Madame Bovary

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Gustave Flaubert's uber-detailed Novel about the eponymous Madame Emma Bovary, a middle-class doctor's wife who has the imagination to want more out of life, but not the cleverness to avoid unrealistic romantic fantasies. When first her stolid husband and then her adulterous lovers refuse to behave as they do in her favorite novels, the betrayal leads her to violent dissatisfaction, ruinously extravagant debt, and finally suicide.

Purposely melodramatic, it was an implicit critique of the bourgeoisie, a class of which Flaubert was unashamed to be a member. Said to be the forerunner of modernism à la Franz Kafka.


Tropes used in Madame Bovary include:
  • Animal Theme Naming: Charles Bovary (and later Emma, when she takes his name) has a name that, even in story, clearly evokes cattle, and not to their benefit.
    • Mme. Bovary's lover M. Leon marries a woman by the name of "Leboeuf" which reflects this nicely
  • At the Opera Tonight
  • Auto Erotica: It's the back of a carriage but pretty much the same thing.
  • Beard of Sorrow: After his wife dies Bovary grows one of these.
  • Black Comedy: Depending on your perspective -- and amount of sympathy for Emma -- there are definite overtones of this.
  • Casanova: Rodolphe.
  • Chiaroscuro: Inasmuch as you can pull off a visual trope on the written page, Flaubert invokes this in his descriptions and symbolism, both to highlight Emma's ideals and just how far from reality they are.
  • Deconstruction: Flaubert wrote this in response to a dare to write a story that differed from the romantic works he'd written before - Emma is a woman trying to live her life by the tropes of her favorite romantic novels, and utterly failing.
  • Distracted by the Luxury: Emma buys a lot of jewels, dresses, and furs she can't afford to try to keep her mind off her unhappiness.
  • Downer Ending
  • Driven to Suicide: Because it's so romantic...
  • Film of the Book: Thirteen film adaptations to date. Renoir's 1993 movie version is probably best known.
  • The Fool: Charles is pretty much established as this from the get-go.
  • Irony: For all that Emma tries to distance herself from Charles due to finding him dull and far from her Romantic ideal, he ends up being the character who best lives up to it. Of course, he doesn't do that until after her death, and it ends up being the death of him, too.
  • It's All About Me
  • Loan Sharks: Thanks to being Distracted by the Luxury, see above.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Lheureux, who goads Emma into the aforementioned Distracted by the Luxury to eventually take control over all of Charles' estate.
  • Perfect Poison: Averted, and how. The death by poison is long, drawn out, and disgusting -- the final betrayal of Emma's romantic fantasies.
  • Purple Prose: An exceptionally well done example.
  • Thinks Like a Romance Novel: Emma.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Emma, who thinks she's living in one of her favorite romance stories; she's not.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Emma, multiple times. It doesn't end well.