Madame Bovary (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

Madame Bovary (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

3.4 203
by Gustave Flaubert

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Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble…  See more details below


Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:

  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.
The publication in 1857 of Madame Bovary, with its vivid depictions of sex and adultery, incited a backlash of immorality charges. The novel tells the story of Emma Bovary, a doctor’s wife bored and unfulfilled by marriage and motherhood. She embarks upon a series of affairs in search of passion and excitement, but is unable to achieve the splendid life for which she yearns. Instead, she finds herself trapped in a downward spiral that inexorably leads to ruin and self-destruction.

Along with Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Flaubert’s tragic novel stands as a brilliant portrayal of infidelity, an incisive psychological portrait of a woman torn between duty and desire. Written with acute attention to telling detail, Madame Bovary not only exposes the emptiness of one woman’s bourgeois existence and failure to fill that void with fantasies, sex, and material objects. Emma’s thirst for life mirrors the universal human impulse for idealized fulfillment.

Chris Kraus is the author of the novels I Love Dick, Aliens & Anorexia, and Torpor, and a collection of essays, Video Green: Los Angeles Art and the Triumph of Nothingness. She is co-editor, with Sylvere Lotringer and Hedi El Kholti, of the independent press Semiotext(e). She teaches in the graduate program of the San Francisco Art Institute.

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From Chris Kraus’s Introduction to Madame Bovary

Flaubert has often been credited as being the Father of Realism. Madame Bovary, his first and most classically plot-driven novel, has been labeled as “realist” because of—as many critics would have it—the author’s choice to depict “mediocre” and “vulgar” protagonists circling around a subject as “trite” as adultery. Like much criticism, these readings tell us a great deal more about the critics than the novel. Implicit in such statements are the assumptions (a) that there is anything “trite” about the conflict between human desire and the social demand for monogamy—which, as we will see, was applied selectively in Flaubert’s time to the lower reaches of the French middle class; and (b) that the author himself was immune to the trashy and fickle illusions embraced by his characters.

Writing in 1964, critic and novelist Mary McCarthy describes Emma Bovary as “a very ordinary middle-class woman with banal expectations of life and an urge to dominate her surroundings. Her character is remarkable only for an unusual deficiency of human feeling” (“Foreword”; see “For Further Reading”). Sensing, perhaps, a need to distance herself from the proto-feminist implications of Emma’s dilemma, the brilliant, prolific McCarthy could only describe her as “trite.” Instead, she chooses to valorize Charles for his unfailing love of his wife—a love that is no less misguided and false than Emma’s romantic illusions.

Except for the brief deathbed appearance of Dr. Lariviere, a man who “disdainful of honours, of titles, and of academies . . . generous, fatherly to the poor, and practising virtue without believing in it, . . . would almost have passed for a saint if the keenness of his intellect had not caused him to be feared as a demon” (p. 265), all of Flaubert’s characters are equally flawed and deluded. There is the rapacious, progressive pharmacist Homais and the dull-witted Charles, who loves his young wife for all the wrong reasons. Pleased with himself for possessing such a fine wife, Charles is so completely seduced by Emma’s well-rehearsed feminine wiles—her new way of making paper sconces for candles, the flounces she puts on her gowns, her little wine-red slippers with large knots of ribbon—that he cannot see her unhappiness. There is Emma herself, whose suffering never opens her eyes to the misfortunes of others. Her affairs, and her two lovers themselves, Rodolphe (the seducer) and Leon (the poet of adultery), prove to be equally untrustworthy and disappointing. There is Lheureux, the usurious loan-shark and salesman, and a large cast of pompous officials and idiot villagers. In a novel that is so technically modern and ground-breaking, it is interesting to note that Flaubert draws on the medieval slapstick tradition of naming his characters after their foibles: the Mayor Tuvache (“you cow,” in translation); the booster-ish technocrat Homais (“what man could be”: “homme,” the noun “man,” cast, like a verb, in the future conditional tense); and Lheureux, the purveyor of expensive false dreams, his name taken from the French word for “happiness.”

