Flaubert meets Lohan (photo © Terry Richardson; image by Ana Božičević )
September is all about banned books here at PEN American. We reached out to writers, editors, literary illuminati, and PEN staff to write about the banned books that matter to them most. Today’s piece comes from poet Ana Božičević, author of the forthcoming collection of poetry Rise in the Fall.
The Fuss Over Madame Bovary
“Art without rules is not art. It is like a woman who discards all clothing.”
On January 30, 1857, Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary goes on trial, after appearing as a successful serial in the Revue de Paris. The prosecutor, one M. Ernest Pinard, representing the interests of the public censor, makes plain that the manager and printer of the Revue aren’t truly to blame for this indecent book: “the principal culprit” is Flaubert himself. Flaubert’s painstakingly chosenmots justes are an outrage aux bonnes moeurs, and it is precisely this contrast between the “true/just/right” and the “good” that is on trial: aesthetic clash manifest.
The speeches of prosecutor and defense are a fun read, but certain things jump out at one from among the rhetoric and objections to Flaubert’s style, and clarify what the fuss is actually about. It is fuss that is still about. The problem of Emma is the problem of desire.
“Is it natural for a little girl to invent small sins?”
“Thus, from this first fault, this first fall, she glorified adultery, she sang the song of adultery, its poesy and its delights.”
“She is always the same passionate woman, seeking illusions and seeking them even among the most august and holy things.”
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