his return to his estate in Croisset, he returned to his first love, literature.
His father died in 1846 and his sister died six weeks later. In his mid-twenties, he became the head of the family, which included his mother and his sister’s daughter.
Flaubert would often visit Paris and fell in love with Louise Colet and became friends with photographer Maxine du Camp. In Paris, he witnessed the Revolution of 1848. At this time, he worked on a draft of his first novel “The Temptation of Saint Anthony.” However, his friends disliked the book as being “overly romantic.”
In 1851, he returned from a tour of the Near East (Egypt) and began a novel with a new narrative style. He worked carefully for five years, taking great care over every single sentence. This novel became the classic Madame Bovary.
When it was first published in installments in The Paris Review (a newspaper), it caused a sensation. Its frank depiction of adultery landed Flaubert in court on charges of moral indecency. He was exonerated and became a respected figure in Parisian literary circles, receiving the French Legion of Honour.
Flaubert continued to live in Croisset and visited Paris frequently. He is also remembered for his further novels “Salammbo” (1862), “A Sentimental Education” ( 1869) and the collection “ Three Stories” (1877)
Financial troubles beset him in later life and he spent his final years isolated and poor. He died on May 8, 1880 in Croisset.
Flaubert is often described as a “realist”, due to his novels being plot-driven and his characters being seen as “mediocre” and “vulgar” circling around subjects such as adultery. Critics often misread Flaubert. His central focus was to show the conflict between human desire and the social demand for monogamy, which was applied selectively in the French middle classes. To put it simply, women were not allowed to have affairs-men were and did.
Critics have repeatedly stated that all of Flaubert’s characters are flawed-Emma has a lack of human feeling but is beset by romantic illusions of love, inspired by trashy romantic novels, Charles is dull-witted and loves his wife for the wrong reasons and is seduced by her well-rehearsed tricks-her decorating of gowns, her making of sconces for candles and the like. Emma has numerous affairs, but never opens her eyes to the suffering of others.
Indeed, character names are ironically used to show the characters foibles. Mayor Tuvache (you cow) Homais (what man could be-homme) Lheureux (happiness.)
Love is also discredited in the novel, or the idea that romantic love leads to happiness. Rodolphe makes Emma fall in love with him-however; Emma is in love with love itself, not a singular man. She becomes more of an addict to love as the novel progresses.
Critics have stated that “there is no goodness in this book”, however, there is indeed compassion.
A literary device called “dual recitative” is used to great effect. This device is borrowed from opera, where Flaubert cuts back and forth between trivial events and worn out seduction scenes. This device is used to tragic effect in opera, but is used for comic effect in Madame Bovary, as the pace escalates from whole speeches to fragments of sentences. (Usually involving clichés.)
“Madame Bovary, c’est moi” and “There’s nothing in Madame Bovary that’s drawn from life” are two of Flaubert’s most famous quotations regarding his most celebrated novel.
The term “realism” was applied to his novel by his publishers, not by himself. Flaubert does write with exact detail in the text but tends to treat realistic issues, such as affairs, with detached detail. He treats these events with almost scientific detail and lack of emotion.
The irony of his trial for indecency is that the courts were afraid that his novel would encourage adultery, even though the adulterous characters all end unhappily.
Emma Bovary is often linked to Flaubert himself, as the both had a tendency to suffer from dreaminess in their everyday lives. Indeed, critics have stated that Emma’s boredom is a silly copy of Flaubert’s boredom.” (With bourgeois life in the provinces.)
The actual story itself was taken from the story of Eugene and Delphine Delamere, a local scandal. Delphine was a country girl, educated at a convent, who married Eugene when she was seventeen and died of an overdose of poison nine years later. She had run up debts through affairs and buying clothes and decoration through sheer boredom. She died in 1848. Flaubert knew the Delameres, as Eugene had been a medical student of Flaubert’s father. This tabloid scandal was mentioned to Falubert by Lois Bouilhet, his friend. Flaubert wanted his debut novel to be a “thunderclap.”
During his trip to Egypt, Flaubert adopted a style of diary writing where he did his best to keep an accurate record of the landscape, people and customs he witnessed. THIS is the realism that allowed Flaubert to arrive at his detached, descriptive style used in Madame Bovary.