The Sublimity of Charles Bovary
Literary Imagination 15.2 (2012): 1-8.
7 Pages Posted: 18 Oct 2012 Last revised: 25 Oct 2012
Date Written: 2012
From Henry James to Jacques Ranciere, readers of Madame Bovary have assumed that the novel’s narrative crux depends on the author’s complete identification with Emma Bovary. This essay argues for the importance of Charles Bovary, both as a foil to Emma’s self-absorption and as an alternative way of envisioning human affection. Charles’s selfless love anticipates that of Félicité of “A Simple Heart”: both are gifted with an empathetic imagination more profound than that of every other character in their fictional universes. Looking beyond the stereotype of Charles as a bungling idiot, I shed light on the sources of Emma’s tragedy, which begins not with the oppression induced by her marriage but rather with her fear of her husband’s forgiveness.
Keywords: Flaubert, characterization, prose narrative, irony, holy fool, Dostoevsky
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