Flaubert is often considered a realist writer. Realists challenged their romantic predecessors by writing books that focused on the details of everyday life without turning a blind eye to their dreary aspects. Flaubert participates in this movement by describing his characters’ emotions, actions, and settings vividly and without romantic or fantastic embellishment. The wedding scene that takes up almost all of Chapter IV is a classic example of what makes Flaubert a realist. The wedding is a setting that Flaubert describes painstakingly. He writes about every part of the celebration, often merely listing item after item. He tells what kinds of vehicles the guests arrive in, how they wear their hair, what fabrics their clothes are made of, and how they appear physically. His description of the feast is so elaborate that it seems like there’s far too much food for just forty-three guests to eat. Flaubert doesn’t just rattle off details. He also implicitly comments on their social value. When he tells us about the young girls, “their hair greasy with rose-pomade, and very much afraid of dirtying their gloves,” we can see how awkward and unrefined they are. In describing the country people’s attempts to dress up, Flaubert pokes fun at their efforts.
Such subtle commentary on the traits of minor characters is just one of the ways in which Flaubert frames Madame Bovary as a critical portrait of bourgeois life. In Chapter VI, he writes that Emma loves the flowers and icons of her religion, but that real spiritual faith is “alien to her constitution.” This statement shows that Emma, for all her pretensions to great sentiment, is really incapable of deep feeling. The narrator’s remark also satirizes bourgeois churchgoers who make a great show of religion but possess little genuine piety.