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In a letter written just before the last installment of Madame Bovary in the Revue de Paris, Flaubert remarked that
[...] la morale de l'Art consiste dans sa beaute meme, et j'estime
par-dessus tout d'abord le style, et ensuite le Vrai. Je crois
avoir mis dans la peinture des moeurs bourgeoises et dans
l'exposition d'un caractere de femme naturellement corrompu, autant
de litterature et de convenances [Flaubert's emphasis] que possible
In defense of his novel, Flaubert marshals some familiar terms of midnineteenth-century discourse on literature: beauty establishes the morality of art, style is even more important than truth. (2) Surprisingly, he types Emma Bovary as inherently immoral and, despite his detestation of things bourgeois, insists that her portrayal combines the maximum of literature with that quintessential middle-class virtue, respect for the convenances. (3) Why does Flaubert, having just identified the morality of art with its beauty, insist on the proprieties with regard to the exposition of Emma's character? His emphasis on the word smacks of irony, and Yvan Leclerc is led to claire that the letter's use of the term convenances is not cognate with related uses by Flaubert: "Ce qui convient selon les necessites esthetiques n'est pas le convenable de la morale sociale." (4) Yet the proprieties Flaubert has in mind, however ironic the reference, are not merely literary; indeed, the entire phrase--"autant de litterature et de convenances que possible"--firmly links art and propriety, no matter how little faith Flaubert has in the latter. Under a regime of state censorship, furthermore, the opposition between moral and aesthetic propriety can't easily be maintained. Self-censorship, censorship evasion, and Flaubert's pursuit of style combine in complex ways to define the convenances--at once social and literary--of Madame Bovary. Flaubert binds the moral and the aesthetic in ways that have important consequences for his depiction of Emma. In particular, the recourse to euphemism in characterizing her sexuality observes the proprieties but distances Emma from the reader, objectifying her while framing her passion in terms of strong moral judgments.
Some of Flaubert's concern for the proprieties came from fear of the censors. As Rosemary Lloyd points out in reply to Tony Tanner's complaint about the novel's nondescription of the adulterous act itself, the absence of such description "is far less likely to be a textual than a pragmatic strategy." (5) The timing of the letter and its declamatory style suggest an uncomfortable situation with regard to the censoring of Madame Bovary. The letter falls between the largest of the cuts demanded by the editors of the Revue de Paris (19 November 1856) and the novel's criminal indictment (24 December 1856) for "outrage a la morale publique et religieuse et aux bonnes moeurs." Hemmed in by his editorial censors and the state censors they worried about, Flaubert had good reason to reassure friends and supporters of the purity of his intentions. Yet, while Lloyd is undoubtedly correct in reproving Tanner for a lack of historical perspective, an emphasis on the practical reason for Flaubert's reticence implies a fairly sharp distinction between the stylistic and the pragmatic. I argue here that Flaubert's understanding of the proprieties with regard to the representation of Emma's sexuality was guided by stylistic and pragmatic motives that cannot be disentangled. On the basis of the changes Flaubert made at the level of plan, scenario, manuscript, and published texts, we can achieve a reasonably precise mapping of his interrogation of the proprieties and a clearer understanding of how this testing of the convenances shaped the characterization of Emma as "une femme naturellement corrompu."
First, we need to clarify the situation of Flaubert regarding contemporary practices of censorship. Since Madame Bovary ultimately escaped legal condemnation, unlike Les Fleurs du mal, a note of triumph tends to sound in accounts of the victory over the state censors. (6) Flaubert himself contributed to the view of censorship as a zero-sum game played out in the courts by adding to the book version of Madame Bovary a dedication to his defense attorney. Similarly, Flaubert's note of protest over the suppressions made in the Revue de Paris version--"je declare denier la responsabilite des lignes qui suivrent"--can make it seem as though he were the coerced victim of his editors' prudence. (7) In addition, the sheer clumsiness of the legal proceedings, the ensuing (and profitable) notoriety of his novel, and, finally, a persuasive myth about the purity of art have also helped to veil Flaubert's self-censorship. (8) The myth of a pure art beyond the reach of philistine objection, an ideology often professed by Flaubert and sustained by his interpreters, was framed exclusively in the context of state censorship by the Goncourt brothers, who marveled that "il est vraiment curieux que ce soient les quatre hommes les plus purs de tout metier et de tout industrialisme, les quatre plumes les plus entierement vouees a l'art, qui aient ete traduits sur les bancs de la police correctionnelle: Baudelaire, Flaubert, et nous." (9) This assertion of aesthetic disinterestedness establishes the strongest contrast possible between the writers in question and a perversely censorious state apparatus. That these writers would later enjoy fame and even canonization seemingly attests to the victory of art over a narrow-minded, prudish ideology wielded by the state. The fundamental error of this view resides in its disregard of censorship's sometimes creative impact on the very works proclaimed as its victims or conquerors.
