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Madame Bovary: Top Ten Quotes

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  1. The last comment of the brief first person (presumably a member of Charles' class) narration that begins the work. This quotation exemplifies the manner in which young Charles Bovary was a perfect conformist and utterly forgettable:
    "It would be difficult toady for any of us to say what he was like. There was nothing striking about him: he played during recess, worked in study-hall, paid attention in class, slept soundly in the dormitory, ate heartily in the refectory." (10)
  2. The description of Charles and Emma on the morning following their nuptials. The implication that Emma is not sexually satisfied is one of the elements of the novel that led to the government charges of immorality:
    "The next day, however, he seemed a very different man. It was he who gave the impression of having lost his virginity overnight: the bride made not the slightest sign that could be taken to betray anything at all." (34)
  3. Emma's feelings after attending the ball at La Vaubyessard. This passage reflects her conviction that her mundane surrounding are preventing her true passionate self from realizing its full potential:
    "Everything immediately surrounding her - boring countryside, inane petty bourgeois, the mediocrity of daily life - seemed to her the exception rather than the rule. She had been caught in it all by some accident: out beyond, there stretched as far as eye could see the immense territory of rapture and passions. In her longing she made no difference between the pleasures of luxury and the joys of the heart, between elegant living and sensitive feeling." (66)
  4. Emma's determination that her husband is the source of all her misery and her first step into the mindset necessary for her adultery:
    "What exasperated her was Charles' total unawareness of her ordeal. His conviction that he was making her happy she took as a stupid insult: such self-righteousness could only mean that he didn't appreciate her. For whose sake, after all, was she being virtuous? Wasn't he the obstacle to every kind of happiness, the cause of all her wretchedness, the sharp-pointed prong of this many stranded belt that bound her on all sides?" (123)
  5. Rodolphe's thoughts of Emma after first meeting her and noticing Charles' obvious lack of appeal to such a woman:
    How bored she must be! Dying to live in town, to dance the polka every night! Poor little thing! She's gasping for love like a carp on a kitchen table gasping for water. A compliment or two and she'd adore me, I'm positive. She'd be sweet! But - how would I get rid of her later?" (147)
  6. Emma's thoughts after her first sexual encounter with Rodolphe:
    "She remembered the heroines of novels she had read, and the lyrical legion of those adulterous women began to sing in her memory with sisterly voices that enchanted her. Now she saw herself as one of those amoureuseswhom she had so envied: she was becoming, in reality, one of that gallery of fictional figures; the long dream of her youth was coming true. She was full of a delicious sense of vengeance. How she had suffered! But now her hour of triumph had come; and love, so long repressed was gushing forth in joyful effervescence. She savored it without remorse, without anxiety, without distress." (183).
  7. Observation on language after Emma proclaims the intensity of her love and devotion to an increasingly cool Rodolphe. This passage is a wonderful example of the power of free indirect discourse in that it allows Flaubert to comment on his own perceptions without resorting to a narrative voice:
    "Since he had heard those same words uttered by loose women or prostitutes, he had little belief in their sincerity when he heard them now: the more flowery a person's speech, he thought, the more suspect the feelings, or lack of feelings, it concealed. Whereas the truth is that fullness of soul can sometimes overflow in utter vapidity of language, for none of us can ever express the exact human measure of his needs or his thoughts or his sorrows; and human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars." (216)
  8. Leon's thoughts of Emma after the start of their affair. This passage mirrors the earlier one in which Emma imagined herself a heroine in a novel during the early days of her affair with Rodolphe:
    "With her ever-changing moods, by turns brooding and gay, chattering and silent, fiery and casual, she aroused in him a thousand desires, awakening instincts or memories. She was the amoureuse of all the novels, the heroine of all the plays, the vague "she" of all the poetry books." (302)
  9. Leon's attitude toward Emma as her immense need to be desired eclipses his own personality:
    "He never disputed any of her ideas; he fell in with all her tastes: he was becoming her mistress, far more than she was his. Her sweet words and her kisses swept away his soul. Her depravity was so deep and so dissembled as to be almost intangible: where could she have learned it? (316)
  10. Charles' thoughts after Emma's death when he discovers the letter from Rodolphe that ended their affair. He dismisses it as innocuous but his rationalization reveals the depth of his love:
    "Everyone must have adored her, he thought. Every man who saw her must certainly have coveted her. This made her the lovelier in his mind; and he conceived a furious desire for her that never stopped; it fed the flames of his despair, and it grew stronger and stronger because now it could never be satisfied." (388)


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