Madame Bovary

Madame Bovary

Pdf fan
Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)

Causes, Appearances, and Boredom Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Abstraction, Fantasy, and Experience Theme Icon
The Sublime and the Mundane Theme Icon
Love and Desire Theme Icon
Causes, Appearances, and Boredom Theme Icon
Truth, Rhetoric, and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Madame Bovary, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Causes, Appearances, and Boredom Theme Icon

Charles falls in love with Emma, and then shows his love through kindness, care, admiration, and desire. The emotion of love is the cause, and the behaviors of love are the result. But Emma inverts the cause and the result: she simulates the appearances and behaviors of love without the impetus of actual love, and she expects the simulation to bring her happiness – her flawed approximation for the emotion of love. Her true impetus for the behaviors of love is her desire to imitate fictional heroines. But her life can never quite resemble the cartoonish novels, the desire to imitate is frustrated, and she is left mechanically performing actions even after the incentive has disintegrated.

Novels have taught Emma that love leads to permanent happiness. When she discovers that the happiness of love eventually turns to boredom, she becomes cynical: “For now she knew the pettiness of the passions that art exaggerates.” But her conclusion is false, for she has gone through the motions of love without experiencing love itself. Or, rather, she has ignored any love she did feel so thoroughly that it naturally wilted out of existence. Her pursuit of love weakens her capacity for actual love, and she experiences the consequent emotional emptiness as a terrible boredom.

Emma is surprised that her mechanical, simulated passions fail to inspire real joy. But to the end of the novel, and in every area of her life, she inverts cause and effect: she substitutes appearance for impetus. Just as she thinks love is sex, she thinks religion is prayer, and she equates motherly love to the activities of motherhood (like washing behind the ears). But praying without the inner impetus for prayer, and washing ears without actual love and care, soon seems nonsensical and exhausting, and profoundly boring. Convention and mimicry can only carry Emma so far, for they provide a very short supply of motivation.

The novels she loves have taught her, paradoxically, both to value intense emotions above all else and to act out the shells of emotions without understanding their origins. She faithfully tries to act out the shells, but the shells soon leave her cold – and being cold is intolerable to her. She is trapped in an ever-cooling cycle.

Get the entire Madame Bovary LitChart as a printable PDF.
Madame bovary.pdf.medium

Causes, Appearances, and Boredom Quotes in Madame Bovary

Below you will find the important quotes in Madame Bovary related to the theme of Causes, Appearances, and Boredom.
Part 1, Chapter 6 Quotes

Familiar with the tranquil, she inclined, instead, toward the tumultuous. … From everything she had to extract some personal profit; and she discarded as useless anything that did not lend itself to the heart’s immediate satisfaction.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

Just as Chapter 5 ends with the word "books," Chapter 6 begins with Emma's experience of the sentimental novel "Paul et Virginie." In this section about Emma's upbringing, Flaubert makes it clear that books shape Emma's childhood and adulthood: in Catholic school, she relishes all opportunities to starve and purify herself. 

Emma's romantic nature is, in some ways, merely a compulsion to commodify her own life. Familiar with the structures and patterns of love stories, she tailors herself and her experiences to these standards and "discards" all that remains. (The words "profit," "extract," and "discarded" here should remind readers that Emma is still very tethered to the corrupt material world, despite her daydreams of abstractions.) Flaubert comments on this misuse of literature, which, in his estimation, should not serve as an ethical model or example (unless as a deeper mode of thinking, rather than acting). Emma is wrong to mimic the behavior she discovers in novels: the starving and praying and moaning. Again and again Emma fails to understand that love itself, particularly the love depicted in popular fiction, cannot be an end or a goal. 


Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other Madame Bovary quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!

Emma was inwardly satisfied to feel she had reached at her first attempt that ideal exquisite pale existence, never attained by vulgar souls.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

The death of Emma's mother pushes Emma even further, and allows her to engage in even more extreme behavior. She eventually becomes so weak (or "exquisite") that others take notice — and this attention satisfies her. 

