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Madame Bovary | Study Guide

Gustave Flaubert

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Madame Bovary | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


In Part 1, Chapter 6, what does it reveal about Emma that she "sought to find out exactly what was meant in life by the words felicity, passion, and rapture?

This glimpse into Emma Bovary's early disappointment at the reality of her marriage to Charles Bovary demonstrates some of the early origins of her perpetual dissatisfaction at the mundane existence of life. Her thoughts come directly after the narrator notes how satisfied with love Charles finds himself in her presence, which contrasts directly with Emma's slow realization that she is not, in fact, in love as she had previously conjured it. Because Emma has pinned her expectations of love on what she has read in romance novels, she measures every emotion and disappointment against those expectations. For her, "since she lacked the happiness that should have come from that love," it means that it does not exist between her and Charles. For Emma, love can fit only into the narrow definition of the words felicity, passion, and rapture—she is not interested in a love that resembles anything less. It also reveals early on Emma's inclination to yearn for the fantasy of something rather than grapple with the reality.

In Part 1, Chapter 6 of Madame Bovary, what does the metaphor about horses reveal about Emma's relationship to the convent?

The narrator writes of Emma's reaction to her education at the convent that "she did just what horses do when the rein is too tight: she stopped short and the bit slipped from her mouth." The metaphor emphasizes Emma's nature as an amoral creature who cannot be judged according to human standards of right or wrong but who must be permitted to act as her instincts demand. Likewise, the language suggests that Emma is not quite human. A common theory in Flaubert's day was that women were filled with "animal spirits" that possessed them to act emotionally. For many women, those emotions drove them to the church, as Emma's initially did. But Emma's emotions are linked to her physical body and demand a physical outlet, so her "mind rebelled against the mysteries of faith," and resented the mental discipline required of religion.

In Part 1, Chapter 7 of Madame Bovary, what does the narrator mean by Emma Bovary's "elusive malaise"?

In this section, Emma is only just beginning to dimly understand her discontent with life, and is still looking for a way to voice it to herself, let alone to anyone else. She begins to find herself lost in fantasies about what she believes love and marriage should be like, and yearns to have someone to confide her troubles to. But the narrator ponders, "how could she give voice to an elusive malaise, that melts like a cloud, that swirls like the wind?" Emma cannot discuss her discontent because the real source of it eludes her—it is built on the insubstantial quality of fantasies and illusions. The narrator also notes that "She didn't have the words, the opportunity, the courage" to give voice to them. It is interesting to note that Emma never feels that she can go to Charles with her feelings, despite the fact that he dotes on her and cares deeply about her feelings, even if he cannot understand them. But it may very well be that she lacks the substance to define what those feelings may even be.

In Part 1, Chapter 7 of Madame Bovary, what fundamental differences between Charles Bovary and Emma Bovary are revealed?

Emma Bovary's discontent with her marriage has already begun to take hold, though Charles Bovary does not seem to notice. He is busy himself falling in love with Emma, gazing at her every move. Yet the more he adores her, the more Emma seems to resent "his so-solid calm, his ponderous serenity, the very happiness that she brought him." Emma and Charles are fundamentally different in nearly all the ways two people can be different: physically, emotionally, and temperamentally. For Charles, this only draws him closer to Emma, for her differences fascinate and complete him. But for Emma, their differences make her feel claustrophobic and alienated, and further distance her from him. The more he is in amazement of her, the more she is repulsed by him, and this tension between them leads to tragic consequences that neither can foresee.

In Part 1, Chapter 9 of Madame Bovary, what does Paris represent for Emma?

For Emma Bovary, Paris is an extension of her fantasies about love and romance that don't fit into her day-to-day existence. She fixates on Paris because it is where she imagines the viscount is from. Thanks to Emma's vivid imagination, she concocts an entire fantasy about his life, and in the process she buys maps and magazines about Paris, which gleams in her mind like "a warm golden haze." For Emma, Paris represents "the world of trailing gowns, of high mystery, of anguish cloaked under a smile." In other words: a fantasy into which she can escape. All of her dreams about it are abstractions of reality. But as the narrator notes, "As for the rest of the world, it was nothing, it was nowhere, it scarcely seemed to exist." Emma uses the fantasy of Paris to leave the reality of her life in her dreams as often as possible, and "indeed the nearer things were, the more her thoughts turned away from them." Paris also becomes another reason why Emma believes that her current life is a mistake, "a unique accident that had befallen her alone." She feels entitled to a different life, the life of her fantasies.

