Part One Chapter 1 – Meet Charles Bovary

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Flaubert’s Madame Bovary: reading journal guide
[page numbers refer to the 2003 Penguin Classics edition, transl. Geoffrey Wall.]

Part One

Chapter 1 – Meet Charles Bovary

  1. To whom does the narrative voice belong?

    1. What initial impressions does Charles create?

What is your attitude toward him? Why?

    1. How would you characterise Charles’ parents and their relationship?

How might they influence his attitudes to marriage?

  1. What are Charles’ parents’ attitudes to their son?

How might this affect him?

  1. Why is Charles educated in this particular fashion?

How do you feel toward him at this point in the novel?

  1. Read the paragraph beginning “He didn’t understand a thing”.

How does the imagery characterise Charles?

  1. What does his student life reveal of Charles’ character?

  1. What is Madame Bovary’s attitude to her son’s life?

    1. Comment on Charles’ (first) married life.

Chapter 2 – Meet Emma Rouault

    1. What might Charles’ being “woke(n)” from the “soothing trot” of his horse foreshadow?

  1. Charles’ first glimpse of Emma.

What kind of “portrait” of her is presented here? Consider in particular the domestic setting and the light.

Why are details of her dress emphasised here?

    1. Carfully note all the details Charles observes about Emma.

Is our “picture” of her complete? Fragmented?

Why is Emma represented in this fetishistic fashion: broken down into tiny parts/details which are individually worshipped?

What is the effect of this style of representation upon Emma’s identity?

What is the narrative point of view here?

17 What do you make of the sound and light imagery used to describe Emma in these two domestic vignettes?

  1. How does the imagery describing the two current Mesdames Bovary contrast with the imagery used to describe Emma?

  1. Which tone is used to describe Heloise’s death?

What is your attitude toward her?

Is this comic? Grotesque? What purpose does this episode fulfil in terms of the narrative?

Chapter 3 – A Modest Proposal

20-1 What does Charles’ attitude to widowerhood reveal of his character?

  1. Another vignette: Emma sewing in the sunlight and offering Charles a drink.

Do the physical details of the setting and character create a positive or negative impression?

For what are such details preparing us?

Notice the physical details which Charles notices during the silence: do they remind us of “Mariana”? What kind of effect do they create?

  1. What does Emma’s recitation of her childhood achievements reveal of her character?

Notice the description of emma’s voice as it changes inflection: what do her mood changes tell us about her personality?

  1. What is Rouault’s attitude to his daughter and marraiage in general?

How would you describe his attitude to life?

Do you sympathise with it?

  1. What do Emma’s wedding preparations and aspirations reveal of her character?

What does this first conflict between her desires and reality foreshadow?

Chapter 4 - A Wedding Party

    1. What does the detailed description of the clothing of the wedding guests tell us about this social milieu?

How is Emma differentiated from her guests?

    1. Read the description of the wedding feast and guests’ antics carefully.

Can you identify the tone used to describe the food?

What is the purpose of the detailed description of the cake?

What does the guest’s behaviour reveal of this milieu?

How does the narrative point of view offer an opinion of this milieu?

What is your attitude to this milieu?

  1. Imagery of horses breaking their harnesses recurs throughout this novel.

Which ideas or issues are implicit in this image?

How might this image be symbolic?

    1. How do Emma and Charles respond differently to their wedding night?

What do their contrasting responses reveal of their characters?

  1. What is the effect of positioning Rouault’s happy memories of marriage at this point in the narrative?

How do you feel toward Rouault after hearing his recollections?

What view of marriage does this “moment” present?

Chapter 5 – Scenes of Married Life

  1. What impression does the description of Charles’ home create?

  1. What atmosphere does the former Madame Bovary’s bridal bouquet create?

    1. Which “snapshots” of Emma does her husband cherish?

What is his attitude to her?

Can you detect any attitude toward Charles in the tone of the narration here?

    1. How does Emma view her marriage?

How does the reality of her life conflict with her aspirations?

