Once considered scandalizingly immoral, Flaubert’s exquisite debut novel unsparingly depicts a woman’s gradual corruption and the human mind in search of transcendence. Unhappily married to a devoted, clumsy local doctor, Emma fulfils her epicurean dreams of ecstasy and love by indulging in a passionate affair with Rodolphe. Apprehending the dire consequences, she takes the firm and final move which none could have ever dreamt of. The realistic style and rich descriptions—the soft-focused imaginings, a suggestive smile or phrase, the desire and search for seclusion, the breathless rush to the lover’s arms and the sensuous embrace, the fear of exposure, the financial outlay, the ever-growing disinterest and recklessness, the frequent violent arguments and impossible demands, the violation of promises, mutual recrimination and the tearful break-up—make this brilliant psychological portrait, Madame Bovary, a masterpiece, as Frank O’ Connor has remarked, “possibly the most beautifully written book ever composed;…a book that invites superlatives…the most important novel of the century.”
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