THE PUBLIC _vs_. M. GUSTAVE FLAUBERT
The folios referred to in the trial are the folios either of the _Revue
de Paris_ or of the first edition of the book. - EDITOR.
_Speech of the Prosecuting Attorney_,
M. ERNEST PINARD
Gentlemen, in entering upon this debate, the Public Attorney is in the
presence of a difficulty which he cannot ignore. It cannot be put even
in the nature of a condemnation, since offenses to public morals and to
religion are somewhat vague and elastic expressions which it would be
necessary to define precisely. Nevertheless, when we speak to
right-minded, practical men we are sure of being sufficiently understood
to distinguish whether a certain page of a book carries an attack
against religion and morals or not. The difficulty is not in arousing a
prejudice, it is far more in explaining the work of which you are to
judge. It deals entirely with romance. If it were a newspaper article
which we were bringing before you, it could be seen at once where the
fault began and where it ended; it would simply be read by the ministry
and submitted to you for judgment. Here we are not concerned with a
newspaper article, but entirely with a romance, which begins the first
of October, finishes the fifteenth of December, and is composed of six
numbers, in the _Revue de Paris_, 1856. What is to be done in such a
case? What is the duty of the Public Ministry? To read the whole
romance? That is impossible. On the other hand, to read only the
incriminating texts would expose us to deep reproach. They could say to
us: If you do not show the case in all its parts, if you pass over that
which precedes and that which follows the incriminating passages, it is
evident that you wish to suppress the debate by restricting the ground
of discussion. In order to avoid this twofold difficulty, there is but
one course to follow, and that is, to relate to you the whole story of
the romance without reading any of it, or pointing out any incriminating
passage; then to cite incriminating texts, and finally to answer the
objections that may arise against the general method of indictment.
What is the title of the romance? _Madame Bovary_. This title in itself
explains nothing. There is a second in parentheses: _Provincial Morals
and Customs_. This is also a title which does not explain the thought of
the author but which gives some intimation of it. The author does not
endeavour to follow such or such a system of philosophy, true or false;
he endeavours to produce certain pictures, and you shall see what kind
of pictures! Without doubt, it is the husband who begins and who
terminates the book; but the most serious portrait of the work, the one
that illumines the other paintings, is that of Madame Bovary.
Here I relate, I do not cite. It takes the husband first at college, and
it must be stated that the boy already gave evidence of the kind of
husband he would make. He is excessively heavy and timid, so timid that
when he arrives at the college and is asked his name, he responds:
"_Charbovari_" He is so dull that he works continually without
advancing. He is never the first, nor is he the last in his class; he
is the type, if not of the cipher at least of the laughing-stock of the
college. After finishing his studies here, he goes to study medicine at
Rouen, in a fourth-story room overlooking the Seine, which his mother
rented for him, in the house of a dyer of her acquaintance. Here he
studies his medical books, and arrives little by little, not at the
degree of doctor of medicine, but that of health officer. He frequented
the inns, failed in his studies, but as for the rest, he had no other
passion than that of playing dominoes. This is M. Bovary.
The time comes for him to marry. His mother finds him a wife in the
widow of a sheriff's officer of Dieppe; she is virtuous and plain, is
forty-five years old, and has six thousand a year income. Only, the
lawyer who had her capital to invest set out one fine morning for
America, and the younger Madame Bovary was so much affected, so struck
down by this unexpected blow that she died of it. Here we have the first
marriage and the first scene.
M. Bovary, now being a widower, begins to think of marrying again. He
questions his memory; there is no need of going far; there immediately
comes to his mind the daughter of a neighboring farmer, Mile. Emma
Rouault, who had strangely aroused Madame Bovary's suspicions. Farmer
Rouault had but one daughter, and she had been brought up by the
Ursuline sisters at Rouen. She was little interested in matters of the
farm; her father was anxious for her to marry. The health officer
presented himself, there was no difficulty about the _dot_, and you
understand that with such a disposition on both sides, these things are
quickly settled. The marriage takes place. M. Bovary is at his wife's
knees, is the happiest of men and the blindest of husbands. His sole
occupation is anticipating his wife's wishes.
