skip navigation
Madame Bovary

Madame Bovary(1949)

Remind Me

TCMDb Archive MaterialsView all archives (2)


powered by AFI

In 1857, French author Gustave Flaubert is ordered to stand trial to defend accusations that his novel, Madame Bovary , is "an outrage against public morals and established customs." During the trial, prosecutors argue that the subject of the book, Emma Bovary, is a "disgrace to France and an insult to womanhood," and that the book should be banned for its indecency. In response, Flaubert contends that his story is about forgiveness and that many women like Emma exist in the real world. Flaubert then illustrates his point by telling the court the story of Emma, beginning when she was twenty years old and living a lonely life on her father's farm: One night, a country physician named Charles Bovary arrives at the farm to examine Emma's father, who has an injured leg. Emma, who has spent years living in a convent and fantasizing about love and romance, falls instantly in love with Charles. The two are married a short time later and settle into their modest home in the small town of Yonville, in Normandy. While Charles establishes his practice in the town, Emma sets out to decorate her new home just as she had always dreamed. She is greatly disappointed, however, when her expectations of immediate social prominence are not met. Determined to fulfill another one of her dreams, Emma tells Charles that she wants a child, specifically a boy. Emma is disappointed yet again when, months later, she gives birth to a girl. Emma grows increasingly bored, morbid and depressed in the years that follow, and hardly participates in the upbringing of her daughter, Berthe. She also has a brief affair with a young man named Leon Dupuis, who lives with his mother. Emma is overjoyed one day when she and Charles receive an invitation to attend a ball at the home of the aristocratic Marquis D'Andervilliers. Emma disregards Charles' concerns that they will be out of place at the party, and begins planning her dress. Wearing an exquisite gown chosen by Monsieur Lhereux, a dealer of fine linens, Emma makes a great impression at the ball. While Emma dances through the night, Charles drinks heavily and awkwardly wanders around the party alone. Emma's revelry comes to an abrupt end when Charles makes a drunken appearance on the dance floor and asks her to dance with him. Profoundly embarrassed, Emma insists that Charles take her home. Days later, Leon visits Emma and attempts to resume his affair with her, but the romance is spoiled when Leon's mother arrives with news that she has arranged for her son to study law in Paris. Soon after Leon leaves Yonville, aristocrat Rodolphe Boulanger arrives and attempts to pursue a furtive romance with Emma. Though her marriage continues to deteriorate, Emma believes that she can save it by encouraging Charles to become the rich and famous husband she always wanted. To accomplish this, Emma pressures Charles into agreeing to perform a dangerous but revolutionary operation to repair the legs of the village invalid. Charles refuses the operation at the last minute, however, as he realizes how dangerous it is and how hollow Emma's "storybook fantasies" are. Emma eventually gives up hope of happiness with Charles and continues her romance with Rodolphe. Although she hopes to realize her dream of creating the perfect home with Rodolphe, he calls her obsession with his home an intrusion on his privacy. Emma and Rodolphe's planned elopement to Italy ends in sorrow for Emma when Rodolphe leaves for Italy alone. The rejection leaves Emma distraught, and she spends the next several months in her bed. When Emma recovers from her depression, she and Charles attend the opera in Rouen, where they meet Leon, who is back from Paris. Emma stays alone in Rouen for one night but rejects Leon's attempts to resume their affair. When she returns to Yonville, Emma learns that Charles has left town to attend his father's funeral. During Charles' absence, Lhereux demands that Emma repay her debts to him. Emma goes to Leon to ask for money, but he has nothing to lend her and confesses that he is only a clerk at his law firm. Desperate to repay her debt before Charles returns, Emma visits Rodolphe, who has returned from Italy, and pleads with him for money. When Rodolphe refuses to help her, Emma decides to kill herself and steals some arsenic from a pharmacy. She ingests the arsenic before she returns home, and despite Charles' attempts to save her, dies. After concluding his story about Emma by summing up her legacy, Flaubert is acquitted of all charges against him.