1. But it was above all at mealtimes that she could bear it no longer, in that little room on the ground floor, with the smoking stove, the creaking door, the oozing walls, the damp floor-tiles; all the bitterness of life seemed to be served to her on her plate, and, with the steam from the boiled beef, there rose from the depths of her soul other exhalations as it were of disgust. Charles was a slow eater; she would nibble a few hazel-nuts, or else, leaning on her elbow, would amuse herself making marks on the oilcloth with the point of her table-knife.
This passage, from Part One, Chapter IX, illustrates Flaubert’s combination of realism and emotional subjectivity. The passage exemplifies realism because it pays attention to tiny details, no matter how unpleasant. On the other hand, the writing maintains a subjective tone in that it leads us to feel Emma’s disgust and frustration. The importance of the object world to Emma’s thoughts is emphasized by the connections of her soul’s exhalations to the steam from the beef. Throughout the book, Flaubert links emotions to objects in just this way. By making emotions inseparable from objects, Flaubert denies Emma her one desire: to escape from the physical world she inhabits and live the life she imagines. Here, we see her trapped among objects that disgust her. Because Flaubert does not let us escape from Emma’s environment and forces us to notice all its imperfections, we share Emma’s frustration and claustrophobia.