Flaubert is deft in his juxtapositions: though Emma cries for several days, she feels "inwardly satisfied" and pleased when someone else notices her distress. In other words, her sadness is a sort of performance, an imitation of a human sentiment. Even at a young age, Emma exists at a remove from reality, always observing herself and her life and then molding them into whatever shape she finds most pleasing. Emma treats her life like a possession, like any other frock or necklace that she has bought on credit--or like a work of art, like any of the sentimental novels she so adores. 

Readers can also note Flaubert's juxtaposition of Emma's "ideal exquisite pale existence" and the other "vulgar souls." Much of Emma's identify rests on this imagined gulf between herself and other members of the rural middle class; she cannot see her own vulgarity or superficiality, which is as evident to the reader as Monsieur Homais' greed or Rodolphe's dishonesty. 

Part 1, Chapter 7 Quotes

To her it seemed that certain places on earth must produce happiness.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

Emma believes that her unhappiness stems from her environment: she would be perfectly happy as a newlywed if only she lived in a chalet or a villa, not a humdrum country house in Tostes. Of course, when she moves to Yonville in Part 2, she remains as listless and bored as ever.

Again, Emma confuses the trappings of emotion with emotion itself. Happiness, for her, is not an internal state but rather a set of external circumstances (just as love is not a feeling, but a set of gestures). In using the verb "produce" (in French, "produire"), Flaubert shows readers the extent of her misunderstanding: happiness becomes a part of the material world, the world of popular novels and expensive fashions. In sum, Emma rarely considers her own agency and expects happiness and love to come from without and not from within. 

But this, this life of hers was as cold as an attic that looks north; and boredom, quiet as the spider, was spinning its web in the shadowy places of the heart.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter 7, Emma finally allows herself to regret her marriage and contemplate other, now seemingly impossible, futures with other men. These other hypothetical lives and hypothetical men all seem preferable to her current situation, her “life … as cold as an attic that looks north.”

In this section, as in many others, the division between Emma and the narrator blurs: the latter seems to inhabit her despair, giving up detached scorn for more lyrical and indulgent prose. (Note that the sentence includes two similes, the first involving an attic and the second a spider.) This is the language and diction Emma favors as she contemplates her life with Charles.

Of course, Emma’s boredom is indeed powerful, destructive enough to undermine her marriage and her social status. The spider is traditionally a sinister creature and this image foreshadows the novel’s subsequent tragic events. Emma’s boredom has almost nothing to do with her circumstances, but more to do her fantasies, her conviction that everyone else she admires is living a perfectly beautiful life, full of excitement and happiness.

Part 1, Chapter 9 Quotes

It was Paris, rippling like the ocean, gleaming in Emma’s mind under a warm golden haze. The swarming tumultuous life of the place was divided into several parts, classified into distinct tableaux. Emma grasped only two or three of these, and they hid all the rest from her, apparently representing the whole of humanity.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

Emma’s new purchase, a map of Paris, allows her to imagine all the diverse, complicated scenes unfolding in the capital. She has never seen the city, yet it captivates her.

However, even as Emma imagines the “swarming, tumultuous” excitement of Paris, she does so in a highly stylized, detached way. She sees “tableaux:” in other words, she sees arrangements of people and things, a simplification and flattening of human experience. (“Tableaux” means "paintings" in French, and readers might consider the role of visual arts in Emma’s daydreaming.)

Slipping back into a more objective point of view, Flaubert then acknowledges the glaring flaws in Emma's fantasies, implying that she mistakes “two or three” of the tableaux for “the whole of humanity.” She lets pleasing images of ambassadors and duchesses distract her from the poorer and darker parts of Paris. This passage bears a certain resemblance to an earlier one, when local peasants shattered a window during the ball and peered at their fashionable counterparts. Flaubert takes care to emphasize the wealth disparities in nineteenth-century France, as well as showing Emma’s indifference to them.

She confused, in her desire, sensual luxury with true joy, elegance of manners with delicacy of sentiment.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage is a simple diagnosis of Emma’s problem: she confuses the internal and the external, appearances and feelings. Having read countless novels in which elegant ladies swoon in lush, blooming gardens, she assumes that the dresses and gardens are the cause and beginning of happiness and love.