In this sense, the best-known contemporary image of censorship, Grandville's cartoon, "The Resurrection of the Censorship," is rather misleading. It shows the Comte d'Argout, chief censor and minister of the interior under Louis-Philippe, rising in Christlike fashion from an open tomb and, with a seraphic expression, clinging to an enormous pair of shears. (10) While mocking censorship's capacity to excise evil and produce angelic texts, the cartoon assumes that the state alone controls the power to wield the scissors. In fact, authors and editors also participated in the censoring process. (11) Armand Bertin, of the influential Journal des debats, remarked about the censorship decree of 1852, "Say what you like about the decree, but not that the author is stupid. This decree constitutes me the overseer of the errors of my own paper and makes me an unpaid civil servant entrusted with preventing attacks against the constitution and maintaining order for the profit of the government." (12) With the role of censor distributed so widely, it would be wrong to think of authorship as a practice subject only to external state censorship.
Unlike their imprisoned or exiled compatriots, Second Empire writers who managed to work within the system while contesting it employed tactics of evasion or misdirection that were encouraged or even demanded by the censors. (13) Reciprocal obsessions emerged on both sides, with Flaubert's concern with le mot juste paralleled by the censors' pointillist scrutiny of details. Although negotiations between writer and censors could be one-sided, the relationship could also result in significant innovations of the kind that Flaubert made for the scene du fiacre. This creative aspect of censorship, the confluence of artistry and evasion that can be described as the text's "bias of anticipated censorship," involved a waltz of negotiation over the scope and meaning of the proprieties--proclaimed by the state and its critical allies, anxiously upheld by editors, and challenged (fitfully) by Flaubert. (14)
Even without the benefit of the correspondence with his editors or the revisions traced in the scenarios, we can see from the novel how Flaubert made Emma the primary vehicle for testing the convenances. By means of indirect discourse as well as by reported speech, Flaubert shows us that Emma and other characters have a well-developed sense of what is right and proper. Just before she joins Leon for the famous ride, she reminds him (and reminds us all), "C'est tres inconvenant, savez-vous?" (15) Earlier, in passages of subtle artistry, the narration had marked the stages of Emma's transgressions. Bored by her commonplace words of love, "Rodolphe apercut en cet amour d'autres jouissances a exploiter. Il jugea toute pudeur incommode. Il la traita sans facon. Il en fit quelque chose de souple et de corrompu" (220). The abstract, nonspecific language ("pudeur," "sans facon," "corrompu") combines with Flaubert's euphemisms ("autre jouissances," "souple") to render Emma's sexual objectification and the violation of her modesty in icily detached terms. She is presented to the reader as the sex puppet of Rodolphe, a thing ("chose") whose feelings we cannot guess. The subsequent paragraph discloses the visible effects of Emma's love life:
Par l'effet seul de ses habitudes amoureuses, Mme Bovary changea d'allures. Ses regards devinrent plus hardis, ses discours plus libres; elle eut meme l'inconvenance de se promener avec M. Rodolphe une cigarette a la bouche, comme pour narguer le monde; enfin, ceux qui doutaient encore ne douterent plus quand on la vit, un jour, descendre de l'Hirondelle, la taille serree dans un gilet, a la facon d'un homme [...]. (220; Flaubert's emphasis)
Sexual practices lacking in pudeur lead to bolder glances and freer speech. Flaubert then switches the focalization from Emma's general appearance to the specific improprieties of smoking in public and cross-dressing. (16) Such extreme flouting of conventional behavior--"comme pour narguer le monde"--easily translates into infidelity, "enfin, ceux qui doutaient encore ne douterent plus." It is not, of course, the reader who has been in doubt but good bourgeois types like Emma's mother-in-law. Flaubert's staging of their awakened certainty serves to underline their reliance on the convenances (rather than insight or imagination). Yet the passage in question does more than mock the bourgeoisie while confirming Emma's moral decline. Despite the apparent contrast between her boldness and Flaubert's prim discourse, the text hints that Emma's sexual habits--euphemistically classed as "sans pudeur"--may correlate in their unconventionality to the visible improprieties of smoking and transvestism. Here we observe the waltz of censorship at work, for if Flaubert's language insinuates the possibility of sexual deviance, nothing is spelled out in the printed text. But the cost of this evasion lies in the depersonalization of Emma, here reduced to a set of visible signs of impropriety.