Here the rôle of M. Bovary ends; that of Madame Bovary becomes the
serious work of the book.
Gentlemen, does Madame Bovary love her husband, or try to love him? No;
and from the beginning there has been what we might call the scene of
initiation. From the moment of her marriage, another horizon stretched
itself out before her, a new life appeared to her. The proprietor of
Vaubyessard Castle gave a grand entertainment. He invited the health
officer and his wife, and this was for her an initiation into all the
ardour of voluptuousness! There she discovered the Duke of Laverdière
who had had some success at Court; she waltzed with a viscount and
experienced an unusual disturbance of mind. From this moment she lived
a new life; her husband and all her surroundings became insupportable to
her. One day, in looking over some furniture, she hit a piece of wire
which tore her finger; it was the wire from her wedding bouquet.
To try to dispel the _ennui_ that was consuming her, M. Bovary
sacrificed his office and established himself at Yonville. Here was the
scene of the first fall. We are now in the second number. Madame
arrived at Yonville, and there, the first person she met upon whom she
could fix her attention was - not the notary of the place, but the only
clerk of that notary, Léon Dupuis. This is a young man who is making
his own way and is about to set out for the capital. Any other than
M. Bovary would have been disquieted by the visits of the young clerk,
but M. Bovary is so ingenuous that he believes in his wife's
virtue. Léon, wholly inexperienced, has the same idea. He goes away, and
the occasion is lost; but occasions are easily found again.
There was in the neighborhood of Yonville one Rodolphe Boulanger (you
understand that I am narrating). He was a man of thirty-four years old
and of a brutal temperament; he had had much success and many easy
conquests; he then had an actress for a mistress. He saw Madame Bovary;
she was young and charming; he resolved to make her his mistress. The
thing was easy; three meetings were sufficient to bring it about. The
first time he came to an agricultural meeting, the second time he paid
her a visit, the third time he accompanied her on a horseback ride which
her husband judged necessary to her health; it was then, in a first
visit to the forest, that the fall took place. Their meetings
multiplied after this, at Rodolphe's chateau and in the health officer's
garden. The lovers reached the extreme limits of voluptuousness! Madame
Bovary wished to elope with Rodolphe, but while Rodolphe dared not say
no, he wrote a letter in which he tried to show her that for many
reasons, he could not elope. Stricken down by the reception of this
letter, Madame Bovary had a brain fever, following which typhoid fever
declared itself. The fever killed the love, but the malady
remained. This is the second scene.
We come now to the third scene. The fall with Rodolphe was followed by a
religious reaction, but it was short; Madame Bovary was about to fall
anew. The husband thought the theatre useful in the convalescence of his
wife and took her to Rouen. In a box opposite that occupied by M. and
Madame Bovary, was Léon Dupuis, the notary's young clerk, who had made
his way to Paris, and who had now become strangely experienced and
knowing. He went to see Madame Bovary and proposed a _rendezvous_.
Madame Bovary suggested the cathedral. On coming out of the cathedral,
Léon proposed that they take a cab. She resisted at first, but Léon told
her that this was done in Paris, and there was no further obstacle. The
fall takes place in the cab! Meetings follow for Léon, as for Rodolphe,
at the health officer's house, and then at a room which they rented in
Rouen. Finally, she became weary of the second love, and here begins the
scene of distress; it is the last of the romance.
Madame Bovary was prodigal, having lavished gifts upon Rodolphe and
Léon; she had led a life of luxury and, in order to meet such expense
had put her name to a number of promissory notes. She had obtained a
power of attorney from her husband in the management of their common
patrimony, fell in with a usurer who discounted the notes which, not
being paid at the expiration of the time, were renewed under the name of
a boon companion. Then came the stamped paper, the protests, judgments
and executions, and, finally, the posting for sale of the furniture of
Monsieur Bovary, who knew nothing of all this. Reduced to the most
cruel extremities, Madame Bovary asked money from everybody, but got
none. Léon had nothing, and recoiled frightened at the idea of a crime
that was suggested to him for procuring funds. Having gone through every
degree of humiliation, Madame Bovary turned to Rodolphe; she was not
successful; Rodolphe did not have 3000 francs. There remained to her but
one course: to beg her husband's pardon? No. To explain the matter to
him? No, for this husband would be generous enough to pardon her, and
that was a humiliation which she could not accept: she must poison
We come now to grievous scenes. The husband is there beside his wife's
icy body. He has her night robe brought, orders her wrapped in it and
her remains placed in a triple coffin.
