by Gustave Flaubert
Madame Bovary Women and Femininity Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Part.Chapter.Paragraph). We used Lowell Bair's translation.
Would this misery last forever? Was there no escape from it? And yet she was certainly just as good as all those other women whose lives were happy! She had seen duchesses at La Vaubyessard who had dumpier figures and cruder manners than she, and she cursed God’s injustice […] (I.9.36)
Emma is convinced that she deserves more than some of the rich women she saw at the ball, simply because she is more beautiful than they.
A man, at least is free; he can explore the whole range of the passions, go wherever he likes, overcome obstacles, savor the most exotic pleasures. But a woman is constantly thwarted. Inert and pliable, she is restricted by her physical weakness and her legal subjection. Her will, like the veil tied to her hat with a cord, quivers with every wind; there is always some desire urging her forward, always some convention holding her back. (II.3.12)
Women in Flaubert’s day were far more restricted than their male counterparts, who were allowed to philander and experiment. Flaubert comments aptly here that women’s desires can never be fulfilled in a society that holds them back.
And for a time she would be despondent and almost lifeless, gasping and sobbing softly with tears running down her cheeks.
"Why don’t you tell Monsieur?" the maid asked whenever she came into the room during one of these crises.
"It’s just my nerves," Emma would reply. "Don’t mention it to him, it would only upset him."
"Oh, yes," Félicité said once, "you’re just like the daughter of old Guérin, the fisherman at Le Pollet. I met her in Dieppe, before I came here. She was so sad! When you saw her standing in her doorway she made you think of a funeral pall hanging in front of the house. They say it was some kind of fog in her head that was bothering her. The doctors couldn’t do anything for her, and neither could the priest. When it got too bad she used to go down to the beach all by herself, and sometimes the customs officer would find her lying face down on the pebbles, crying. Then after she got married it went away, or so they say.
"In my case," said Emma, "it didn’t begin till after I was married." (II.5.48)
This is a rare moment between women. Flaubert doesn’t show us much personal interaction between Emma and any other of the female characters (mainly because they’re largely unimportant). However, here we get a glimpse into the communal lives of women at this time – Emma is not the only one who suffers from this kind of depression.