Do we feel we know Emma very well yet? Do we know Charles any better?

Chapter 6 – Emma’s “cultural formation”

Read the whole chapter carefully, and consider:

  • What are the ironies of her being introduced to “subtleties” and “splendours” from fading illustrations on the plates at an inn? What does this say about the debasement of this kind of tale?

  • How is it that religion and sexuality unite in a “strange sweetness deep in her soul”? What does this show of her desires?

  • What is the attitude of the narrative voice to Emma’s literary tastes? What sort of women does she identify with? Can you sympathise with her tastes?

  • Where does the youthful Emma get her ideas of love? Which images does she fantasise about? How can you describe her imagination?

  • Look at the image of the “shaded oil-lamp.. lit up all these pictures of the world”. Do you sympathise with Emma?

  • Why does Emma lose her sense of vocation?

  • What do you make of the image of passion as a “gorgeous pink-feathered bird”?

Chapter 7 – “Oh, why, dear God, did I marry him?”

  1. How does the imagery in these paragraphs contrast Emma’s inner ripeness with her outer malaise?

    1. What provokes Emma’s “inward detachment” from Charles?

    1. What is the source of Charles’ marital satisfaction?

Do these people seem to be in the same marraiage?

  1. What do the elder Madame Bovary’s opinions add to our impressions of Charles and Emma?

What do you think of the imagery used to describe her alienation from her now-married son?

Do you sympathise with her?

41 Which imagery is used to convey Emma’s dissatisfaction with her life?

[also look at the language describing the landscape in which she walks the dog: “Mariana” again?]

42 How do Emma’s speculations about the life unlived reveal her longing for attention?

Which attitude to her life does the spider image convey?

What is Emma’s attitude to Djali the dog?

Why is she suddenly “seized with fear”?

  1. Why does the marquis invite the Bovarys to the chateau?

Is there any irony in his reasoning?

Chapter 8 – The chateau

  1. Any irony in the chateau’s being “recently built, in the Italian-style”?

44 How is sound imagery used to create atmosphere?

Why are the paintings significant for Emma?

What kind of “picture” of this milieu do they present?

  1. Read the paragraph “Emma, as she entered the room… crowded room”.

How does Flaubert use close observation and sensory imagery to describe the dinner?

Which impressions of the dinner do these techniques create?

    1. What do you make of the account of the life of the marquis’s father-in-law?

Would he impress Emma?

Is there any irony in the way Emma regards him and the way he appears to us?

  1. Note the sensory imagery describing the food; taste and sight.

What does her response to these luxuries reveal of her character?
Why is Emma’s dressing described in theatrical imagery?

    1. Read carefully the description of the dance.

Why does the narrative focus upon the interplay of objects?

Is the atmosphere one of intimacy or detachment?

  1. Read the paragraph “The ballroom was stifling… between her lips”.

What is the significance of the glass breaking?

Why does Emma remember Les Bertaux now?

  1. What effect does the waltz have upon Emma? Why?

  1. Emma, at the window, considers the party.

What is her attitude to her fellow guests?

What does the description of breakfast etc tell us of life at the chateau?

47Why the description of the harnesses in the stables?

How might these relate to Emma’s situation?
Carriage ride home: “Emma, in silence, was watching the wheels go round”.

What is she thinking/feeling?

How can we describe this state of mind in terms of dreams/reality?
Think about the significance of these two objects:

48Back at home, Emma considers the effect of the ball upon her life.

What imagery does she use to describe its impression upon her?

Are these images positive or negative?

Chapter 9 – Emma’s daydreams

49What does Emma fabricate about the history of the cigar-case?

What does the cathedral bell image suggest about the resonant power of the name/object in Emma’s fantasy life?

Why does Emma invest so much emotion in this object? Is this merely the function of imagination/romanticism?

What does her romanticisation of “speechless passion” suggest of her character?

    1. What do you make of her imaginative posession of Paris, the site of desire?

“The memory of the Viscount haunted her reading”.