In Part 1, Chapter 9 of Madame Bovary, why does Emma compare love to a tropical plant?

Emma Bovary's comparison of love to a tropical plant comes on the heels of her fantasies about living in Paris. She questions, "Like some tropical plant, did love not require the correct soil and a special temperament?" Emma feels that her current life is a mistake, that she's not meant to live in a mediocre town and be in a mediocre marriage. For Emma, Paris and beyond, however, contain "an immense kingdom of pleasure and passion." She believes that her emotional constitution marks her for a different kind of life and love, one that involves "sighing in the moonlight" and long embraces. Emma firmly believes that she could never experience those things without the proper accompaniments, such as "a balcony in some great tranquil chateau." For Emma, love cannot be separated from the things that encourage it, and her metaphor of a tropical plant is meant to denote that the love she wants can flourish only in the precisely right circumstance.

In Part 1, Chapter 9 of Madame Bovary, what does Emma mean when she says "the future was a dark corridor"?

Emma Bovary increasingly feels as though her life is doomed, and that she is stuck in her marriage and in Tostes forever. The narrator notes that "like a shipwrecked sailor, she perused her solitary world with hopeless eyes, searching for some white sail far away where the horizon turns to mist." Emma wants to be rescued from her life, for she does not have the power to leave. Her only recourse would be to try to find happiness where she is. As time drips by, her hope for change in any form drops away. She feels there is not even the element of chance or luck in her life, and that nothing will ever happen. And so for her the future feels like one long, dark hallway with nothing interesting to interrupt it, "and at the far end the door was bolted." This imagery conveys how utterly trapped and hopeless Emma feels about her life and its future, and also foreshadows the times in her life when she gives up on the things she enjoys and sinks into depression.

In Part 2, Chapter 2 of Madame Bovary, in what ways is it revealed that Emma Bovary and Leon Dupuis are similar?

Emma Bovary and Léon Dupuis appear to feel a strong kinship from the moment they meet. They are drawn together not only through a physical attraction, but because they share similar outlooks on life as well—each is bored of small-town life in Yonville, and prefers the escapist fantasies found in novels. The narrator notes that their conversations seem always to bring them "back to the fixed centre of mutual sympathy," and their bond also becomes one of mutual resistance to the outside world. They are united in their distaste for their current lives, and each encourages the other's yearning. Emma tells Leon that she detests "common heroes and temperate feelings, the way they are in life." And yet their similarities also foreshadow their doom as eventual lovers, since neither is capable of being satisfied as they are, or with the "real" versions of each other.

In Part 2, Chapter 2 of Madame Bovary, what is the significance of Emma's desire to have a boy rather than a girl?

Emma Bovary's moments of real clarity come as sharp contrasts to her perpetual fantasies. When she reveals that she would rather have a boy than a girl, her rationale is the opposite of delusion: it is a sad truth that "a man, at least, is free ... but a woman is continually thwarted." Emma's observation comes from her own sense of confinement and despair at her lack of agency. She notices that the men in her life are able to come and go as they please, and make a life for themselves independent of a woman. For Emma, "the idea of having a male child was like an anticipated revenge for the powerlessness of her past." That Flaubert allows her to have this heartbreaking insight reveals that Emma is perhaps a more complex character than she seems.

In Madame Bovary in what ways are Rodolphe Boulanger and Emma Bovary alike?

In many ways, Rodolphe Boulanger is a more self-assured, confident version of Léon Dupuis, and he and Emma Bovary also share a mutual dissatisfaction with the mundane moments of life in a small town. Flaubert uses Rodolphe in many ways as a mirror and contrast to Emma. His love for her is just as cloaked in fantasy and illusion, yet his is grounded in physical attraction. He is able to tell Emma everything she wants to hear, with the whiff of romance she requires. Yet there is no substance to his feelings, just as there really is no substance to Emma's feelings. When Rodolphe is confronted with the reality of actually running away with Emma, he abandons her, realizing that the reality will never live up to the fantasy. Rodolphe also represents Emma's growing desires and her newfound boldness, as well as her descent into regret and moral ambiguity. In some ways, Rodolphe is a frightening image of what Emma would be, had she been born a man.

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