“Madame Bovary” is Gustave Flaubert’s tragic novel in which the eponymous protagonist treads a path which leads to her destruction. Emma Bovary is by nature a highly romantic sentimentalist, who has an extremely unrealistic view of love and life. Her imagination, fuelled by a rich feast of novels filled with medieval chivalry and tragic heroines, and fired by the “mystic languor exhaled in the perfumes of the altar” (Flaubert, 40) of the convent in which she spent her impressionable childhood, make her a misfit in the real world. She is so filled with unreasonable expectations from life that she is constantly in search of excitement to relieve the monotony of routine. Emma’s Bovary’s illusions of romantic love ultimately cause her destruction by blinding her to her husband’s true worth, and leading her into adultery and debt.
Emma has a sentimental, unrealistic attitude towards marriage. This is seen in her wish to “have a midnight wedding with torches” (Flaubert, 29). Her expectations of love, based on the novels she reads, are so out of touch with reality that they inevitably lead to her disillusionment with her husband, Charles. She fails to perceive that Charles, unswervingly devoted to “this beautiful woman whom he adored” (Flaubert, 38), is a husband to be treasured. She does not appreciate his care for her, his attempts to indulge her every wish, even to the extent of giving up his lucrative practice at Tostes. Instead, she resents his lack of ambitions, his commonplace conversation, placid temperament and the domestic routine of their married life. She regrets that he is not “handsome, witty, distinguished, attractive” (Flaubert, 50). As Charles does not measure up to her unrealistic expectations, she discounts his worth.
Emma’s dissatisfaction with Charles leads her into adultery. In her search for excitement, she is “waiting for something to happen” (Flaubert, 71). This makes her an easy prey for the unscrupulous Rodolphe Boulanger, a man of the world, who “had much to do with women” (Flaubert, 150), Boulanger seduces a willing Emma. Boulanger takes advantage of Emma’s perception that “she was bored, that her husband was odious, her life frightful” (Flaubert, 214) to overcome her scruples. When Emma’s demands and excessive passion grate on him, Boulanger jilts her. Again, in her pursuit of excitement and love, Emma falls into an adulterous relationship with Leon Dupuis. For a short time, she lives the tumultuous life of passionate, romantic love she yearns to have permanently. Both of them weary of the relationship, and the final rupture occurs when Leon does not accede to her demands for monetary aid.
Emma’s constant pursuit of her imaginary ideal life leads her deep into debt. She is naturally inclined towards the instant gratification of her desires. Madame Bovary senior is aware of Emma’s profligacy, and warns that “her ways too fine for their position” (Flaubert, 48). However, a besotted Charles does not heed his mother. Her luxurious stay at Vaubyessard awakens her yearning for luxury, and she becomes a slave to “the lusts of the flesh, (and) the longing for money,” (Flaubert, 126). She allows her “extravagant fancies (and) spendthrift habits” (Flaubert, 309) to bring Charles into debt. Her trysts at Rouen with Leon, including the room at the Hotel de Boulogne, her expensive clothes and luxuries put her in the power of the wily, scheming Lheureux. Finally, she loses all her property and belongings, and commits suicide, unable to face penury and the disclosure of her perfidy towards her husband.
Emma Bovary’s actions inevitably lead to the destruction of her moral standing and her ultimate death. Her fanciful notions of romantic love ruin her chances of happiness with Charles. She considers her loving husband to be the obstacle to her happiness. Her incessant search for excitement leads her into her adulterous relationships with Boulanger and Dupuis. Bored with domesticity, she indulges in her desire for extravagant living and falls into debt. Ultimately, she is aware of her husband’s worth. But, tired with the deceit of her life, and realizing the folly of her illusions, Emma Bovary prefers to die.
Flaubert, Gustave. “Madame Bovary.” Trans. Eleanor Marx Aveling. University of Virginia
Library. The Modern Library 1918. New York. Web. 6 November 2012