How does she fuse the memory of him with the literature she reads?

Which imagery describes the effect of this imaginative fusion, and what is its effect?

    1. Read Emma’s imaginings of Parisian life carefully.

“As to the rest of the world, it was nothing, it was nowhere”.

What do you think of Emma’s ignoring the present and the real?

55 What do you think of Emma’s attitude to love?

How does Flaubert juxtapose these idealised imaginings with Emma’s real milieu?

What is the effect?

How are Emma’s desires evident in the refashioning of the maid?

  1. Read “She would be wearing… to die and to live in Paris.”

How can you describe Emma’s behaviour?

Of what ideas/emotions could this be a vignette?
What imagery is used to describe Charles’ attitude to Emma?

Is there any irony in the description of Emma’s “refinements”?

Of what might this aspirational consumerism be an expression?!
57-8 Is Emma’s attitude to Charles justified?

What is the tone of this description of Charles?

What is your attitude toward him?

  1. How is the image of Emma as a “shipwrecked sailor” apt?

How do images of circularity and repetition seem to trap Emma?

    1. What image is used to describe Emma’s view of the future?

    1. Note the vignettes of torpor and boredom.

How does Flaubert use imagery, particularly sound, to convey Emma’s state of mind?

  1. How are her frustrations changing Emma’s personality?

63 Why is Emma attempting to make herself sick? Is she inhabiting another role? (Recall her youthful impersonations of the religious and the bereaved in Chapter 6…)

Emma pricks her finger on her wedding-bouquet before they leave Tostes.
Have we seen her do this before?

Does this action have Gothic/fairytale overtones?

What is the effect of this incident?

Part Two

Chapter 1

66-7 Look at the provincial details of the description of Yonville.

What kind of atmosphere do the details and imagery create?

How does Flaubert use irony to mock the pretensions of this town?

    1. We meet M. Homais.

What do you think the excess of language reveals of his character?

  1. Read the paragraph “Since the events… poodle’s mane.”

What impression of Yonville does this description create?

    1. Binet’s unusual hobby?

    1. Homais’ bourgeois creed.

Chapter 2 - Welcome to Yonville

74 Which of Emma’s features does this description focus upon?

How does Leon respond to her?
75ff Read the exchange between Leon and Emma carefully.
What attracts them to each other?

Which qualities do they affect to prize?

How does the narrative voice mock their pretensions?

  1. Note Homais’ conversation: small-town bore.

    1. What attracts Emma and Leon to literature?

How does their physical relationship progress in this scene?

    1. Why does Emma feel optimistic about Yonville?

Chapter 3

  1. What do we learn of Leon from this description?

82 What is Charles’ attitude to Emma’s pregnancy? Why?

What are Emma’s feelings about the pregnancy?

What does this tell us about her attitude to her own femininity?

  1. What happens when Emma gives birth to a daughter?

  1. Why does Emma name the baby Berthe?

    1. What is the effect of seeing Emma in these impoverished rural surrounds when she and Leon visit the wet-nurse?

  1. Note the close description of their walk back to Yonville.

How does Flaubert select details to create an atmosphere of sensuality?

    1. Why is the sexual tension between Emma and Leon described in terms of travel imagery? [Think about past imagery and conversations…]

    1. What is Leon’s attitude to Yonville?

What does he feel for Emma?

Why does he describe it as a “dark abyss”?

Chapter 4

  1. Why does Emma sit in the window all day?

    1. What is the tone of this description of Homais?

  1. What does Leon’s gaze focus upon as he observes Emma?

How is his gaze similar to Charles’?

  1. How does the sexual tension between them invest inanimate objects [Emma’s boot] with life?

What does Emma do while Leon reads poetry to her?

How is it similar to the lantern images in chapter 6?
Why does Leon give Emma a cactus?

    1. What do the patterns of gaze and observation tell us about

  • Village life? [think about vignettes of life glimpsed…]

  • The relationship between Emma and Leon?

