How does Flaubert use the Agricultural fair at Rouen to further his satire of 19th century French society?

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World Literature 2 essay: Type 2c

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Matthew Jackson


Madame Bovary

by Gustave Flaubert 


“How does Flaubert use the Agricultural fair at Rouen to further his satire of 19th century French society?

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1427 words.

How does Flaubert use the Agricultural fair at Rouen to further his satire of 19th century French society?

Gustave Flaubert wrote his novel Madame Bovary in the mid-nineteenth century as a satirical comment on the upper middle class, those who were just rich enough to pretend to be rich. Flaubert loathed them and wrote his novel to make them appear as the fools that he thought them to be. His loathing for the upper middle class of 1850’s France stemmed from the ideals which they held.  Flaubert saw his fellows as a generation lost to the meritless and frivolous dreams of the French Romantic movement.

French Romanticism was a movement through all the creative arts towards idealising the world which artists constructed. Although equally present in music and visual art, Flaubert focused both his hatred and his satire on the literature of the time, this reactionary nature earned him the title of a “naturalist”. This was however something that Flaubert hated; the Naturalistic movement was one that focused on specifics and on realism in a work, whereas Flaubert sought to make his story one that was applicable to any setting. Though his attention to detail in places mirrors that of a realist or naturalist writer, this is not his essential purpose.

Flaubert defies any attempt to fit his work to a particular movement or style in French literature, though there is little doubt that his work Madame Bovary is a reactionary satire of French romanticism and of the bourgeois society that regurgitated the clichés of the movement. Each word in the novel is carefully chosen, so the book becomes a painstakingly  constructed trap which ensnares the thoughts of the reader and guides them to the conclusions that Flaubert wants us to make. Although every word in the novel is vital to Flaubert’s purpose, there are certain key passages that are particularly pivotal to the book. Among these is his description of the agricultural fair at Rouen in Part II Chapter 8. One section of this describes a conversation that occurs between Rodolphe and Emma in the provincial fair that surrounds it.

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The passage begins with a monologue from Rodolphe: what he expresses in the passage is a fairly cliché set of ideals from the romantic movement. He talks of “Striving souls” and “beating hearts” . Particularly typical is the idea of two souls matched by fate that cannot be drawn apart. However despite the words of the text the tone is not one of romance. Flaubert intentionally marrs Rodolphe’s words by introducing them with the sentence:

“Rodolphe had moved in closer to Emma, he was talking in a low voice, speaking rapidly”

This has the effect that ...

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Here's what a star student thought of this essay

In terms of language, the essay is spotless. No spelling or grammar mistakes at all; the writing is clear and fluent, and the author uses it to his advantage. Some turns of phrase are indeed quite witty, making the essay even more interesting, for example “bovine conspirators” or “consistently contrasting the everyday provinciality of the agricultural fair with the frivolous fantasies in which the two "star crossed lovers" engage”. Terms specific to literary analysis are to be found throughout the text: “exaggeration”, “mimicking”, “oration” or “substantive” to name a few. Great job!

The analysis of the Rouen scene is brilliant in this essay. What impressed me particularly was the depth and variety of points made by the author. For example, this is especially effective when he compares dialogues between the lovers and the speech by the city official: he starts off with a general point, brings up examples, and goes on to explore the implications: “The contrasts between the two begin subtly but as we continue down the page they grow less and less so. By the time we reach the bottom of the page (…)”. This technique continues all the way though: small points that shift and develop to bigger points, and end up being solid ideas and theories. However, I have found a couple of misinformed remarks: throughout the essay, the author insists on Flaubert’s “hatred” and “loathing” towards the French society. These words are too strong for an academic essay and should be written more diplomatically. Moreover, in contrast to the author’s opinion, Flaubert has actually been notoriously difficult to define and has rarely been classified as a naturalist. Still – overall, the author has managed to capture the essence of the scene both in the context of the question and as an essential part of “Madame Bovary”.

The essay begins with a detailed introduction, which tells the reader about Flaubert, the novel, French Romanticism, as well as the concept of satire itself. For an essay of this length, the introduction could have been shortened and made more compact. However, as soon as the main body of the text begins, the writer quickly dives into the most important elements of the Rouen scene and explores a series of literary techniques and subtleties, all of which are linked to satire. We have a rich mix of the study of dialogue, behaviour, free indirect style, thought, as well as minute, but significant details, such as punctuation. The writer never strays from the question and elegantly pushes all his points together towards a very well-written essay. One thing only is lacking – a conclusion. Because of such a detailed analysis in the main body, the conclusion would have been necessary to really knit everything together once again.