Madame Bovary: the character who named a syndrome
“Never touch your idols: the gilding will stick to your fingers.» Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.
What made Madame Bovary so special? Even though it was Gustave Flaubert first novel, Madame Bovary became Flaubert’s most accomplished and admired work, a masterpiece! It could be argued that the novel provided the blueprint for the genre of the modern novel. How did Flaubert achieve this? He was a pioneering stylist, matching the style of his prose to the action of his story in an outstanding new way. Where other realist novels of the mid-nineteenth century used detached and objective narration, Flaubert’s prose reveals the characters’ mood. When Emma Bovary is bored and restless, the prose trudges dully. On the contrary, when she experiences sensual pleasure, it moves ecstatically and swiftly. In line with the latter, it could be stated that he is the precursor of the technique so commonly used in novels today. Equally, it is worth mentioning that when Madame Bovary was serialized in a newspaper, the French government sued Flaubert and the novel’s publisher on charges of immorality, eventually, the government lost. Paradoxically, after being published as a novel, the work was widely admired.
“An infinity of passion can be contained in one minute, like a crowd in a small space.” Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.
What is Madame Bovary Syndrome? It is a behavioural disorder that came after the appearance of 19th-century romantic novels. Since then, idealization of love has driven thousands of people to constant frustration and disappointment. It should be noted that although a couple of centuries ago it was more common in women, today the rates have balanced out. What triggers this syndrome? The search for “perfect love” sold in novels always ends up crashing into the realistic perception of a relationship. Emma, Madame Bovary’s main character, was the perfect stereotype of a person suffering this chronic affective dissatisfaction.
“Love, she thought, must come suddenly, with great outbursts and lightnings. A hurricane of the skies, which falls upon life, revolutionises it, roots up the will like a leaf, and sweeps the whole heart into the abyss.” Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.
Who is behind this astonishing novel? The French novelist Gustave Flaubert, the man who despite the fact that he studied law, he was born to be a novelist. A diagnosis of epilepsy forced him to abandon his legal education, which conveniently gave him the opportunity to pursue a literary career. His debut novel Madame Bovary, originally serialized in the French literary magazine La Revue de Paris in late 1856, established Flaubert as a master of French realism. In the same way, Flaubert has often been credited as being the Father of Realism. Madame Bovary, his first and most classically plot-driven novel, has been labelled as “realist” because of the author’s choice to depict mediocre and vulgar protagonists circling around a subject as hackneyed as adultery. Nevertheless, one of the most remarkable aspects of his life was his eight-year on-again, off-again relationship with Louise Colet, a woman eleven years older than him, of immense courage who had none of the educational or professional opportunities of her male counterparts and even so managed to make her way in the literary sphere. After the final rupture, Flaubert began Madame Bovary.
In relation to the aforementioned novel, many scholars support that the character of Emma Bovary was based on three different women. While the story of the suicide was inspired by the real-life story of the wife of a Norman doctor, Delphine Delamare, the characterisation of Emma borrowed massively from Louise Colet and Ludovica Pradier. The latter was a woman who had become quite notorious in Paris and the wife of the sculptor in whose studio Flaubert had first encountered Louise. Once the confrontational Colet recognised herself as Emma, she retaliated in her novel Lui depicting Flaubert and his friends in a snide way.
Gustave Flaubert & Louise Colet. No matter how the story ended, Louise Colet was the only recipient of Gustave Flaubert’s love and their relationship one of true feelings and passions. Fortunately, the story has vividly spread to us thanks to the love letters which have survived.
“One’s duty is to feel what is great, cherish the beautiful, and not to accept the conventions of society with the ignominy that it imposes upon us.” Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.
True love. Despite the mysteries and gaps surrounding the couple the intensity of their love is unquestionable, especially on reading the lines below contained in a letter from Gustave Flaubert to his beloved Louise Colet. It would be really challenging to overcome this declaration of love since each word exudes passion and affection in a magnificent manner.
“I will cover you with love when next I see you, with caresses, with ecstasy. I want to gorge you with all the joys of the flesh so that you faint and die. I want you to be amazed by me, and to confess to yourself that you had never even dreamed of such transports… When you are old, I want you to recall those few hours, I want your dry bones to quiver with joy when you think of them.“ A fragment of a letter from Gustave Flaubert to Louise Colet, August 1846.