As Gustave Flaubert wrote the novel Madame Bovary, he took special care to examine the relationship between literature and the effect on its readers. His heroine Emma absorbs poetry and novels as though they were instructions for her emotional behavior. When her mother dies, she looks to poetry to decide what degree of mourning is adequate; when she becomes adulterous she thinks immediately how she is like the women in literature that she has read about. In one scene, Emma is with her second lover, Leon, rowing in a boat, and she begins to sing several lines from the poem "Le Lac" by the romantic poet Alphonse de Lamartine. The poem is about two lovers rowing on a lake as well, which is undoubtedly why Emma chooses this particular verse to sing. However, Lamartine's piece expresses much more than the serenity of love, a depth that Emma fails to see. By having Emma naively invoke the words of Lamartine, Flaubert brings the heaviness of the poem to a scene of otherwise lighthearted beauty. This poetic reference not only suggests a greater depth to the scene, but also serves, through the hand of Flaubert, to allude to the death of Emma.
Flaubert refers to Lamartine at the beginning of the novel when Emma's mother dies. Emma "Ölet herself meander along with Lamartine, listened to harps on lakes, to all the songs of dying swans, to the falling of leaves, the pure virgins ascending into heavenÖ" (28). Emma uses this poetry as a way of inducing herself into sadness; she reads his poetry as a way of finding the right mood for her mourning. However, imitation of grief is the only thing that she achieves; her readings afford her no great insights other ...
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...he irony of her words. Ultimately, the scene between Emma and Leon is just as fleeting as with Lemartine and M. Charles; their happy moments fade into something darker. Just as Emma cannot understand the importance of the words she sings, she does not understand the gravity of the moment she is in. Only the reader is aware of this depth, a depth achieved through the careful maneuvering of Flaubert.
Works Cited and Consulted
Berg, William J. and Laurey K. Martin. Gustave Flaubert. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1997.
Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary. Trans. Geoffrey Wall. London: Penguin Books 1992.
Maraini, Dacia. Searching for Emma: Gustave Flaubert and Madame Bovary. Translated by Vincent J. Bertolini. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.
Steegmuller, Francis. Flaubert and Madame Bovary. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1968.
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