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Madame Bovary, a novel by Gustave Flaubert, as serialized in the Revue de Paris in 1856 and then published in two volumes the following year. Flaubert transformed a commonplace story of adultery into an enduring work of profound humanity. Madame Bovary is considered Flaubert’s masterpiece, and, according to some, it ushered in a new age of realism in literature.
Madame Bovary tells the bleak story of a marriage that ends in tragedy. Charles Bovary, a good-hearted but dull and unambitious doctor with a meagre practice, marries Emma, a beautiful farm girl raised in a convent. Although she anticipates marriage as a life of adventure, she soon finds that her only excitement derives from the flights of fancy she takes while reading sentimental romantic novels. She grows increasingly bored and unhappy with her middle-class existence, and even the birth of their daughter, Berthe, brings Emma little joy.
Grasping for idealized intimacy, Emma begins to act out her romantic fantasies and embarks on an ultimately disastrous love affair with Rodolphe, a local landowner. She makes enthusiastic plans for them to run away together, but Rodolphe has grown tired of her and ends the relationship. A shocked Emma develops brain fever and is bedridden for more than a month. She later takes up with Léon, a former acquaintance, and her life becomes increasingly chaotic. She embraces abstractions—passion, happiness—and ignores material reality itself, as symbolized by money. She is utterly incapable of distinguishing between her romantic ideals and the harsh realities of her life even as her interest in Léon wanes.