One day he opens a secretary and there finds Rodolphe's picture, his
letters and Léon's. Do you think his love is then shattered? No, no! on
the contrary, he is excited and extols this woman whom others have
possessed, as proved by these souvenirs of voluptuousness which she had
left to him; and from that moment he neglects his office, his family,
lets go to the winds the last vestige of his patrimony, and is found
dead one day in the arbor in his garden, holding in his hand a long lock
of black hair. This is the romance. I have related it to you,
suppressing no scene in it. It is called _Madame Bovary_. You could
with justice give it another title and call it. _Story of the Adulteries
of a Provincial Woman_.
Gentlemen, the first part of my task is fulfilled. I have related, I
shall now cite, and after the citations come the indictments which are
brought upon two counts: offense against public morals and offense
against religious morals. The offense against public morals lies in the
lascivious pictures which I have brought before your eyes; the offense
against religious morals consists in mingling voluptuous images with
sacred things. I now come to the citations. I will be brief, for you
will read the entire romance. I shall limit myself to citing four
scenes, or rather four tableaux. The first will be that of the fall with
Rodolphe; the second, the religious reaction between the two adulteries;
the third, the fall with Léon, which is the second adultery, and finally
the fourth, the death of Madame Bovary.
Before raising the curtain on these four pictures, permit me to inquire
what colour, what stroke of the brush M. Flaubert employs - for this
romance is a picture, and it is necessary to know to what school he
belongs - what colour he uses and what sort of portrait he makes of his
The general colour of the author, allow me to tell you, is a lascivious
colour, before, during, and after the falls! When she is a child ten or
twelve years of age, she is at the Ursuline convent. At this age, when
the young girl is not formed, when the woman cannot feel those emotions
which reveal to her a new world, she goes to confession:
"When she went to confession, she invented little sins in order that she
might stay there longer, kneeling in the shadow, her hands joined, her
face against the grating beneath the whispering of the priest. The
comparisons of betrothed, husband, celestial lover, and eternal
marriage, that recur in sermons, stirred within her soul depths of
Is it natural for a little girl to invent small sins, since we know that
for a child the smallest sins are confessed with the greatest
difficulty? And again, at this age, when a little girl is not formed,
does it not make what I have called a lascivious picture to show her
inventing little sins in the shadow, under the whisperings of the
priest, recalling comparisons she has heard about the affianced, the
celestial lover and eternal marriage which gave her a shiver of
Would you see Madame Bovary in her lesser acts, in a free state, without
a lover and without sin? I pass over those words, "the next day," and
that bride who left nothing to be discovered which could be divined or
found out, as the phrase in itself is more than equivocal; but we shall
see how it was with the husband:
The husband of the next day, "whom one would have taken for an old
maid," the bridegroom of this bride who "left nothing to be discovered
that could be divined," arose and went out, "his heart full of the
felicities of the night, with mind tranquil and flesh content," going
about "ruminating upon his happiness like one who is still enjoying
after dinner the taste of the truffles he is digesting."
It now remains, gentlemen, to determine upon the literary stamp of M.
Flaubert and upon the strokes of his brush. Now, at the Castle
Vaubyessard do you know what most attracted this young woman, what
struck her most forcibly? It is always the same thing - the Duke of
Laverdiere, as a lover - "as they say, of Marie-Antoinette, between the
Messrs. de Coigny and de Lauzun." "Emma's eyes turned upon him of their
own accord, as upon something extraordinary and august; he had lived at
Court and slept in the bed of queens!" Can it be said that this is only
an historic parenthesis? Sad and useless parenthesis! History can
authorise suspicions, but has not the right to establish them as
fact. History has spoken of the necklace in all romances; history has
spoken of a thousand things; but these are only suspicions and, I
repeat, I know not by what authority these suspicions should be
established as facts. And, since Marie-Antoinette died with the dignity
of a sovereign and the calmness of a Christian, her life-blood should
efface faults of which there are the strongest suspicions. M. Flaubert
was in need of a striking example in the painting of his heroine, but
Heaven knows why he has taken this one to express, all at once, the
perverse instincts and the ambition of Madame Bovary!
