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Madame Bovary as an Example of Literary Realism

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Literary realism is a part of the realist art movement that started in 19th century France and lasted until the early 20th century. It began as a reaction to the romanticism and the rise of bourgeoisie in Europe and it sought to convey a truthful and objective vision of contemporary life. Realism emerged in the aftermath of the revolution of 1848 that overturned the monarchy of louis-Philippe and developed during the period of the second empire under napoleon iii. As French society fought for democratic reform, the realists democratized art by depicting modern subjects drawn from the everyday lives of the working class. Rejecting the idealized classicism of academic art and the bewildering themes of romanticism, realism was based on direct observation of the modern world.

In keeping with Gustave Courbet’s statement in 1861 that ‘painting is an essentially concrete art and can only consist in the representation of real and existing things,’ realists recorded in often gritty detail the present-day existence of humble people, paralleling related trends in the naturalist literature of Emile Zola, Honor de Balzac, and Gustave Flaubert. The realists fought against the exaggerated subject matters and emotionalism which dominated the French literature and art since the late 18th century. Their works projected the people of all classes with their real life situations and often talked about the changes of the society that made by the industrial and commercial revolutions. The realists portrayed the day to day subjects and situations in contemporary setting and attempted to depict individuals of all classes at a same level.

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Classical idealism, romantic emotionalism and drama were avoided equally and often untidy elements and sordid subject matters were displayed. Especially, social realism concentrated on the depiction of the working classes with the same seriousness as the other classes. Realism aimed to avoid artificiality in the treatment of human relations and sentimental manners. Due to the changes in the class divisions with the developments of the second half of the 19th century the novels became so popular. Literacy growth went high and written works were more accessible. In that way realism also enhanced the quality of novels since their subject matters often focussed on characters and themes relatable to the working classes. On the other hand, literary realism helped its readers on understanding the situations of women in the modern society. As the rise of modern society led men to desire and obtain power, the objectification of the moral values considered man as a social product and the namesake traditional norms shrugged the desires of women in the hands of men, besides men over minded the physical challenges of women when they were suffering mental challenges from being judged and objectified by their sex. That made the Avant grade of women to be always an advantage for men. Therefore, – Madame Bovary – the novel written by French novelist Gustave Flaubert, published on 1856, which gives as a wide idea of the male dominated society.

The protagonist of the novel Emma, the perfect representation of a typical modern woman, who wishes a big fashion modern lifestyle but later turns a sick filled woman and suicide herself at the end. The level of anxiety that she consumed was immense and that made her character to be the talk of the town so far. The entire journey of the heroine was portrayed in a raw & gritty style and that’s the top-notch quality of the novel. In other ways the character can also be compared with the ‘gaze’ theory, the gaze can be defined as the way people look at subjects or objects in a given text. The gaze concept was actually discussed on 1960 by some French intellectuals which later integrated with feminist theory and it deals with how men look women and how women look at themselves and other women and the effects surrounding this. Flaubert traced and implemented the gaze concept even before it was emerged and Madame Bovary promotes this gaze theory with representation of a modern woman. Flaubert has sketched the character in every possible way to publicize the perspective of a modern woman. It portrayed the mentality of bourgeois with its meticulous approach towards every character, Madame Bovary has been seen as the principal masterpiece of realism. The novel was also notable for the brilliance of its style, it always had the comparisons to poetry. Flaubert gave a great importance on style as same as his detailed content on subject, and he spent around five years on completing Madame Bovary

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Madame Bovary as an Example of Literary Realism. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 22, 2023, from
“Madame Bovary as an Example of Literary Realism.” Edubirdie, 27 Dec. 2022,
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