Modernism #2: Why is Madame Bovary important?


                                       The 1949 adaptation of Madame Bovary. (picture source)

Flaubert’s novel is about a provincial woman who imagines herself as a character in a Romance story, but whose life of cheating on her husband and getting herself into debt is far less exciting than she wants it to be. With its emphatically banal subject matter (suburban infidelity) and its emphasis on the reality of everyday life, as opposed to the excitement of Romance, Madame Bovary was like nothing that had been written before. It was new, too, in the way the story was told. Rather than using the kind of all-seeing, all-knowing narrator that had become the norm, Flaubert pioneered a subjective and unreliable way of writing in which the characters’ perspectives, attitudes and vocabularies infuse and dominate the narrative voice, leaving no room for an authoritative, impartial storyteller. In Flaubert’s words, the novelist became “like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere.”

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