Madame Bovary

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“The big blue country” Symbol Analysis

“The big blue country” Symbol Icon
When Emma is already growing bored with Léon, she tries to force love by imagining him as a composite of ideal qualities, living in a misty “blue country” containing little but the scent of flowers. Earlier, when she dreams of running away with Rodolphe, she imagines their future together as a vague “blue immensity”, perfect and empty. That blue nothingness is the world in which Emma always tries to live, a world made out of ideals and abstractions, free from the confounding detail that comprises the actual human world. To Emma, only that exotic place is suitable for love, and the man that dwells there, a ghost or a god, is the “incarnation of love itself.” But the novel teaches that love itself is nothing without human beings to give it meaning and contour. A person who is the incarnation of love is merely something becoming nothing.

“The big blue country” Quotes in Madame Bovary

The Madame Bovary quotes below all refer to the symbol of “The big blue country”. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Abstraction, Fantasy, and Experience Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of Madame Bovary published in 2002.
Part 2, Chapter 9 Quotes

At last, she was to know the pleasures of love, that fever of happiness which she had despaired of. She was entering something marvellous where everything would be passion, ecstasy, delirium; blue immensity was all about her; the great summits of sentiment glittered in her mind’s eye, ordinary experience appeared far below in the distance, in shadow, in the gaps between these peaks.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary
Related Symbols: “The big blue country”
Page Number: 150-151
Explanation and Analysis:

Emma and Rodolphe consummate their illicit love in the woods; when they return, Emma looks in the mirror, finds herself changed, and begins to daydream. 

The fantasy here unfurls in a single long sentence, wrapped around a central metaphor. Love, for Emma, is "blue immensity" — she is at the peak of a mountain, surrounded by nothing but the loveliest blue, far from the petty trivialities of Yonville (or reality itself, essentially). Emma has finally reached her heart's desire: love. And the moment is indeed climactic for that very reason. The protagonist feels the very emotion she has been hounding since adolescence, the passion described in her favorite novels.

And yet Flaubert also reveals it to be pure abstraction, a feeling so detached from material reality that it ceases to have any intelligible meaning. Emma wants a love untethered to any person or place, but Flaubert dismisses this as an impossibility. The ironic accumulation of abstract words — "passion, ecstasy, delirium" — imply skepticism. The spatial distinction between love and "ordinary life," peak and nadir, indicates that Emma's perfect blue love is only a manifestation of her haughty arrogance.


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Part 2, Chapter 12 Quotes

And yet, in the immensity of this future that she conjured for herself, nothing specific stood out: the days, each one magnificent, were as near alike as waves are.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary, Rodolphe Boulanger
Related Symbols: “The big blue country”
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:

Rodolphe and Emma plan to flee with Berthe together; this plan makes Emma quite happy, improving her relations with her mother-in-law. At night, she dreams of her future with Rodolphe, but "nothing specific [stands] out."

Readers might consider how the "waves" here have something in common with the "blue immensity" of Chapter 9. (In both cases the word "immensity" appears, and Emma envisions herself surrounded by an all-encompassing blue substance.) Her heart's desire, pure romantic bliss, lacks some necessary specificity — it's formless and shapeless. Each wave, each day, resembles the next. The words "and yet" point to the need for specificity; love without any particular details is impossible abstraction.

Even with the verb "conjured for herself" (and a more literal translation might be "made appear for herself"), Flaubert indicates that Emma exists less in material reality, and more in a romanticized and novelized world, full of imagined futures and abstract passions. 

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“The big blue country” Symbol Timeline in Madame Bovary

The timeline below shows where the symbol “The big blue country” appears in Madame Bovary. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 2, Chapter 12
Abstraction, Fantasy, and Experience Theme Icon, her adolescence, and their happy life together. Emma dreams of her escape into a vague romantic land full of pleasure. She asks Lheureux to find her a travelling cloak and several bags. (full context)