Study Guide

Madame Bovary Part 1, Chapter 1

By Gustave Flaubert

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Part 1, Chapter 1

  • A nameless first-person narrator (never heard from again after this chapter) recounts the day young Charles Bovary appeared at school.
  • Charles is an embarrassed, rusticated, slow, and bewildered rural fellow. Also, he’s a total fashion victim.
  • Charles has some difficulty managing his tragically ugly hat; the teacher and the other boys all mock him.
  • The class gets even rowdier, and the teacher assigns some lines to punish them. Things quiet down, though Charles is attacked with surreptitious spitballs.
  • The other boys observe the newcomer carefully. He’s not terribly bright, but he’s a hard worker. Next, we get some background on the Bovary family: Charles’s dad is a boastful but unsuccessful businessman who pretty much fails to support his family. His poor mom, whose money sustained her husband through his attempts at finding a career, is embittered, peevish, and obsessed with her son.
  • Charles received a half-hearted education, but spent most of his childhood left to his own devices, running barefoot around the village and chasing turkeys (Whoohoo!).
  • Despite his lackluster upbringing, Charles’s parents hope that he’ll make a name for himself. After a pretty average, unmemorable time at school, they enroll him in medical school, where he begins to appreciate the finer things in life: the stereotypical temptations of wine, women, and song.
  • After failing his exams once, then cramming like crazy and passing a second time, Charles manages to get certified as an officier de santé (health officer). This is kind of like a junior doctor; it’s a guy who’s not a real doctor, but is allowed to practice medicine.
  • Mama Bovary is happy. She sets Charles up in a nearby town, Tostes, then marries him off to a wealthy, needy widow. You’ve got to feel bad for the guy.

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