Madame Bovary | Study Guide

Gustave Flaubert

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Madame Bovary | Quotes


The universe, for him, did not extend beyond the silken round of her skirts.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 5

Charles Bovary's love for Emma highlights how devoted he is to her and also doubles as a foreshadowing of his naiveté when it comes to her. Charles is so taken with Emma that he cannot see past her beauty, and this is at the heart of their troubled relationship, since he is unable to see her as she truly is—unhappy and dissatisfied. Charles, on the other hand, is perfectly content.


Familiar with the tranquil, she inclined, instead, toward the tumultuous ... she discarded as useless anything that did not lend itself to the heart's immediate satisfaction.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 6

The narrator highlights the fact that Emma's time studying at the convent awakened in her an attraction toward the romantic and the fantastical, and within that frame she organized her view of the world. Since she had grown up on a "tranquil" farm, she became drawn toward the dramatic stories she read in school, and grew bored by anything that did not delight in the same way. This way of seeing the world influences Emma's future dissatisfaction with her mundane existence in a small town, and a marriage that provides little drama.


She resented his so-solid calm, his ponderous serenity, the very happiness she brought him.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 7

This glimpse of Emma's early disdain for Charles shows the widening disconnect between them, and her deepening apprehension at the fact that she has married him. Emma believes that Charles can never make her happy, since he does not fit into the romantic model she has created in her mind. It does not matter to her that he loves her in his own sweet, innocent way—in fact, she resents him all the more for it, because it means that he cannot see her own unhappiness.


Her heart was just like that: contact with the rich had left it smeared with something that would never fade away.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 8

This observation of Emma comes on the heels of her experience at the ball at La Vaubyessard, where she danced and met a viscount whom she fantasizes about. The narrator compares the "smear" on her heart to the soles of her dancing shoes, which have been smeared with beeswax from the dance floor. Just as they will remain stained, so will Emma's heart with the memory of how happy the ball made her, planting yet another seed of yearning and discontent.


The general mediocrity of life seemed to be a kind of anomaly, a unique accident that had befallen her alone.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 9

Emma fantasizes about the city of Paris, and what life would be like there. By contrast, she can hardly stand her life and her surroundings, and feels she is living her current life by mistake. She believes she is destined for greater things, and this belief adds to her constant sense of yearning and romance. Of course Emma shows herself incapable throughout the novel of being able to bear out the fantasy into reality, since she grows bored and dissatisfied with people and places easily.


Once in the middle of the day, in the open country, just as the sun beat most fiercely against the old plated lanterns, a bared hand passed beneath the small blinds of yellow canvas, and threw out some scraps of paper that scattered in the wind, and farther off lighted like white butterflies on a field of red clover all in bloom.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 2

In the same rich, sensuous language Flaubert uses throughout the book, here he describes the consummation of Emma's relationship with Léon. It is a very different love affair than the one she has with Rodolphe, which is almost purely physical. For her, it combines her sense of high idealism with the practicalities of an affair, and for this reason the language is far more abstract than it had been when she and Rodolphe were carrying on. Nevertheless, it is an affair, so the language is heavily loaded with sensual images that are intended to convey a sense of passion and abandon.


Her will, like the veil strung to her bonnet, flutters in every breeze; always there is the desire urging, always the convention restraining.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 3

The narrator offers a succinct comparison of the plight of women in the 19th century to the constraints of the clothing they wear. Emma has been ruminating on why she would rather give birth to a boy instead of a girl, and here is the crux of that argument: a woman will always experience the desire for freedom, but she will always be constrained by society telling her what she must do and be. The veil is a symbol of her inability to be independent.


She was to know the pleasures of love ... She was entering something marvellous where everything would be passion, ecstasy, delirium.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 9

This revelation of Emma's comes shortly after she takes Rodolphe as her lover, and finally she is able to project her fantasy onto a person who seems to share the same lofty feelings, something that initially seems like it can be measured against the romances she has read about in books. Rodolphe has told her everything she wants to hear, and Emma experiences a moment of fulfillment—yet it is a moment that cannot last, since it is not based in reality.


In the immensity of this future that she conjured for herself, nothing specific stood out: the days ... were as near alike as waves are.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 12

This moment comes after Emma and Rodolphe have decided to run away together, and Emma is able to fantasize about their future. It is telling that she cannot seem to visualize the specifics of their life together. Rather, she can see only the hazy outline, as abstract as the concept of love and as shapeless as fantasy. It is almost as though the specifics are too disappointing and mundane for Emma to entertain, particularly when it is connected to the fantasy of life with Rodolphe.


Where did it come from, this feeling of deprivation, this instantaneous decay of the things in which she put her trust?

Narrator, Part 3, Chapter 6

By this point in the novel, Emma has begun to grow disillusioned in her love affair with Léon. Their once-clandestine lives have grown mundane as they have become used to each other and have seen the other's faults. Here Emma has a rare and heartbreaking moment of insight: she has always been unhappy, and this realization prods her to uncover its origin. She seems to understand that the moment the fantasy becomes reality, she begins to lose interest since it cannot be sustained.

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