Please wait while we process your payment
If you don't see it, please check your spam folder. Sometimes it can end up there.
Don’t have an account?
Create Your Account
Sign up for your FREE 7-day trial
Already have an account? Log in
Choose Your Plan
$4.99/month + tax
$24.99/year + tax
Save over 50% with a SparkNotes PLUS Annual Plan!
for a group?
Get Annual Plans at a discount when you buy 2 or more!
$18.74 /subscription + tax
Subtotal $37.48 + tax
on 2-49 accounts
on 50-99 accounts
Want 100 or more?
for a customized plan.
You'll be billed after your free trial ends.
7-Day Free Trial
Renews October 11, 2023
October 4, 2023
Discounts (applied to next billing)
This is not a valid promo code.
(one code per order)
Annual Plan - Group Discount
SparkNotes Plus subscription is $4.99/month or $24.99/year as selected above. The free trial period is the first 7 days of your subscription. TO CANCEL YOUR SUBSCRIPTION AND AVOID BEING CHARGED, YOU MUST CANCEL BEFORE THE END OF THE FREE TRIAL PERIOD. You may cancel your subscription on your Subscription and Billing page or contact Customer Support at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your subscription will continue automatically once the free trial period is over. Free trial is available to new customers only.
For the next 7 days, you'll have access to awesome PLUS stuff like AP English test prep, No Fear Shakespeare translations and audio, a note-taking tool, personalized dashboard, & much more!
You’ve successfully purchased a group discount. Your group members can use the joining link below to redeem their group membership. You'll also receive an email with the link.
Members will be prompted to log in or create an account to redeem their group membership.
Thanks for creating a SparkNotes account! Continue to start your free trial.
Your PLUS subscription has expired
Gustave Flaubert once remarked, “Madame Bovary,
c’est moi” (“Madame Bovary is me”). On the surface, this comment
seems ridiculous; the circumstances of Flaubert’s life have nothing
in common with those he created for his most famous character. Flaubert
was born in 1821 in Rouen, France. Emma Bovary’s
father is an uneducated farmer, whereas Flaubert’s father was a
respected and wealthy doctor. In addition, Emma dreams of becoming
sophisticated and cosmopolitan, while Flaubert moved in the highest
literary circles in Paris. Finally, Emma endures an unhappy marriage and
seeks out lovers. On the contrary, the reclusive Flaubert spent most
of his time living in solitude.
Since their biographies are so strikingly dissimilar,
Flaubert’s comment probably meant that he and his character shared
many of the same struggles and desires. Emma Bovary becomes obsessed with
an idealized vision of romantic love. Similarly, Flaubert became
fixated at a young age upon an older woman named Elisa Schlessinger,
with whom he fantasized about having a romantic relationship for
many years. Emma suffers from ill health and a nervous condition;
Flaubert also suffered from poor health and may have had epilepsy.
Though he was an esteemed writer, Flaubert was afflicted with an
abiding pessimism that caused him to sink into frequent depressions,
just as Emma does when she realizes she never can have what she
Flaubert, too, could never attain what he most wanted.
He remained lonely and bitter throughout his life as a writer. Though admired
by his French contemporaries, Flaubert was deeply hurt by the moral
outrage Madame Bovary provoked at its publication
in 1857. The novel depicted extramarital
sex in what were, for the time, graphic terms, and Flaubert and
his publisher were put on trial for violation of public morals.
They were acquitted, but the experience intensified Flaubert’s hatred
of middle-class morality.
The hatred of middle-class values is strongly apparent
in Madame Bovary. In Flaubert’s lifetime, France
was caught in the throes of immense social upheaval. The Revolution
of 1789 and the imperial reign of Napoleon
were recent memories, and the collapse of the aristocracy was paralleled
by the rise of a new middle class—or bourgeoisie—made up of merchants
and capitalists with commercial, rather than inherited, fortunes.
As a member of the educated elite, Flaubert found the moral conservatism,
rough manners, and unsophisticated taste of this new class appalling.
He attacked the merchant class in novels such as Madame
Bovary, the story of a woman imprisoned by her middle-class
surroundings, and in another novel, Sentimental Education.
In addition to criticizing the middle class, Flaubert’s
novel also reacted against romanticism. Romantic writers, who were
popular in France between the late eighteenth and mid-nineteenth
centuries, wrote emotional, subjective novels that stressed feeling
at the expense of facts and reason. When Flaubert began writing,
a new school called realism had started challenging romantic idealism with
books that focused on the harsh realities of life. This school included
other French writers such as Stendhal and Honorè Balzac, as well
as English writers like George Eliot and Thomas Hardy. Unlike his
contemporaries, however, Flaubert recognized a strong streak of
romanticism in himself. In Madame Bovary, romanticism is
present, but Flaubert always treats it with irony. Flaubert allows himself
a few romantic moments but recognizes their flaws.
Though it was his first novel, Madame Bovary is
Flaubert’s most accomplished and admired work. In many ways, the
novel provides the blueprint for the genre of the modern novel.
For example, Flau-bert was a pioneering stylist, matching the style
of his prose to the action of his story in a remarkable new way.
Where other realist novels of the mid-nineteenth century used detached,
objective narration, Flaubert’s prose conveys the mood of his characters.
When Emma is bored and restless, the prose plods dully; when she
experiences sensual pleasure, it moves rapturously and swiftly.
We frequently see this technique of communicating mood through language
in novels today.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Madame Bovary!