She is me.
“Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
So ran the maxim of Gustave Flaubert, which is probably why, after his father’s death, he lived with his mother in their country home until he was fifty years old. Despite this he maintained his contacts in Paris and witnessed the revolution of 1848.
After travelling in North Africa, Syria, Turkey, Greece, and Italy, Flaubert began writing his masterpiece, Madame Bovary, which took five years to complete and eventually appeared in book form in 1857. The author was immediately prosecuted for producing a work offensive to morality and religion. Flaubert conducted his own defence in court and escaped conviction.
The book portrays Emma Bovary, a middle-class woman married to a physician. She has romantic dreams and longs for adventure, seeing herself as a heroine in a Walter Scott novel. She is bored by her husband who believes her to be happy and contented and she seeks solace by conducting affairs with two different men. When everything eventually falls apart Emma poisons herself with arsenic.
Although we regard Flaubert as a realist writer, it is a label that he himself rejected. He disliked and fought against the concept of labels. But in a historical context he was dedicated to realism, a perfectionist who wished his writing to reflect a nonjudgmental representation of life. His narrative approach, by the 1870s was widely accepted by other writers.
When he was asked who was his model for Emma Bovary, Flaubert replied: “Emma, c’est moi.” (Emma, that’s me.)