Finally, it is the very idea that romantic love could be conducive to happiness that is most deeply discredited. When Rodolphe makes Emma fall in love with him at Yonville’s agricultural fair, it’s not exactly Rodolphe she falls in love with. When she is caught in his gaze, the little threads of gold in his eyes and the smell of pomade in his hair sets off a rapture of memories of all of the men she’s been in love with. Because she is in love with love, Rodolphe merely serves as a trigger, and at the time this is marvelous. But as the novel moves on, Emma behaves more and more like an addict. By part three, chapter six, when the novelty of her affair with Leon begins fading, Emma summons an imaginary Leon in a letter-writing delirium. “But while she wrote it was another man she saw, a phantom fashioned out of her most ardent memories, her finest reading, her strongest lusts, and at last he became so real, so tangible, that she palpitated wondering, without, however, the power to imagine him clearly, so lost was he, like a god, beneath the abundance of his attributes” (p. 241). After this free-basing binge, Emma “fell back exhausted.” These “transports of love” gave way to a “constant ache all over her.” (In Crack Wars: Literature, Addiction, Mania, philosopher Avital Ronell extrapolates from this metaphor with wild perfection.)

“There is no goodness in this book,” wrote Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, the most eminent critic of Flaubert’s time, in an otherwise favorable review of the novel. And yet the book breathes with compassion. Preparing to write the scene of Emma and Leon’s first meeting, Flaubert describes a strategy that informs the whole book in a letter he wrote in the early 1850s to his sometime-lover and literary confidante, Louise Colet: “My two characters . . . will talk about literature, about the sea, the mountains, music—all well-worn poetical subjects. It will be the first time in any book, I think, that the young hero and the younger heroine are made mock of, and yet the irony will in no way diminish the pathos, but rather intensify it” (The Selected Letters of Gustave Flaubert).