Emma has similar thoughts in Chapter 7, when she concludes “that certain places on earth must produce happiness.” She wants joy and romantic fulfillment, and yet searches for them in all the wrong places, among fashionable, ruthless aristocrats and, later, selfish youths.

The parallel structure in this sentence pits “sensual luxury” and “elegance of manners” against “true joy” and “delicacy of sentiment,” implying that Flaubert not only considers the two categories distinct, but almost mutually exclusive. Luxury and elegance do not lead humans towards joy, but rather often lead us astray.

Part 2, Chapter 5 Quotes

With her black hair, her large eyes, her straight nose, her gliding step, always silent now, did it not seem as if she passed through life almost without touching it, bearing on her brow the pale mark of a sublime destiny? She was so sad and so calm, so gentle and yet so shy, that by her side you felt under the spell of a frosty charm, just as you shiver in church at the scent of flowers mingling with the feel of cold marble. … But she was filled with lust, with rage, with hatred.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary, Léon Dupuis
Page Number: 99-100
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Emma realizes that Leon is in love with her — this information delights her, and pushes her to adopt new, wifely mannerisms. Her tenderness only fans the flames of his passion and in this section, the narrator slips into Leon's mind, full of hyperbole and love. 

This description — of a "sublime destiny" and "frosty charm" — aligns with Leon's romantic sensibilities, and the reader can infer that the narrator has moved away from more impartial omniscient narration. Leon and Emma share this fragile disposition, an interest in "the scent of flowers mingling with the feel of cold marble."  In other words, Leon turns Emma into a caricature of a romantic heroine ("so sad and so calm"), just as she similarly reduces most people to novelistic archetypes. 

Dialogue then interrupts Leon's daydreaming and, when the narrator returns, readers encounter a changed Madame Bovary, "filled with lust, with rage, with hatred." Flaubert jolts the reader by juxtaposing these two contradictory descriptions, mocking Leon's naiveté and Emma's deceitful nature. Leon loves a woman who does not exist, an impossible incarnation of beauty itself, a mirage.

Part 2, Chapter 8 Quotes

It was that mingling of the everyday and the exotic, which the vulgar, usually, take for the symptom of an eccentric existence, of unruly feeling, of the tyranny of art, always with a certain scorn for social conventions which they find seductive or exasperating.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary, Rodolphe Boulanger
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

At the agriculture show, Rodolphe mocks the provincial people of Yonville, particularly the women with their unfashionable outfits. This mockery appeals to Emma, of course, as it matches her own fascination with wealth, glamour, and romantic pride. 

In this section, the narrator steers clear of the characters' minds, remaining aloof, omniscient, and scornful. Both Emma and Rodolphe are mocked: the latter simply combines "the everyday and the exotic" in the hopes that he will seem "eccentric." And Emma, one of "the vulgar," falls for his trickery and believes herself to be superior to the rural society. In this moment, the narrator reduces both characters to their basic flaws. Readers might consider the source of this scathing commentary: is it a response to the couple's mockery of the townspeople? Does Flaubert want us to sympathize with the town's farmers and laborers? And does Rodolphe, a careless philanderer, represent the whole country's upper-class? 

Part 2, Chapter 12 Quotes

Emma was just like any other mistress; and the charm of novelty, falling down slowly like a dress, exposed only the eternal monotony of passion, always the same forms and the same language. He did not distinguish, this man of such great expertise, the differences of sentiment beneath the sameness of their expression.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary, Rodolphe Boulanger
Page Number: 177
Explanation and Analysis:

While Emma and Rodolphe remain passionate, he becomes increasingly annoyed by her melodramatic outbursts and her endless gifts. He lumps her together with the rest of his past mistresses: they all use the same language to describe their love. 

In this passage, Flaubert hints at his own complicated relationship with language. On the one hand, he warns against Emma's tendency toward cliché and hyperbole, repeating the adjective "same" (and the noun "sameness") in order to highlight its monotony. On the other hand, Rodolphe is equally culpable, refusing to look for the "differences of sentiment" that differentiate the various mistresses. Flaubert is wary of language, since it can disguise truth and complexity, but he also seems to advocate for charity between interlocutors here. Emma is flawed, but she is fully herself, hardly indistinguishable from other women. 

