Study Guide

Madame Bovary What’s Up With the Title?

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What’s Up With the Title?

This is pretty straightforward: Madame Bovary is about Madame Bovary. The novel falls in the tradition of books named after their heroes (think David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Emma, Jane Eyre, etc.). However, Flaubert’s novel threw in an inventive and perhaps unsettling twist – the eponymous Madame Bovary isn’t exactly a heroine. Yes, she is our protagonist, and yes, she is the center of the novel. However, she doesn’t awaken our sense of compassion or sympathy in the same way that the other characters listed above do (see more on this in "Character Role Identification"). Furthermore, the novel was condemned at the time of its publication for being too racy, and for not portraying the scandalous life and times of Emma Bovary in terms of morality. Flaubert did a gutsy thing when he decided to simply name his novel after this ambiguous and difficult character – the title places no judgment, and gives us no hint of how we are supposed to perceive her.

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