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The Originality of Madame Bovary


Alan Raitt

The aim of this study is to assess in what ways Madame Bovary constitutes a radically new departure in the history of the novel. After tracing the circuitous route by which Flaubert came to start work on Madame Bovary when he was almost thirty, the book analyses the innovatory features of the work, namely its subject-matter, its narrative techniques, its style and language, and its narratorial perspectives. The study then draws together what has been established and shows how everything in the novel is suffused with a very modern irony. Though it has long been recognised that Madame Bovary marks a turning point in the history of the novel, the time has come when it is opportune to define exactly in what ways this is so.
Contents: Impersonality (the celebrated if much misunderstood doctrine of the effacement of the author from his text) – Point of view (the use of the point of view of the fictitious characters to mask the presence of the writer) – Dialogue and «style indirect libre» (the reduction of the amount of direct speech and its replacement by the famous free indirect style, one of his most famous techniques) – Description (the strikingly new function he assigns to description) – «Realism» (his ambivalent relationship with the theories and practice of realism current in his time) – Style (his numerous and vital linguistic innovations) – Beauty (the delicate question of what he meant by his emphasis on beauty in the novel, which is anything but an ideal of fine writing) – Architecture (the ways in which the themes of the novel are reflected in an unprecedently tight and cunning structure) – Flaws in the glass? (the possible hints that the work is self-reflexive rather than just an image of a world outside).