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OTHER ELEMENTS

SETTING

Both Tostes and Yonville, where the main action of Madame Bovary takes place, are fictitious names of small towns in the Normandy region of northwest France. Both towns were invented by Flaubert, though many readers assume that Yonville was modeled after the town of Ry, where an actual scandal similar to the story of Emma and Charles had taken place. Originally Flaubert had subtitled the novel "Scenes From Provincial Life" to emphasize the importance of the setting as a commentary on French small-town life in the mid-nineteenth century.

Flaubert describes the town of Yonville in great detail, from the "straight street lined with young aspens" to "the emaciated pear trees pressed up against the plastered walls of the houses." It has only a single main street which is lined with stores. Nothing ever changes in this town or in its surrounding landscape that is as flat and monotonous as the lives of its inhabitants. The farmers continually plow their fields, whether the land is fertile or not. Note especially Flaubert's description of the town cemetery (Part Two, Chapter 1).


Flaubert sets a good portion of Part Three in Rouen, the city of his birth. In his day, Rouen, the capital of Normandy, was the third largest city in France, known mostly for its medieval architecture and especially for the Cathedral where Leon and Emma begin their affair. In Madame Bovary the shift from town to city is important to the relatively unsophisticated residents of Yonville. For Homais, a trip to Rouen is a special occasion.

During his visit, he makes Leon take him on a tour of the restaurants and cafes, acting like a typical sightseer. On the other hand, you get the impression that Charles prefers small-town life. When he goes to Rouen to buy tickets for the opera, he might as well be in a foreign country. For Emma, city life presents the perfect remedy for her boredom, almost a dream come true. The crowded streets provide her with enough excitement to blot out, at least momentarily, her usual morbid thoughts. For Emma, Rouen represents another imagined escape route from everyday reality. Similarly, Paris, the glittering city that seems paradise to Emma, serves as the backdrop to many of her fantasies.

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