  1. Is there any significance in Emma’s gift to Leon?

How does Leon feel toward Emma?

How does Emma feel?

What does the reappearance of the fissure imagery reveal of her situation?

[compare to chapter 9 p. 52]

Chapter 5

  1. Why might Homais be associated with the construction of the flax-mill? Of what might it be a symbol?

How are Leon and Charles juxtaposed in Emma’s gaze?

  1. Emma’s realisation of Leon’s love for her: what does her reaction reveal of her character?

  1. Lheureux: how does he prey on women’s immobility and boredom?

How can you characterise his wares?

  1. Which reason does Emma give for abandoning music? Why?

    1. Why does Emma throw herself into the domestic role?

Have we seen this kind of impersonation before?
99-100 Note Emma’s new behaviour: she walks as if bearing on her brow “the pale

mark of a sublime destiny”.

This outward “seduction” makes the townsfolk admire her.

Is this another narcissistic pose?

How can you characterise her behaviour and motivation here?

  1. How does this outward pose contrast with Emma’s inner life?

    1. What are Emma’s desires?

  1. What is her attitude to Charles? Why?

Which imagery is used to describe her inner conflict?

  1. After Felicite’s anecdote, how does Emma describe the effect marriage has had upon her? Do you think she’s right?

Chapter 6

    1. Which thoughts does the coming of spring awaken in Emma?

What does she desire now?

What does she seek from the church?

104 ff Read the exchange between Emma and the cleric. How does Flaubert use contrast and irony in this scene to convey the cleric’s misunderstanding of Emma’s situation?

    1. How does Emma express her frustration upon returning home?

What do you think of her behaviour toward Berthe?

Do you have any sympathy for Emma here?

110 ff How do Emma and Leon treat each other during his farewell?

Chapter 7

    1. Which imagery is used to describe Emma’s sorrow?

    1. In which activities does her grief express itself?

    1. What does Charles’ mother recommend?

Where does your sympathy lie at this point?

  1. Emma “was stationed at her window” when she meets Rodolphe: what does

this tell us about her life?
117 ff What effect do Rodolphe and Emma have on each other?

What does each admire in the other?

  1. ff What do we learn of Rodolphe from his observations of Emma and Charles and

from the nature of his deliberations?

Is his assessment of Charles and Emma accurate?

Chapter 8 – The Agricultural Show

    1. What is the attitude of the townsfolk toward the show? Why?

  1. How does Rodolphe establish a bond with Emma?

  1. How is Emma presented in this description of her appearance?

127 What is the effect of the description of the townsfolk and animals?

Does it present a positive or negative image?

What might its purpose be?

    1. How does Rodolphe express his mockery of this milieu?

How does Rodolphe begin his seduction of Emma?

    1. A celebrated set-piece in which Rodolphe’s rhetoric of love and the rhetoric of public bourgeois life are juxtaposed.

What is the effect of these two conversations being conducted simultaneously? How is one discourse used to comment upon the other throughout this scene?

Chapter 9 – The Reappearance of Rodolphe

  1. What do you notice about the light when Rodolphe approaches Emma?

When have we seen this effect before?

  1. What are the effects upon Emma of Rodolphe’s rhetoric?

What does this reveal of her character?

And of his?

    1. What persuades Emma to accept Rodolphe’s offer of horseriding?

What does this reveal of her character?

Why did Rodolphe choose to wear the boots?

What does this tell us about his attitude to Emma?

  1. The seduction scene.

What does Rodolphe’s gaze focus upon as he walks behind Emma?

Of whom does this remind us?

  1. How can you describe Rodolphe’s language as he persuades Emma?

How would you describe the way Emma’s “yielding” is described?

How is their lovemaking described? Why?

  1. Why do “Eyes examine… her from the windows?”

    1. Read these pages carefully.

150 What is the physical effect of the affair upon Emma?

When she “savour[s]” the idea of a lover, which aspects of her character are revealed? What does she “savour” about it?