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Madame Bovary 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 203 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Charles, Madame Bovary's husband, is not the brightest of creatures, but he dearly loves his wife, puts her on a pedastal, and indulges her by giving her whatever she wants. Although she repays his loyalty and quiet devotion with emotional, financial and physical ruin, his love is steadfast, pure and true. The title is 'Madame Bovary' but the real hero is her sweet kind husband Charles and, to a lesser extent her child, Berthe, who loves her mother unconditionally despite the fact that her mother hardly seems to truly care about anyone but herself. I have heard that one mark of great literature is that its value changes with a reader in direct relationship to the reader's life circumstances and experience. To a very young reader growing up in a time when cell phones, the Internet, and Nintendo are all old school inventions, this book may seem irrelevant. It makes sense that the very young may have extreme difficulty relating. However, given the maturity, serious study and reflection on human interactions, emotions, and the ability to foresee consequences, a more experienced reader and lifelong student will find themes that transcend the test of time. (Such as self-control, generosity of heart, the consequences of infidelity and other forms of impulsivity, loneliness, boredom, what makes a person ordinary vs. extraordinary, etc.) Which brings me to another point I understand about great literature: it stands the test of time. Written in 1857, then banned in France for 'offenses against public morals and religion' then later considered brilliant by his peers and great writers that followed, this book very easily fits into the category of 'great literature.' Like others have said, if one will only SLOW DOWN and deeply consider each event and how it relates to other events both in the book and in present-day reality, one can find great lessons on morality and the human condition that transcend time. (These same things may be said about many other great works, such as any number of those by Shakespeare.) Yes, one can learn a great deal about humanity in this book, if it is given the fair chance it deserves. And hey, if you get little from it now, don't write it off forever--revisit it in 5 or 10 years and see if this book says something different to you then. A marvelous classic!!! Flaubert was a genius!
fudgemuffin More than 1 year ago
I agree with the second review, very fine novel. Flaubert's talent for description is something few (or none) are able to do today. Some may have a problem with the great detail, however if there are any interested in the nineteenth century and how people lived and breathed, this novel should certainly help. (Other than Flaubert, I might also recommend Balzac for having much of the same gift for realism.) Brilliant book, full of sensuality, but not without its darkness. Easily one of the best I have ever read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the best book I have read in a while. The French tend to write in a flowery and beautiful style that can entertain the toughest of critics. It is delicately permiscuous and extremely interesting. Bravo, Flaubert!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Reviewers of the day were right to say that the Seine, which flowed below Flaubert's window, influenced the work. I believe it. The slow and easy rhythm of the novel carries you on and on, like the current of a large stream. The prose is ever-flowing, seemingly devolving without seeking an end, its goal so far removed from any indivudual part of the novel, it is impossible to see it until you near the estuary of the literary stream, the end, and then you think, 'Of course. Her death was inevitable, as inevitable as water flowing down to the sea. The world is the world. It has rules, unwritten, which are unbendable.' Although the novel is tedious in the accuracy of its scene descriptions, the malaise is soon forgotten when one remembers that Flaubert wrote in the days before television, for a public thirsting for visual descriptions, a public wanting to see inside Emma's house, inside the Marquis' castle, inside the bedrooms where she cheats. But even in these lengthy paragraphs, the rhythm never relents, each item chosen carefully, each phrase crafted skilfully to show the folly of society in letting the media of the day manipulate men, women, and children into wanting the impossible.
Guest More than 1 year ago
At times reading this book felt a bit like a chore that I had brought upon myself, but I couldn't put it down once I got halfway through. A book that makes the reader really ponder the character's motives and traits can only be a good one. And that important questioning of human morality and rationality is precisely what 'Madame Bovary' does.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I did not quite know what to expect, not having read any Flaubert before. I could feel the seething hatred for the societal values that prevailed at the time. All the characters are caricatures drawn from real people that Flaubert knew, yet he impressed his agenda on the plot. I enjoyed myself, and I see why this was a classic.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Emma Bovary believes love and marriage are supposed to be like a flowery romance novel, and is she in for disappointment! She expects marriage to a doctor to provide her with all the adoration and frivolities she desires, but finds that real life can never live up to her fantasies. She involves herself in affairs to fill the emptiness at the expense of a man who truly adores her. She is an actress, the stage is her actual life, and her end is like a tragic heroine...just like she wanted! Amazing cautionary tale, even in the 21st century!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Don't read Madame Bovary for the plot. In this day and age, extra-marital affairs aren't as scandalous as they once were, and in the pastoral setting not all that much happens. But the true beauty of the book lies in Flaubert's characters, especially Emma, a woman who seems to methodically destroy herself and everyone around her. This process is disturbing, but at the same fascinating, because all though her behavior is extreme, the desire to leave everything behind in pursuit of (often hopeless) dreams is not so uncommon.
snowbird922 More than 1 year ago
Emma Bovary was completely self absorbed in what the fantasy of love should be while letting her family life deteriorate slowly for her own pleasures. Charles was a very weak man he let everyone control him especially his wife. What I didn't like is the writer spent lots of time on the characters and places which is all well but I think a little more description of the relationship between Emma and Charles would have been much better. By the end of the book I was tired of hearing any thing that character Homais had to say he was a pompous and arrogant know it all. I have heard a lot about the translation making this a hard read that wasn't the case for me it was the lengthy moments he spent on situations that did not have any impact on the main characters Emma & Charles. The book ended disastrously for the daughter which made me feel even more contempt for Emma's character as well as Charles at least he could have tried to live for his daughter she was the real victim in this story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was eager to read Madame Bovary after finishing Little Children, Tom Perotta. Parts of the novel were so borning, but I pushed through. I did read somewhere that Flaubert was trying to convey in those parts how boring Emma felt in her own life. You did get caught up in the action of the novel through the writing style. I would venture to say that Emma had some type of manic/anxiety disorder mixed with her own selfish desires and a lack of conscience that drove her to the ends of her wits. I still don't know how I feel about Emma as a character. You could literally feel her discontent and meloncholy. I guess that's the mark of a good novel-one that leaves you unsure and disturbed by aspects of humanity.