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Madame Bovary

Madame Bovary

by Gustave Flaubert

Analysis: What’s Up With the Epigraph?

Epigraphs are like little appetizers to the great entrée of a story. They illuminate important aspects of the story, and they get us headed in the right direction.

[Dedication to Marie-Antoine-Jules Senard]

Dear and illustrious friend,
Allow me to inscribe your name at the head of this book and above its dedication, for it is to you, more than anyone else, that I owe its publication. In passing through your magnificent pleas in court, my work has acquired, in my eyes, a kind of unexpected authority. I therefore ask you to accept here the tribute of my gratitude, which, however great it may be, will never reach the height of your eloquence or your devotion.

– Gustave Flaubert

OK, you’ve got us – this is not actually an epigraph at all. Rather, it’s a very significant dedication. We just couldn’t figure out where else this very significant explanatory note could go. Anyway, the "illustrious" man to whom Flaubert is so very grateful is Marie-Antoine-Jules Senard (a guy, despite his first name). Senard was a big shot lawyer of the time and, when Flaubert was put on trial in 1857 for Madame Bovary (which was deemed too steamy for public consumption), Senard successfully defended him, saving both the novel and its author from big, big trouble. The novel, which gained notoriety through press coverage of the trial, went on to become a giant bestseller (looks like things haven’t really changed since then).

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