During the Nineteenth Century, Europe experienced a literary movement known as Romanticism. This movement "valu[ed] emotion, intuition, and imagination" (Rosenbaum 1075). Gustave Flaubert, born in 1821, grew up during this innovative movement and became entranced by the romantics. Unfortunately, Romanticism was a "passing affair in France," and young Flaubert realized it consistently encouraged illusions it could not satisfy" (Bart 54). His later disgust for the movement would lead Flaubert to writing his greatest novels.
His most famous and widely renowned novel, Madame Bovary, is largely an autobiography; however, it also contains partial biographies of Flaubert's most intimate friends and mistresses. Flaubert and Ernest Chevalier, a childhood friend, were inseparable youths, until Ernest left for Paris to study law. When Flaubert visited his friend, he discovered that Ernest "had set himself up with a mistress in the Latin Quarter" and "knew of number of Paris brothels" (Bart 64). Later when Flaubert wrote Madame Bovary, his friend Ernest became the mature Leon who was determined to have Emma. "The time had at last come . . . when he must firmly resolve to possess her (Flaubert 199). As Ernest rose in the legal profession, his intimate friendship with Flaubert waned and gave "up [his] imagination as too dangerous" (Bart 305). Leon would also decide to give up certain follies which included Emma. "He was about to be promoted to head clerk; it was time to settle down and work hard. He therefore gave up . . . exalted sentiments and flights of fancy" (Flaubert 251).
Flaubert also found inspiration for Madame Bovary in Louise Colet, one of his numerous mistresses. She...
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...dame Bovary was published in 1856 Flaubert had poured "all of his loves and his hatreds into his book" (Bart 261). He had learned not to count on happiness because such romantic notions never fulfill their promises. Flaubert realized that "one should live like a bourgeois and think like a demigod" (Bart 261). A man should enjoy his dreams and hopes; however, he should never try to actualize them. "This Emma would never know" (Bart 261).
Bart, Benjamin. Flaubert. Syracuse: Syracuse UP 1967.
Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary. Trans. Lowell Bair. New York: Bantam 1972.
Rosenbaum, Robert A. "Romanticism." The New American Desk Encyclopedia. New York: Signet 1989. 1075.
Steegmuller, Francis. Flaubert and Madame Bovary: A Double Portrait. New York: Vintage 1939.
Tillet, Margaret G. On Reading Flaubert. London: Oxford UP 1961. 13-36.
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