Mike Bevel (britadventuress) wrote,
Mike Bevel

Reading Resources: The Trial of Madame Bovary

Below are my notes on the obscenity trial for Madame Bovary. If you have a specific question regarding any of the below information, or if you have better information than I have ("I don't think Emma Bovary ever discovered an alternate planet Earth filled with apes, Mike."), please feel free to send me an email (mbevel2002 at yahoo dot com) or reply in the comments.

The two books I consulted the most:

Madame Bovary, Norton Critical Edition
Flaubert and Madame Bovary by Francis Steegmuller

Madame Bovary Trial

Madame Bovary is published serially in the Review de Paris starting in 1856.

Several scenes – most notably the super sexy carriage ride – are cut by Maxime du Camp.
  • Decree from Napoleon had abolished freedom of the press; newspapers were under increased scrutiny
  • Review de Paris was known to authorities of the Second Empire as a periodical purveying objectionably liberal, republican, and generally "advanced" views.
The novel is put on trial 30 January 1857. It lasts one day.
  • There are several suggestions that it was Flaubert's public reaction (he has a note inserted into the number with the missing cab ride declaiming the edit and disavowing his participation in that number) that drew the court's attention to Madame Bovary.
  • The prosecutor, Ernest Pinard, also seems to have some sort of vendetta against Flaubert.
Pinard opens by recapping the entire novel, then brings his two charges against Flaubert:
  • Offense to public morality (all the scenes of sexual excess)
  • Offense to religious morality (voluptuous images mixed with sacred things)
Pinard sites four scenes -- what he calls "paintings" -- that he feels best exemplifies the prosecution's case:
  1. Loves and fall with Rodolphe
  2. Religious transition between the two adulteries (Emma's near-death)
  3. Fall with Leon
  4. Death of Emma
Loves and Fall with Rodolphe
  • Rodolphe seeing Emma's bodice pulled tightly during the bloodletting scene
  • No remorse after first adultery
  • Emma glorifies adultery
  • Emma sneaking from her sleeping husband
  • Emma grows in beauty through her adultery
Religious Transition Between Two Adulteries
  • Lingering as a child with made-up sins to prolong her religious fiction
  • That she seeks communion without the guise of the Magdalen
  • Praying to God with words usually addressed to a lover (p 325 of Norton Critical Edition)
Fall with Leon
  • Carriage scene
  • Seeing the play of Lucia de Lammermoor
Death of Emma
  • Suicide (it's a sin; it's also not earned)
  • Extreme unction (Pinard feels that Flaubert adds too much of the voluptuous to this scene)
  • She dies at the moment a lascivious song is sung 
"But...but...she dies: isn't that punishment" To which Pinard replies:

"But after all, the novel is fundamentally moral, since the adultery is punished?

Two answers to this objection: if I hypothetically assume the work is moral, a moral conclusion could never grant amnesty for the lascivious details that may be in it. And then I say: the work is not fundamentally moral.

Gentlemen, I say that lascivious details cannot be covered up by a moral conclusion, or else one could talk about all imaginable orgies, describe all the base acts of a prostitute, by letting her die on a pallet in the hospital.

She dies not because she is adulterous, but because she wanted to die; she dies in all the splendor of youth and her beauty; she dies after having had two lovers, leaving behind a husband who loves her, who adores her…Thus if in all the book there is not one character who can make her bend her head; if there is not one idea, one line in virtue of which adultery is denounced, then I am right: the book is immoral!”

The defense, of course, wins. (Marie-Antoine-Jules Senard) But not because his arguments are good.
  • It's rumored that many are uncomfortable with Pinard's passion in denouncing the book
  • His main argument is that the novel is religious and moral – that Flaubert is translating "incitement to virtue by the horror of vice."
The "moral and religious argument" seems flawed. We have several letters Flaubert wrote to Louise Colet about Madame Bovary: 
  • "There are no noble subjects or ignoble subjects...There is no such thing as a subject. Style in itself being an absolute manner of seeing things." (16 January 1852) 
  • "No lyricism. No comments. The author's personality absent." (1 February 1852) 
  • "Nowhere in my book must the author express his emotions or his opinion." (8 February 1852)
There's a lovely irony: The prosecution reads the novel better than the defense (who takes an almost bourgeois read of it, what with his trumpeting morality every other sentence). There's no complexity to the defense's interpretation; the prosecution, however, seems infected by the ideas Flaubert wants to be communicable. (That's too much of a metaphor right there. Don't tell anyone I used it.)

As part of the defense's playing up of how morally and intellectually upstanding Flaubert is as a human being, the defense says of Flaubert, "Qui mores multorum vidit et urbes." [He saw the manners and cities of many.] Let's take a peek at a couple of entries from Flaubert's travel journal to see what kind of seer of manners and cities he was: 
  • "The Temple of Edfu serves as a public latrine for the entire village." 
  • "Jerusalem is a charnel house surrounded by ramparts"
Defense essentially wears down the Court with his opening statement: 
  • Prosecution = 21 pages in my Norton Critical Edition 
  • Defense = 48 pages in my Norton Critical Edition

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