October 21, 2017
Madame Bovary, in Court and CabOn this day in 1857, Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary was published. The serialization of the novel in the Revue de Paris the previous winter generated one of the most famous literary trials in French history, and so much publicity that the book was an immediate hit. It was Flaubert's first novel, and it made him little money -- 800 francs for 5 years of writing, about what the stenographer he had hired for his trial earned in two weeks -- but it made his reputation, introduced a new style of writing, and vindicated his adamant refusal to allow anyone to tamper with his detailed portrait of "ignoble reality."
The editors of the Revue had insisted not only on making such changes themselves, but on charging Flaubert for them:
Some changes were made and some were not -- at one point Flaubert forced the magazine to run a notice which expressed his outrage -- but in the end the government charged all involved with corrupting public morals, and Flaubert had to "take my place on the bench reserved for pickpockets and pederasts." Though lectured for his bad taste and his "poetry of adultery," Flaubert was acquitted, and passages such as the one in which Emma and her lover take their famous cab ride were allowed to stand.
And on the quays, amid the lorries and the barrels, along the streets, at every corner, the citizens stared in amazement at what amounted to a portent in a country town, to wit, a vehicle with drawn blinds, which kept continually coming into view, sealed up like a tomb and rocking like a ship at sea. . . .
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