Readers might also note the intriguing simile in this passage, a comparison between novelty and elegant clothing. The relationship duplicates, on a grand scale, each individual encounter, with its progression from flirtatious artifice to a sort of bleak nudity. And yet this nudity is not any more honest than the artifice, since "the same forms and the same language" appear here, too. 

… as though the soul’s abundance does not sometimes spill over in the most decrepit metaphors, since no one can give the exact measure of their needs, their ideas, their afflictions, and since human speech is like a cracked cauldron on which we knock out tunes for dancing bears, when we wish to conjure pity from the stars.

Page Number: 177
Explanation and Analysis:

This is one of the novel's essential passages. The narrator breaks away from the plot, fleshing out a digression on language. Again, this is a sort of apology for Emma and all her clichés: according to the narrator, we all have occasion to use "the most decrepit metaphors" in an attempt to describe our interior lives. (Readers should note the first person plural "we" in this section.)

Of course, this raises important questions about Flaubert's project. Does he too use "decrepit metaphors" in the text? And if so, do they undermine his work? In fact, Flaubert places this condemnation of inexact, clichéd language next to a particularly elaborate metaphor: "human speech is like a cracked cauldron..." Here, we find a juxtaposition of the sublime and mundane, the cold, inspiring heavens and ridiculous "dancing bears." Though Flaubert mocks the romantic sensibilities of Emma (and Leon), this passage reveals its own kind of idealization of the human soul, too. The moment, then, might have an ironic subtext; it might also serve to cut some of the narrator's bitterness, and temper it with earnestness and a kind of sadness. 

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. 

Part 2, Chapter 14 Quotes

Whenever she went to kneel at her Gothic prie-dieu, she called upon her Lord in the same sweet words she had once murmured to her lover, in the raptures of adultery. It was meant to arouse faith, but no delectation descended from on high.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:

As she recovers from her lingering illness, Emma turns back toward religion. Charles offers her many books about theology, most of which confuse and agitate her. 

Emma first developed her interest in religion while in Catholic school, where the nuns praised her piety. However, even then, Emma was only confusing the trappings of devotion with devotion itself. She prayed, but only because she had read novels featuring pale, saintly young women. Here, too, her extreme religiosity is a charade, not a consequence of faith but an attempt to "arouse faith" and "delectation." For Emma, God is means rather than end, and she fails to understand that this does not conform to Catholic dogma. 

In fact, she conflates godly love and romantic love, hoping both are paths to the "blue immensity" in her imagination. The narrator states this with slight irony, evidenced in the words "sweet" and "raptures." 

Part 2, Chapter 15 Quotes

For now she knew the pettiness of the passions that art exaggerates.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary
Page Number: 209
Explanation and Analysis:

At the theater, Emma shrugs off Charles's questions and devotes all her attention to the play. The heroine's wedding dress pushes Emma to despair as she remembers her own happy wedding day, a time before her boredom and adultery. However, Emma then adjusts her relationship to the play, viewing it with scorn rather than empathy. 

This shift towards cynicism, of course, comes from Emma's aborted affair with Rodolphe. Having recovered from the incident, Emma allows herself to feel superior and worldly, no longer susceptible to sentimental works of art. Again, the narrator seems to inhabit Emma's mind, despite the use of the third person: Flaubert's free indirect discourse gives readers an often-cruel insight into his characters. We see that Emma feigns cynicism in order to disguise her infallibly romantic nature. In fact, this moment precedes and foreshadows Emma's second adulterous relationship, in which she again turns her life into a novel. 

Readers might also consider how Flaubert depicts art here. Is this play akin to the "decrepit metaphors" that he describes in Chapter 12? How does Flaubert's realism differentiate his own novel from these other art works? 

Part 3, Chapter 1 Quotes

Was she serious in saying such things? Doubtless Emma herself had no real idea, being quite taken up with the charm of the seduction and the necessity of resisting it.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary, Léon Dupuis
Page Number: 220
Explanation and Analysis:

Emma doesn't immediately yield to Leon's entreaties; instead, she stresses the importance of a platonic relationship. She tells him that other women will love him, but she herself is too old. Yet the narrator, as usual, questions her intentions. 

