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Fantasy Of Book(Madame Bovary) Essay, Research Paper

In the novel, Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert uses a very descriptive style of writing in order to mock bourgeois life in nineteenth century France, to portray the dangers of fantasy, and to reveal the effects of self-delusion. Continually, the author uses the heroine, Emma, and the other elements in the novel in a way that forces the reader to realize the emptiness of modern life and to eventually identify with the heroine\’s search for ecstasy. Throughout the course of Madame Bovary, Flaubert uses books as a means of escape from the boredom of reality. Constantly, Emma attempts to make her life into a novel, fashioning herself a life not based in reality but fantasy. By examining this observation, one is able to come to a greater understanding of the thematics of the novel. Ultimately, Emma\’s active decisions are based more and more on her fantasies, preventing her from making rational decisions. It is these decisions, fed by the novels that she reads, to which she falls victim.

Books play a major role in how Emma thinks, acts, and perceives reality. In the convent, her first form of confinement, Emma surrounds herself in books and stories as a means of escape from reality. In order to prevent her boredom, she reads novels filled with martyred maidens swooning in secluded lodges and identifies herself with the fictitious characters, having dreams of living in some old manor-house, like those chatelaines in their long corsages (28). However, as she will do throughout the novel, Emma soon becomes bored with her fantasy and starts to revolt against the convent until no one was sorry to see her go (30). It is this voyage from boredom in reality to self-destruction in fantasy that plays itself over and over throughout the novel. Once married to Charles, Emma becomes dissatisfied with her life and again yearns to escape from the pain of everyday life: she could not stand it any more in that little room with its smoking stove, its creaking door, its sweating walls, its damp flagstones; it seemed as though all the bitterness of life was being served up on to her plate (51). Unhappy and discontented, everything in her immediate surroundings, the boring countryside, the imbecile bourgeois, the general mediocrity of life, seemed to be a unique accident that had befallen her alone, while beyond there unfurled the immense kingdom of pleasure and passion (46). Seeing herself deprived of the life that she had read about in her novels and had come to expect, Emma ultimately begins to fashion a life based in fantasy: Emma sought to find out exactly what was meant in real life by the words felicity, passion, and rapture, which had seemed so fine on the pages of the books (27). After coming in contact with her fantasy at La Vaubyessard for one night, it is ingrained in her mind that the romantic world that her novels depict is within her reach. Ultimately, the fantasy in which Emma lived is best portrayed in this passage: She devoured every single word of all the reviews of first nights, race-meetings and dinner parties, took an interest in the debut of a singer, the opening of a shop. She knew the latest fashions, the addresses of the best tailors, the days for the Opera. She studied, in Eugene Sue, descriptions of furniture; she read Balzac and George Sand, seeking to gratify in fantasy her secret cravings. Even at the table, she had her book with her, and she would be turning the pages while Charles was eating and talking to her. The memory of the Viscount haunted her reading. Between him and the fictional characters, she would forge connections. But gradually the circle of which he was the center widened around him, and the halo that he wore, as it floated free of him, spread its radiance even further, illuminating other dreams. (45).

Trying to become like a character in one of her novels, Emma did everything in her power to fulfill her fantasies. The purchases she made, the rooms that she decorated, and the affairs that she undertook were all partially to continue the fantasy that the novels she so passionately read described. In the passage above, the word devoured portrays how intensely she consumes every word of her readings until it is almost becomes part of her, utterly and totally consumed by her. Moreover, her knowledge of the latest fashions, the addresses of the best tailors, and the days of the opera allowed her to in some way infiltrate into that world which she fancied. Reading enabled her to gratify in fantasy her secret cravings for that romantic world depicted in her novels.

The moment that Emma brings her book to the table becomes the crucial point where her fantasy becomes more than just a fantasy, but a substitute for reality itself. At this point, her reading infiltrates her own world and her fantasy is encompassed into her daily life. Whereas in the beginning she would just fantasize, her encounter with the Viscount convinced her that the romantic world in the novels that she read could in reality be reached. She was able to forge connections between fantasy and reality until they ultimately merged into one. Whereas beforehand she would just see the Viscount in her readings, she eventually came to see the Viscount, the realization of her fantasy, in her daily life as the circle of which he was the center widened around him. She began to live in her own fantasy world, separated from others. As for the rest of the world, it was nothing, it was nowhere, it scarcely seemed to exist (46). Eventually, everything that she did, including her business relationship with the draper, Monsieur Lheureux, and her rendezvous to Rouen, helped her to live through her novels to such an extent that she lost almost all sense of her reality: in one month she spent fourteen francs on lemons for cleaning her nails she chose the very best scarf from Lheureux; she tied it around her waist over her dressing-gown; then with the shutter closed, and a book in her hand, she would recline on the sofa in her accoutrements (99). Her reason distorted by the fantasy in which she lived, Emma became unable to make rational decisions, deal with her problems, and inevitably lost all control over her life. She stood there bewildered. The earth beneath her feet was undulating gently. Terrified, she felt the touch of madness, and managed to take hold of herself again in some confusion, even so; because she had no memory of the cause of her terrible condition, that is to say the problem of money (256). Ultimately she sees little escape from life but through death, and kills herself, preserving her fantasy by enabling her to die like a heroine in a novel.

As shown, it is Emma\’s reading of books in Madame Bovary that allow her to pursue her fantasies, that distort her reality, and that force her to become dissatisfied with her bourgeois life. Attempting to make her life into a novel, Emma forever searches for that immense kingdom of pleasure and passion (46) that she discovers in her readings, only to inevitably find self-destruction. In her search for ecstasy and her quest for fulfillment, she becomes a victim of that fantasy life which she pursues. Feeling the emptiness of bourgeois life, Emma is ultimately left like a distraught character in one of her novels. She is constantly searching for some white sail far away where the horizon turns to mist (49), only to find herself deluded by her fantasies and disillusioned by reality.


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