in relation to Charles.

The hallmark of Flaubert's style is irony, of which there are many forms in the text. The discrepancy between Emma's position and her aspirations, which she fails to recognise, is a fundamental irony. Irony is the distinguishing tone of much narrative comment: when Emma takes up piano lessons to enable her to visit Leon in Rouen "after only a month she was indeed found to have made considerable progress" (III, 4). Flaubert however makes it clear that this progress was more in the art of love than music. Juxtaposition is often exploited as a source of irony: a good example is the scene between Emma and Rodolphe at the agricultural show (II, 8) or the bickering between the chemist and the curate over her corpse (III, 9). Even the names are satirical: 'Bovary' recalls bovine and hence stupid, and 'Lheureux' in French means 'the happy one'. Ironic narrative was nothing new Stendhal, for example, makes extensive use of it but the sensitivity with which Flaubert handled it was. Some of his characters are unashamedly satirised e.g. the pharmacist Homais (in particular his 'triumph' in being awarded the legion d'honeur) and Binet, the boring bourgeois. His treatment of Emma is much subtler: she is mocked for her Romantic fantasies and yet she also elicits considerable sympathy. In much of the text that relates to literature the reader should also be wary, for, in many cases, there is a double irony operating: the first discussion between Leon and Emma in II, 1 illustrates precisely the traps hidden in the text. And when Emma attends the opera in II, 15 despite the critical distance that she tries to maintain, knowing by this stage "the triviality of those passions which art paints so much larger than life", she realises that "her desire to mock was powerless against the role's poetic appeal". This is the dilemma the reader of Madame Bovary confronts on every page. As the critic Terence Cave has put it, "by portraying Emma as a reader, the novel deflates not only her false expectations, but also the reader's". Irony then becomes the tool through which Flaubert lays bare the processes by which readers "inflate" a text.

There has been a great deal of debate as to whether Madame Bovary should be considered a work of realism. Flaubert despised classification and was adamant that he was not a realist author. In the text he makes explicit not just the inadequacy of literature as a guide to life but also the inauthenticity of the words that constitute it: "human language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, when all the time we are longing to move the stars to pity". The scientific rigour with which Flaubert dedicated himself to finding the right words for the pettiness of provincial life and his desire to reflect this in writing a "novel about nothing", devoid of dramatic events the closest he gets is the elopement which never was do however allow him to be characterised as a realist novelist in the historical sense of the word i.e. operating in an artistic context that was just beginning to value the everyday and the ordinary (made fashionable especially by the paintings of Gustave Courbet). The importance of Flaubert's medical family background to his methods should not be underestimated; the convergence of scientific observation and realist detail is most evident at Emma's deathbed (medical students are said to use it as a case study for arsenic poisoning!) and in the operation on Hippolyte's club foot. One of Flaubert's most heartfelt desires was to learn to employ the same stratagem for the observation of the soul, for as he said "everything that one writes is true... Poetry is as precise as geometry" (letter of 1852)
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