The rhetorical question beginning this quotation distances the readers (and narrator) from the scene itself, placing us at an ironic remove. Emma falls into familiar patterns, using hyperbolic and canned expressions in order to recreate scenes from novels. Despite her delusions of cynicism and worldliness, she remains fascinated by "the charm of seduction and the necessity of resisting it." She still believes she can find love if she learns the gestures of love, the confessions and calculated refusals. 

And yet the narrator tells us that Emma "herself [has] no real idea" of her honesty or lack thereof. This slight uncertainty does seem characteristic of an older, wearier Emma. She entertains fewer illusions about the correspondence between language and sentiment. 

Part 3, Chapter 5 Quotes

He admired the exaltation of her soul and the lace on her skirts.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary, Léon Dupuis
Page Number: 247
Explanation and Analysis:

Emma and Leon delight in their affair, and their room with its mahogany bed and red curtains. Leon, in particular, is amazed that he's found someone so elegant and refined. 

Here, Flaubert uses a clever zeugma (a figure of speech in which a word applies to two other words in different senses) to mock the young man: the verb "admired" governs both "the exaltation of her soul" and "the lace of her skirts." This unites the two grammatical objects, and also lowers "the exaltation of her soul" down to the material world. To Leon, the two, however different, simply prove Emma's social value and worth as a mistress. Both are commodities, just as her own marriage to Charles is a commodity, a fact that makes Emma more desirable to Leon. 

Of course, Emma is not guiltless either; she has turned "exaltation" into a game. Leon does not necessarily wrong her by treating her disposition as a material good. Since Emma merely mimics the gestures of love and adoration, any "exaltation" is a performance, disconnected from her internal state. 

Part 3, Chapter 6 Quotes

But, if there were somewhere a strong and beautiful creature, a valiant nature full of passion and delicacy … What an impossibility! Nothing, anyway, was worth that great quest; it was all lies! Every smile concealed the yawn of boredom, every joy a malediction, every satisfaction brought its nausea, and even the most perfect kisses only leave upon the lips a fantastical craving for the supreme pleasure.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary
Page Number: 264
Explanation and Analysis:

As her second adulterous affair falls apart, Emma asks herself why she has never found happiness. She longs for some ideal man, a "strong and beautiful creature," the only one who can draw her out of her despair and boredom. 

Here Flaubert's free indirect discourse gives readers an almost claustrophobic understanding of Emma. (The various feverish exclamations lets readers know that the narrator has moved away from the omniscient third person.) At first, Emma gives her imagination free rein, just as she has again and again since adolescence. She pictures some lofty goal, and tells herself that it alone will give her pleasure. However, at this point in the novel, she's a changed woman: she suddenly swings from daydreaming to a profound, violent cynicism. ("It was all lies!") She cannot find a happy medium between sentimental idealism and pure contempt. 

In a way, Emma seems to have accepted the essential banality of the world, a place full of yawns and disappointments and broken hearts. However, in her fit of passion, she begins to use more and more dramatic language to describe the ordinary; she complains of "maledictions" and "fantastical cravings." Emma turns the mundane into the villainous, forever trapped in the language of romance novels. 

Emma was recovering in adultery the platitudes of marriage.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary
Page Number: 271
Explanation and Analysis:

Emma and Leon lose interest in each other, though Emma continues to give him gifts and write letters. In addition, many of Leon's friends and coworkers warn him against an involved affair with a married woman, and he decides to lead a more respectable life. 

Emma resents Leon just as she resents Charles; she pinned her hopes on both men, and both proved themselves lacking. The platitudes of marriage, here, are disappointment and boredom and restlessness. In Emma's "blue immensity," love and happiness are endless passion; when the passion for Leon wanes, she blames him and longs to end their affair. 

Of course, the word "platitudes" describes much of Emma's language throughout the novel. She uses stale language to describe her boredom as well as her joy — she has fed on platitudes for years and so can only convey the vaguest of feelings, ones poached from novels and plays. Flaubert warns readers to treat language with caution, even as we delight in his own careful prose.