Flaubert's manuscripts attest to his eventual suppression of dangerous sexual terms and themes. (17) In the form of euphemisms, however, the printed texts manage to invest these themes with a definite earthiness. For example, in part one, chapter five, Charles Bovary, after his wedding night, has "le coeur plein des felicites de la nuit, l'esprit tranquille, la chair contente." Flaubert originally added the phrase, "il s'en allait ruminant son bonheur, comme ceux qui machent encore, apres diner, le gout des truffes qu'ils digerent." Cut by the editors of the Revue de Paris but restored in book form, this phrase was duly seized upon at the trial as an instance of Flaubert's "tour de phrase plus qu'equivoque" (368). Whereas the night's felicites could pass on their own, their ironic reinscription within a gustatory code as a rich meal of truffles was objectionable. Here, of course, it is the editors and censors who are enforcing matters and, as a result, we may easily overlook Flaubert's own deployment of the euphemistic felicites in the first place. Although the banal euphemism serves to play down the simile of earthy (implicitly sexual) flavors, Flaubert's concession to propriety also allows him to suggest the obtuseness of Charles Bovary, smacking his lips over the afterglow of the felicites without giving a thought to Emma or her feelings.
When the novel was first published in installments in the Revue de Paris, it suffered many cuts and alterations. Although Flaubert fought over these changes with the editors, Leon Laurent-Pichat and Maxime Du Camp, he often acceded to their demands. Both before and after the Revue editors had seen the manuscript, Flaubert also submitted it for correction to his friend Louis Bouilhet. Clearly, the line between precensorship and revision is difficult to discern here. Laurent-Pichat called for seventy-one cuts, the lengthiest and most controversial concerning the scene du fiacre, in which Emma Bovary and Leon Dupuis first make love--or seem to. The narration everywhere implies but nowhere describes or otherwise refers unequivocally to the sexual activities within the fiacre. What the text establishes beyond doubt, thanks to Emma's remark noted previously, is that the mere act of entering a vehicle with Leon is already improper. The narration then follows the ride with the details that would alarm Flaubert's editors. Traveling for perhaps six hours through various neighborhoods of Rouen and its environs, the fiacre sometimes moves "au grand galop," at other times "trotta doucement" or "s'elanca d'un bond." Whenever the driver stops, an angry voice urges him on; the coachman
ne comprenait pas quelle fureur de la locomotion poussait ces
individus a ne vouloir point s'arreter. Il essayait quelquefois, et
aussitot il entendait derriere lui partir des exclamations de
colere. Alors il cinglait de plus belle ses deux rosses tout en
sueur, mais sans prendre garde aux cahots, accrochant par-ci
par-la, ne s'en souciant, demoralise, et presque pleurant de soif,
de fatigue et de tristesse. (266)
There is a certain false naivete on the driver's part, given that the use of a fiacre for sex was a well-established visual and literary image. (18) Here Flaubert entices the reader to find another explanation for the phrase "fureur de locomotion," certainly not part of a cabby's lexicon but belonging rather to the indirect narration. The phrase and the parallel hinted at by the sweat-soaked nags come dangerously close to the concealed subject of sex but artfully allow Flaubert to suggest a prolonged and varied lovemaking--without, however, becoming so explicit as to prevent him from denying any such intention.
We could regard the rather Balzacian ambiguity of the scene du fiacre as decorous and tactful or, contrarily, as insinuating and suggestive. Flaubert's editors at the Revue de Paris felt no doubts on this score. Maxime Du Camp wrote shortly before the installment containing this scene would have appeared:
Ta scene du fiacre est impossible [Du Camp's emphasis], non pour
nous qui nous en moquons, non pour moi qui signe le numero, mais
pour la police correctionnelle qui nous condamnerait net, comme
elle a condamnee Montepin [Xavier Montepin, author of Les Filles de
platre, 1855] pour moins que cela[...]. On monte en fiacre et plus
tard on en descend, cela peut parfaitement passer, mais le detail
est reellement dangereux, et nous reculons par simple peur du
Procureur imperial. (19)
Although Flaubert agreed to this suppression, the issue of"details" soon resurfaced after the Revue sought additional cuts. Flaubert angrily replied, "Vous vous attaquez a des details, c'est a l'ensemble qu'il faut s'en prendre. L'element brutal est au fond et non a la surface." (20) In connection with the fiacre scene, Flaubert's objection seems misplaced; indeed, the details of the journey give the scene its power and the comic aspect that amused Du Camp and his associates. (21) For my purposes, however, the salient point was overlooked by all concerned. The "element brutal" could not be signified directly, and the Revue's overt fears of the censorship stem from the belief that Flaubert had not been sufficiently circumspect in preventing the surface from indicating too much about the depth. But this imprudence hardly constitutes an artistic failure; on the contrary, Flaubert's anticipation of the censorship and his willingness to test its perceptiveness resulted in a passage of the most subtle duplicity, at once acknowledging and denying the "brutal" sexuality at its depth. (22)
«sommet» de la destinée d’Emma : c’est la période de l’adultère avec Rodolphe, où l’héroïne oublie la platitude de son mariage et...
«L’Incendie de Moscou» dans la Bibliothèque universelle et revue suisse, 1887, puis en volume, Paris, Perrin et Cie, 1896
«Le seul moyen de n’être pas malheureux c’est de t’enfermer dans l’Art et de compter pour rien tout le reste»