Madame Bovary dances very well, and here she is waltzing:
"They began slowly, then went more rapidly. They turned; all around them
was turning - the lamps, the furniture, the wainscoting, the floor, like
a disc on a pivot. On passing near the doors the bottom of Emma's dress
caught against his trousers. Their legs commingled; he looked down at
her; she raised her eyes to his. A torpor seized her; she stopped. They
started again, and with a more rapid movement; the Viscount, dragging
her along, disappeared with her to the end of the gallery, where,
panting, she almost fell, and for a moment rested her head upon his
breast. And then, still turning, but more slowly, he guided her back to
her seat. She leant back against the wall and covered her eyes with her
I know well that the waltz is more or less like this, but that makes it
no more moral!
Take Madame Bovary in her most simple acts, and we have always the same
stroke of the brush, on every page. Even Justin, the neighbouring
chemist's boy, undergoes some astonishment when he is initiated into the
secrets of this woman's toilette. He carries his voluptuous admiration
as far as the kitchen.
"With his elbows on the long board on which she was ironing, he greedily
watched all these women's clothes spread out about him, the dimity
petticoats, the fichus, the collars, and the drawers with
running-strings, wide at the hips and growing narrower below.
"What is that for?" asked the young fellow, passing his hand over the
crinoline or the hooks and eyes.
"'Why, haven't you ever seen anything?' Félicité answered laughing. 'As
if your mistress, Madame Homais, didn't wear the same.'"
The husband also asks, in the presence of this fresh-smelling woman,
whether the odour comes from the skin or from the chemise.
"Every evening he found a blazing fire, his dinner ready, easy-chairs,
and a well-dressed woman, charming with an odour of freshness, though no
one could say whence the perfume came, or if it were not her skin that
made odourous her chemise."
Enough of quotations in detail! You know now the physiognomy of Madame
Bovary in repose, when she is inciting no one, when she does not sin,
when she is still completely innocent, and when, on her return from a
rendezvous, she is by the side of her husband, whom she detests; you
know now the general colour of the picture, the general physiognomy of
Madame Bovary. The author has taken the greatest care, employed all the
prestige of his style in painting the portrait of this woman. Has he
tried to show her on the side of intelligence? Never. From the side of
the heart? Not at all. On the part of mind? No. From the side of
physical beauty? Not even that. Oh! I know very well that the portrait
of Madame Bovary after the adultery is most brilliant; but the picture
is above all lascivious, the post is voluptuous, the beauty a beauty of
I come now to the four important quotations; I shall make but four; I
hold to my outline: I have said that the first would be the love for
Rodolphe, the second the religious reaction, the third the love for
Léon, the fourth her death.
Here is the first. Madame Bovary is near her fall, nearly ready to
"Domestic mediocrity drove her to lewd fancies, marriage tendernesses to
adulterous desires. She would have liked Charles to beat her, that she
might have a better right to hate him, to revenge herself upon him."
What was it that seduced Rodolphe and prepared him? The opening of
Madame Bovary's dress which had burst in places along the seams of the
corsage. Rodolphe took his servant to Bovary's house, to bleed him. The
servant was very ill, and Madame Bovary held the basin.
"Madame Bovary took the basin to put it under the table. With the
movement she made in bending down, her skirt (it was a summer frock with
four flounces, yellow, long in the waist and wide in the skirt) spread
out around her on the flags of the room; and as Emma, stooping,
staggered a little as she stretched out her arms, the stuff here and
there gave with the inflections of her bust."
Here is Rodolphe's reflection: "He again saw Emma in her room, dressed
as he had seen her, and he undressed her."
It is the first day they had spoken to each other. "They looked at one
another. A supreme desire made their dry lips tremble, and softly,
without an effort, their fingers intertwined."
These are the preliminaries of the fall. It is necessary to read the
"When the habit was ready, Charles wrote to Monsieur Boulanger that his
wife was at his command, and that they counted on his good-nature.
