ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Books, Literature, and Writing»
  • Literature

Madame Bovary, A Bad Cast

Updated on November 25, 2009

by Wes J. Pimentel

Of all the characters in Madame Bovary, not a single good person emerges, according to historical literary critic, Charles Agustin Sainte-Beuve (qtd. in Bloom 5). I have to say that I agree because I feel like I understand what he means. Anyone who has read the book and then hears this will immediately go from character to character trying to identify one who is free of blame. I will explore the more obvious of these and posit my perspectives on each. I will then take a general look at the moral climate of the book and summarize my views on it.

Charles: the quintessential “good” guy. Why did Charles not escape this criticism? What did he do that was so bad? I don’t believe that Sainte-Beuve meant “bad” necessarily morally when he made this remark. I think he was also referring to the social value of each person. While Charles has many admirable qualities, he lacks the type of passion that interests Emma. I’m Colombian and he lacks what we would call ”picante” or spiciness. He is about as boring and grey as they come. He is the poster boy for men whose wives have strayed. He lacks lofty ambitions and is an absolute momma’s boy. Not exactly the types of qualities that women typically swoon over. So, if you measure someone’s social worth by how interesting they are, good being interesting and bad meaning not, I can see why you would find no good in Charles.

Berthe: the kid. I will not waste anyone’s time on this “character”. Berthe has such an insignificant presence in this book I found myself continually forgetting that Emma had even had a child. I guess women of means were not that into child-rearing during this period, but I would venture to say that even among them, Emma was a prime specimen. While Berthe is an “innocent,” she brings almost nothing to this story, and as such fails to bring goodness, as well.

As you go from character to character in this way, it becomes obvious that there are truly no archetypal “good guys” in the whole book. I think this is one of the most important factors in how this book was received by the public. The fact that all the characters are seriously flawed makes them so believable, it’s hard to imagine them all being contrivances of a single individual’s mind. The palpable credulity that this lends to these people makes it very easy to connect with them and even become emotionally invested in their happiness or their downfall. This, I believe, is the reason for the raging success of this novel. The balance that Falubert strikes in each person in this book is a stroke of genius and elevates the author from a mere writer to a creator.

While thinking about whether there are any good people in the book I also found myself wondering if there are any purely bad characters in it. My thoughts went immediately to Rodolphe. He makes the perfect emotional bad guy. He is a splendid example of a self-centered cad. He is the type of man who women find conceptually repulsive, but irresistibly attractive when encountered in the flesh. He has an easy manner and charm with women, no doubt cultivated through years of debauchery and indulgence. I think the fact that there are bad people like Rodolphe in the novel and that we perceive them as morally reprehensible specifically because they are offensive to Emma reveals the affection that Flaubert has for her. She was obviously a very important character for him and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he truly felt love for her.

I always say that there are almost no good or bad people because I have found that in life most of us are balanced. We have our positive traits and our weaknesses. Flaubert recreates this realism in his characters and makes them leap to life from the book. I think this is the main reason for the controversy over this book as well. There had been all kinds of morally corrupt women in literature at the time this novel came out. Most of these women are presented as bad people, though, and they are easily dismissed as anti-heroines who serve the purpose of showing women how not to be. Flaubert achieved something altogether different. He brought someone to life. As you read the book you feel as if you are truly witnessing the downfall of an actual woman. Madame Bovary breaks through all the typical polarization that occurs in literature and Emma emerges a believable person; flawed, disgusting and beautiful.


Works Cited
Bloom, Harold, ed. Emma Bovary. Major Literary Characters. New York: Chelsea House, 1994. Print.

Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary, 1857. London: Penguin, 2003.

*Special thanks to Dr. Laurie Leach of Hawaii Pacific University for her guidance and suggestions on this piece.


Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      Marebear2410 6 years ago

      My french professor reccomended that I read Mme Bovary. I'm definitely bookmarking this so I can look back to it once I start reading ;] thanks for the post!

    • profile image

      Karen S 7 years ago

      Hi. I found your site after telling my brother to read Mme Bovary and tell me what he thought. I just reread it 45 years after reading it in high school and, again, the character who affected me most was Berthe. That surprised me that my take at 17 was the same as my take at 62 and I even remembered passages about Berthe.

      I agree with Sainte Beuve that all of the other characters are bad people. Every one of them. And that includes the "good guy" Charles because he is bad in relation to Berthe; he does not protect her as a father should.

      Why do I think Berthe is the most important character? (1) Her fate is the subject of the end of the novel; Flaubert takes the trouble to tell us Berthe will live in poverty working in a factory. (2) Its human nature to look at responsibility that way: Who suffered and didn't deserve to suffer - only one person, Berthe - and the others made their own beds. Flaubert is writing for Berthe, her point of view if she knew the story.

    • Lee B profile image

      Lee Barton 8 years ago from New Mexico

      I found your hub while researching for my own Madame Bovary hub. I certainly was interested in your comments and examples. I'm really thinking that Flaubert was attempting to avoid the categories of "bad" and "good," but we, as humans simply find that impossible. Anyway, I'll be linking my hub to yours, if that's okay. It'll be up in a few days.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: "https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr"

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)