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Falubert is a master of clearly depicting physical, emotional and visual details. It's a painful predicament we find Emma Bovary in, but she is of free will makes her own choices. Don't let the subject of this book dissuade you. If you like great reading, Madame Bovary is a must.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Emma character is not wonderful at all but you can't stop yourself for being sorry for her. She is trapped in a time where women didn't have right to escape their lot in life. This book open a new door for appreciating womans suffrage.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Madame Bovary is an extraordinary book both for the nineteenth century and the present times. Interesting story line and characters make this classic easy to read. The irony of the entire plot made this a book which I could not put down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a classic, and yet I am the first to write a review. What a shame. Mark Twain once said a classic is what everyone esteems, but no one reads. Too bad that this has to be grouped into that category. When I read this book, last Christmas, I anticipated an orgy...a book that had not much merit, but was widely read because of it's shocking subject. I was wrong. Classics are classics for a reason. It's not just about plot. It's not just about character...Flaubert wrote with flinching honesty, and how he understood the psyche of young, frustrated wives is beyond me. The urgency, the feeling that time is just running away with any chance of happiness...the longing to be known, to sadness at realizing greatness has slipped from grasp. We start off wanting feeling...and we end like blind men...searching for anything that slightly resembles it and gain only the opposite. Another question the book forces the reader to ask herself/ himself is whether emotion can really be trusted, or whether it is merely manifestation of what the mind knows and THINKS it wants. Just an overall tremendous read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book about a week ago and have been mystified and entranced by its beauty and captivating voluptuousness.
Beverly_D More than 1 year ago
This classic novel is about a sensual woman in search of herself. Parts of it are beautiful, and still hold up over time.  Others, not so much. I got glimpses inside Madame Bovary's head, I got the idea that the author was trying to understand women, or at least, one woman (notes suggest similarities to a relationship between Flaubert and his mistress). Sometimes she is sympathetic, sometimes she is despicable, sometimes she is simply a cipher. The tragic ending is inevitable, as Emma Bovary never knows what, exactly, she is seeking. Not sure if there isn't some slightly revengeful satisfaction by the author in the many pages of the character's long, agonizing death throes, but... *shrugging* I am not sure what the takeaway message is, what I am supposed to have learned about life, but as a classic, it is worth reading at least once, and I am sure parts of it will continue to haunt me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TulaneGirl More than 1 year ago
So this is the classics version of Revolutionary Road. Emma Bovary is the depressed, bored housewife of a country doctor. She longs for more out of life and is deeply disappointed with the direction of her life. She wants to dance, wear the latest fashions, and mingle amongst the best of society. At first, she resigns herself to her sacrifice, thinking it will buy her a place in heaven. Her husband, the kindly, portly Doctor Charles Bovary is blind to all that is happening. He believes Emma to be happy and contented. This, of course, serves only to alienate Emma all the more. Emma quickly learns that martyrdom does not come naturally for her and chooses instead to indulge herself. She meets Rudolph and engages in a four year affair with him. She becomes clingy and desperate. She wants to leave to Paris with Rudolph and aggressively pursues that end. Rudolph leads her along but Emma was never nothing more than a passing diversion for him and he leaves her high and dry. Emma throws herself into her depression with the same passion she approaches everything and fall into ill health. Along comes Leon, a man she was attracted to back in her martyrdom days. This time around, she chooses to engage and in doing so, denies herself nothing. She makes extravagant purchases and even becomes so bold as to not come home on certain nights. She lives so lavishly and recklessly her creditors come knocking. Poor Charles has to come to terms with his wife's indiscretions.  On the one hand, this novel was frustrating because Emma is such an unlikeable character. She is weak of character and selfish. She cares nothing of her husband and child and cares only of her pleasures. On the other hand, the novel is so beautifully written and entertaining. Every sentence is like poetry. Flaubert's book is a classic for a reason. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was very interesting.  I enjoyed reading it because it had such an amazing take on the characters point of view.  I believe that the author was very successful in the sense that he was able to depict a character who truly wants to be happy and truly wants to live in her dreams but is unable to.  Charles Bovary isn’t the smartest but he is able to try to be the best that he cans.  He falls deeply for emma and loves her dearly and at first emma thinks her love for him could be a possibility but while Charles embraces her and all that she is, Emma continues to try and push him further away.  Thinking to herself why can’t he be this or that.  Why must he be who he is.  Why can’t he be better educated.  However her husband continues his love for her and continues to put up with her even when she does nothing but wrong to him.  The author truly has a way with words in this novel from his characterization to the the different themes and meanings.  I believe that in order to gain a better understanding of this book it is also necessary to read with an open mind.  This is because all of the characters run their lives by what they feel they deserve. I rated this book as a 3 out of 5 because even though this book was of the greater quality it wasn’t something that was able to capture my eye as much as i hoped that it would.  I enjoyed reading it.   I enjoyed the characters. {or at least most of the characters}.  But there was something about the book that made me think this is not as good as i thought it was going to be.  While Flaubert’s writing is of the most exquisiteness I feel as if there was more base in the story and just a little more it would’ve added to the spots where I was just unintrigued. Likewise the characters really grow on you.  You fall in love with half the characters and then the other half you just wish they weren’t there anymore because they start to get on your nerves.
Cdarr More than 1 year ago
Madam Bovary, herself, was a spoil ed woman in love with love. It's a shame that she never wanted it from a husband who adored her.
marmendy35 More than 1 year ago
I did like this book, but like many classics, it is hard to deal with the detailed descriptions and scenes that sometimes drag (I suspect that comes from being a modern, movie-media reader). Given that, I persevered and got quite a lot from this book. In terms of the social structure of the time, this is a great history book as well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Riviting, sensual, mad!