"The next day at noon, Rodolphe appeared at Charles's door with two
saddle-horses. One had pink rosettes at his ears and a deerskin
"Rodolphe had put on high soft boots, saying to himself that no doubt
she had never seen anything like them. In fact, Emma was charmed with
his appearance as he stood on the landing in his great velvet coat and
white corduroy breeches."
"As soon as he felt the ground, Emma's horse set off at a
gallop. Rodolphe galloped by her side."
Here they are in the forest.
"He drew her farther on to a small pool where duckweeds made a greenness
on the water. Faded waterlilies lay motionless between the reeds. At the
noise of their steps in the grass, frogs jumped away to hide themselves.
"'I am wrong! I am wrong!' she said. 'I am mad to listen to you!'"
"'Why? Emma! Emma!'"
"'Oh, Rodolphe!' said the young woman slowly, leaning on his shoulder."
"The cloth of her habit caught against the velvet of his coat. She threw
back her white neck, swelling with a sigh, and faltering, in tears, with
a long shudder and hiding her face, she gave herself up to him."
Then she arose and, after shaking off the fatigue of voluptuousness,
returned to the domestic hearth, to that hearth where she would find a
husband who adored her. After this first fall, after this first
adultery, this first fault, is it a sentiment of remorse that she feels,
in the presence of this deceived husband who adores her? No! with a bold
front, she enters, glorifying adultery.
"But when she saw herself in the glass she wondered at her face. Never
had her eyes been so large, so black, of so profound a depth. Something
subtle about her being transfigured her. She repeated, 'I have a lover!
a lover!' delighting at the idea as if a second puberty had come to
her. So at last she was to know those joys of love, that fever of
happiness of which she had despaired! She was entering upon marvels
where all would be passion, ecstasy, delirium."
Thus, from this first fault, this first fall, she glorified adultery,
she sang the song of adultery, its poesy and its delights. This,
gentlemen, to me is much more dangerous and immoral than the fall
itself! Gentlemen, all pales before this glorification of adultery, even
the rendezvous at night some time after:
"To call her, Rodolphe threw a sprinkle of sand at the shutters. She
jumped up with a start; but sometimes he had to wait, for Charles had a
mania for chatting by the fireside, and he would not stop. She was wild
with impatience; if her eyes could have done it, she would have hurled
him out at the window. At last she would begin to undress, then take up
a book, and go on reading very quietly as if the book amused her. But
Charles, who was in bed, called to her to come too.
"'Come, now, Emma,' he said, 'it is time.'
"'Yes, I am coming,' she answered.
"Then, as the candles dazzled him, he turned to the wall and fell
asleep. She escaped, smiling, palpitating, undressed.
"Rodolphe had a large cloak; he wrapped her in it, and putting his arm
around her waist, he drew her without a word to the end of the garden."
"It was in the arbour, on the same seat of old sticks where formerly
Léon had looked at her so amorously on the summer evenings. She never
thought of him now.
"The cold of the nights made them clasp closer; the sighs of their lips
seemed to them deeper; their eyes, that they could hardly see, larger;
and in the midst of the silence low words were spoken that fell on their
souls sonorous crystalline, and reverberating in multiplied vibrations."
Gentlemen, do you know of language anywhere in the world more
expressive? Have you ever seen a more lascivious picture? Listen
"Never had Madame Bovary been so beautiful as at this period; she had
that indefinable beauty that results from joy, from enthusiasm, from
success, and that is only the harmony of temperament with
circumstances. Her desires, her sorrows, the experience of pleasure and
her ever-young illusions had, as soil and rain and winds and the sun
make flowers grow, gradually developed her, and she at length blossomed
forth in all the plentitude of her nature. Her eyelids seemed chiselled
expressly for her long amorous looks in which the pupil disappeared,
while a strong inspiration expanded her delicate nostrils and raised the
fleshy corner of her lips, shaded in the light by a little black
down. One would have thought that an artist apt in conception had
arranged the curls of hair upon her neck; they fell in a thick mass,
negligently and with the changing chances of their adultery that unbound
them every day. Her voice now took more mellow inflections, her figure
also; something subtle and penetrating escaped even from the folds of