Madame Bovary is a French novel in English written by Gustave Flaubert. In this novel, Emma Bovary is the protagonist whose tragic downfall is caused by the romantic sentimentalism in her life. The sentimentalism is so powerful that she cannot come out of it. Her character is being nicely described below.
Emma’s early life influenced her entire approach to life. She was born with a natural tendency toward sentimentality. She preferred the dream world to the real world. Rather than being brought up in the realities of everyday living, she was sent when very young to a convent where she indulged in daydreams and in sentimentalizing about life. Here at the convent, she began reading romance novels which affected her entire life. In religion, she searched for the unusual, the mystic, and the beautiful rather than for the real essence of the church. Being basically a dreamy girl, she developed into the extreme romantic who spent her time longing and sighing for old castles, secret meetings, and intrigues. She closed her eyes to the real world and attempted to force life to conform with her romantic fiction. She constantly felt the need for excitement and could not endure the dull routine of everyday living.
After her marriage, Emma continued her search for excitement. She could not tolerate her marriage because it did not fit into the fictionalized accounts that she had read about. She missed the bliss, ecstasy, and passion that she hoped she would find in marriage. And rather than devoting herself to living life, rather than facing reality, she hid herself in her dreams and expended all of her energy in futile longings. She was continually dissatisfied with her life and searched constantly for ways to change things. Her distaste of married life is expressed as:
“Oh, why did I ever get married?”
Thus, since life refused to conform to her romantic picture, Emma began to alternate between various things in the hope that her unfulfilled longings would be satisfied. She tried everything. She redecorated the house, she took up reading, subscribed to Parisian magazines, helped at charities, knitted, painted, played the piano, and engaged in a multitude of other activities. But with each thing she attempted, she soon became bored and rejected one activity for another. This frenzied search for excitement exhausted her until she made herself physically sick.
Charles’ own sense of complacency and his dullness only added to Emma’s misfortune. Thus when she met Leon, she felt that she had found her soul mate. She was unable to see that her thoughts and his were both part of the same romantic concept expressed in platitudes and cliches. She mistook superficiality in Leon for profundity. They became platonic friends. After he left, Emma felt that she had missed something, that something had been denied her. Therefore, later when she meets Rodolphe, she is ready to give herself to him readily. She had longed for someone who would “know about everything, excel in a multitude of activity,” and who would introduce her “to passions in all its force, to life in all its graces,” and initiate her “into all mysteries.” Thus, when Rodolphe appears and begins his frank, daring and passionate exclamations of love, Emma feels that she is now experiencing these passions and these elemental forces. He is then the fulfillment of her dreams. For the first time, she feels that her life now has all the “passion, ecstasy and delirium” of the romances which she had read.
Emma’s nature will not allow her to remain in one situation. She begins to want to change things. As she changed from knitting to painting, so now she wants to change things with Rodolphe. She insists that they run off together. This insistence causes Rodolphe to drop her.
After her recovery from Rodolphe’s betrayal, Emma meets Leon again and gives herself to him rather readily. She is still searching for that noble passion. But true to Emma’s nature, she soon begins to tire of Leon and becomes once again bored with life. She found in ‘adultery all the banality of marriage’. Thus Emma Bovary was a middle-class woman who could not stand the middle-class life. She spent her entire life in an attempt to escape from this middle-class existence by dreams, love affairs, and false pretensions.
Emma possesses one quality that the other characters do not have. She has a dream of life that allows her to look for ideals and feelings greater than she is. Even though these ideals might be superficial, she is aware that there are feelings greater than those found in her middle-class surroundings. And in spite of her infidelities, she could not give herself in prostitution in order to solve her financial situation. She remained true to her dreams and she died by her dreams. After her second interview with Rodolphe, she felt that she had been betrayed anew and felt that only in death could she find the peace and fulfillment that she had been searching for. Thus, she tried to live by her dreams, and when that failed, she died by them without ever compromising her vision of something greater than she.