Madame Bovary

Madame Bovary


Gustave Flaubert

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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.
The Sublime and the Mundane Theme Icon

Flaubert, who knew Don Quixote by heart even before learning to read, shares Cervantes’s habit of always putting the beautiful next to the hideous, the lofty next to the petty, and the tragic next to the mundane. Hardly a chapter goes by that does not contain the juxtaposition, but the most pointed examples center on the beggar with the infected eyelids. He is there, leering and suffering, when Emma sits dreaming rosily about her new affair with Léon, and he is there singing about a young girl in love while Emma is dying.

In Madame Bovary, the contrast emphasizes the absurdity of any perspective that excludes the extremities of ugliness and suffering. Every gruesome detail seems to punish the reader, the writer, and most of the main characters for their blindness. Such details are a reproach to the vague, soaring mindset of the romantic, a perspective that must ignore so much in order to maintain itself, and which therefore chooses emotional comfort over truth. The denunciation of the romantic is also closely related to issues of abstraction and reality. A person like Emma, who lives by canned abstractions, is basically hypocritical: such a person appropriates beliefs without grounding them in action or experience.

But the novel does not come out squarely on the side of the mundane. It does not amount to unqualified praise of the realist, for Lheureux is basically a realist. The far side of realism is disbelief in anything intangible: extreme realism relegates every ideal to foolish fantasy and irrelevance, including the ideals of beauty, kindness, and love, The best and most difficult life, the book implies, is one that tries to create an implausible harmony between fact and belief, reality and fantasy, the world and the imagination.

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The Sublime and the Mundane Quotes in Madame Bovary

Below you will find the important quotes in Madame Bovary related to the theme of The Sublime and the Mundane.
Part 1, Chapter 6 Quotes

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:
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:
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:
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:

Emma was recovering in adultery the platitudes of marriage.

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