  1. Why does she recall fictional heroines at this point in her career?

Which imagery conveys her feelings?

    1. What picture of Emma emerges from her early-morning visits to rodolphe’s bedroom?

  1. What do you make of Rodolphe’s warnings?

What might be his motive for uttering them?

Chapter 10

  1. Which new fears does the affair engender in Emma?

    1. What do you think of their night-time trysts?

Which aspects of Rodolphe’s character emerge through his attitude to Charles?

    1. How is Emma’s growing sentimentality revealed?

  1. How does their affair change their feelings for each other?

How is this ironic?

  1. Which feelings does M. Rouault’s letter provoke in Emma?

How is this ironic?

What does this reveal of her character?

Why doesn’t Emma know what made her unhappy?

Why does she interest herself in Berthe at this point?

  1. What are Emma’s feelings at the end of this chapter? Why?

Chapter 11: Operation/Amputation

161 What motivates Homais to suggest that Charles operate on Hippolyte?

  1. Which personal benefits does Emma see in this plan?

166 What is the effect of the graphic description of Hippolyte’s sufferings?

    1. How does Charles feel about his failure?

How does Emma view this same stituation?

What does it tell us about their characters?

…and about their marriage?

    1. What does each think of as they listen to the amputation?

  1. Why do Emma and Rodolphe now meet without rancour?

Chapter 12

173 What motivates Emma to suggest that she and Rodolphe run away?

    1. What is it about Rodolphe that obsesses Emma?

What is Justin’s attitude to Emma?

How does he express it??

176 ff How does Emma’s love differ from Rodolphe’s attitude to her?

  1. How have Emma’s habits changed since the beginning of the affair?

    1. Why is Emma so beautiful now?

How does Charles regard Emma and Berthe? What sort of man is he?

  1. What is the effect of juxtaposing Charles’ dream with Emma’s?

How would you describe the fantasies of each?

    1. What do you make of Emma’s outpourings to Rodolphe?

What do they reveal of her character?

How does the dsecription of the landscape used to create atmosphere?

How do Rodolphe’s concerns contrast with Emma’s?

Chapter 13

    1. What is Rodolphe experiencing as he browses through his “souvenirs”?

What does he conclude about them and the experiences they represent?

    1. Read through Rodolphe’s composition of his letter carefully.

How is his character evident in his manipulations of language?

    1. How does Flaubert use imagery to convey Emma’s sense of foreboding upon

receiving the letter?

  1. What is the effect of Homais’ misdiagnosis of Emma’s condition?

    1. What is your attitude to Charles’ nursing Emma in her fever?

Chapter 14

  1. What have been Charles’ expenses?

  2. How does he solve his money troubles?

197 How does Emma measure time during her convalescence?

Does it remind us of other times of her life?

    1. Which desires inform Emma’s religious fantasies during her illness?

Which aspects of her character do they reveal?

  1. Which imagery conveys her feelings for Rodolphe’s memory?

What does this show of her character?

Why does she immerse herself in charitable works?

Any irony here??

  1. What is Emma’s attitude to Justin’s love for her?

Is this ironic?

    1. How do view Charles for thinking of the theatre plan to cure Emma?

How are the preparations for the outing presented? Any irony/humour?

Chapter 15

  1. Why does Emma smile when they arrive at the opera?

206 ff Read the description of the opera.

How does Emma respond to each aspect of this scene, and why?

  1. How do you find Charles’ intrusions upon Emma’s reveries?

Find out the story of Lucia di Lammermoor.

Why might Emma identify with this character?

  1. Look carefully at the way Emma identifies with this heroine.

Does the narrative voice mock or sympathise with her desires?

  1. How does the chance meeting with Leon change the nature of Emma’s


  1. How is the presentation of Charles as the stereotypical complaisant husband

comic throughout this chapter?

Part Three

Chapter 1

  1. What gives leon the confidence to pursue Emma?

217 ff Observe Emma’s and Leon’s seduction of each other.

To what extent are they role-playing?

Is this to deceive each other?



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