The 1857 Tidal Wave that was Madame Bovary

Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary didn’t just make a splash in the literary world — its release caused something more akin to a tidal wave. When it was published in 1857 (or, correction, after its author was acquitted from a trial on the obscenity of the book after its serialized release in 1856), it positively sank the boat of traditional storytelling and forever changed the literary landscape of the world of fiction.


One of the key ways Madame Bovary turned things around was with its bold portrayal of realism. Flaubert didn’t sugarcoat anything – he presented life as it was, warts and all. From the monotony of small-town existence to the harsh realities of adultery and disillusionment alike, Flaubert quite obviously didn’t shy away from the more gritty details of adult life. It wasn’t just the scandalous affairs that made Madame Bovary famous – it was the way Flaubert captured the human condition. He confronted the ugly parts of life – the jealousy, heartbreak and crushing disappointment – and laid them all out there for the world to see, unflinching and unapologetic. This commitment to the realistic style was pretty groundbreaking, and one could argue that it paved the way for future authors to explore the complexities of human experience in a more honest and unfiltered way than previous Victorian literature. 


Another way Flaubert and Madame Bovary left their mark was through his distinctive narrative style. Flaubert had a meticulous attention to detail and used a form of indirect discourse and conversation that allowed readers to dive into the minds of his characters, not just view them from afar. In this way, we didn’t just observe Emma Bovary’s actions – but readers felt her desires, her frustrations and her despair. This engrossing literary technique was influential in setting a new standard for psychological and emotional depth in literature. Flaubert is cited by hundreds of writers that followed in his footsteps as the reason for their ability to explore the inner lives of their characters with greater complexity. 

Another significant impact Madame Bovary had was its challenge to societal norms. Flaubert was brave enough to critique the superficiality and hypocrisy of French society, particularly its treatment of women. Madame Bovary’s quest for passion, excitement and fulfillment in an unbelievably stifling patriarchal world struck a chord with readers of the day. It was able to spark conversations about gender roles, marriage, and individual autonomy (whether male or female) – all topics hot on our minds still today. In doing so, Madame Bovary became not just a work of fiction, but one could see it as a stimulus for social change.

Madame Bovary didn’t just change the literary landscape of the mid 1800s, it reshaped it entirely. Flaubert’s revolutionary approach to the realistic style, his open and deep narrative techniques, and the social commentary throughout the book ensured its place as a timeless masterpiece that still inspires readers to this day. Because in the end, Madame Bovary is a book about longing, about a human search for something more. And who hasn’t felt that at some point in their lives?


Leave a Reply