Sample Questions

1. How successful do you consider Flaubert in writing "Madame Bovary" as "a book about nothing"?

Discuss what "a book about nothing" means. What are the major events in the novel? Are there any 'events' that have a fundamental impact on the development of the story? Things do actually happen, and there is a 'real life' source for Emma Bovary. Is a "book about nothing" the same as a book in which nothing happens?

Compare the novel to the Romantic literature which Emma enjoyed reading, which is packed full of events. Would Emma's understanding of "nothing" be the same as Charles's?

If this is a book in which very little happens, how does Flaubert retain our interest? Is his style successful in creating an entertaining read out of a featureless plot? What are the key features of this style and how do they differ from his contemporaries (use of narrative perspective, realist detail, anticlimax, neo-poetic form).

Do you consider Flaubert's supposed intention to be oxymoronic? If yes, does that doom Flaubert's project to failure? If not, why not?

2. "Flaubert could not prevent himself injecting virile blood into his creation's veins and Madame Bovary remained a man" (Baudelaire). Is this a fair assessment of Flaubert's depiction of gender in the novel?

Flaubert famously wrote that "Madame Bovary, c'est moi". Is Madame Bovary the character inseparable from Flaubert the man and author? Can men write effectively about female experience? (see also other nineteenth century novelists e.g. Stendhal or Tolstoy) What does Baudelaire mean by this quotation and where does his idea of virility come from? Discuss how Emma differs from other women in the book. Discuss the nature of gender and the position of women in nineteenth century France. Show how these exacerbate Emma's feelings of entrapment. Note Baudelaire's own misogyny. Emma is a victim of society and of her own character rather than of any one man: is this more often a characteristic of male heroes? How might she have been more 'feminine'? Ultimately this question is one of plausibility: is Emma a convincing heroine? If not, why not and if so, how does Flaubert generate this impression (use of style indirect libre, dialogue, attention to realist detail etc.)?
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