Madame Bovary is a novel by Gustave Flaubert that raised a scandal when it was published in 1845 and is now seen to stand at the beginning of the modern novel.
The story is simple. It is set in a provincial village, far from Paris. A doctor, Charles Bovary, marries a beautiful farm girl, Emma . She rapidly grows bored with him and takes a rich landowner as a lover.
When he rejects her, she takes up with a law clerk. Her husband knows nothing of her romances. Nor does he know that Emma has ruined him financially with her waste, bad management, and self-indulgence. Emma commits suicide, leaving the loyal Charles distraught. He finds her letters and soon dies, leaving their child an orphan.
At the time, Madame Bovary caused a scandal with its frank depiction of a woman driven by sexual desire.
The simple story is told in what was then a new way. It was a novel without long speeches and florid descriptions. The first chapter, telling of Charles's schooldays, has one of his schoolmates as an unidentified narrator, but he disappears, and the rest of the novel is spun out, with very little dialogue, and what there is mundane, but in spare unsentimental descriptions of the motives, emotions, and thoughts of the characters.
The telling is filled with symbols, used in what seems a modern way. Every fresh seduction has its cigar before, during, or after. One lover presents Emma with a cactus plant and they later rendezvous in a hotel room with "big brass balls" on the fire irons.
From time to time Flaubert employs an early version of the stream of consciousness in his descriptions of Emma's inner life, her thoughts a melange of romantic fiction and self-indulgent justifications for her actions.