Madame Bovary | Study Guide

Gustave Flaubert

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Gustave Flaubert | Biography


On December 12, 1821, Gustave Flaubert was born into a middle-class family in Rouen, France—one of the main settings of Madame Bovary. He went on to join elite literary circles in Paris, where he became an acclaimed writer best known for establishing the new era of the Realist movement in French literature. Flaubert returned to Rouen after his father died and spent much of the rest of his life there. His romantic relationships were often unrequited and complicated, which may have lent him sympathy toward his perpetually dissatisfied character Emma Bovary. Also like Emma, Flaubert suffered poor health, depression, and nervous attacks for much of his adult life.

After the publication of Madame Bovary, the public was outraged and scandalized by Flaubert's portrayal of affairs and infidelity, and he and his publishers were forced into a trial for indecency. They were acquitted of all charges, but the experience left Flaubert upset about his novel's reception.

He traveled through the Middle East and became acquainted with some of the great artists and writers of his time, such as Vincent van Gogh and Guy de Maupassant. He also developed strong negative sentiments toward the middle-class "bourgeois" culture, feelings that can be seen in some of his criticisms of the characters in Madame Bovary. He died on May 8, 1880.

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