After Revue de Paris published several installments of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, the editor decided to remove from the novel several passages he determined would be offensive to France’s conservative Second Empire (1852–1870), ruled by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte III. Flaubert was understandably furious over the loss of control over his work. Yet, even after the offending passages were edited, the government soon banned the novel and charged Flaubert with obscenity due to its detailed depiction of the heroine’s adulterous relationships. Charges were soon dropped, however, and the novel was published in two volumes in April 1857. Madame Bovary immediately gained a wide readership, due not only to its notoriety but also to its celebrated artistry.
Flaubert worked on the novel from September 1851 to April 1856, during which time he rewrote the manuscript several times, often spending days perfecting a single page or paragraph. The result of his painstaking creativity was a penetrating psychological study of its heroine, Emma Bovary, as she struggles to find fulfillment through a realization of her romantic fantasies of love and wealth. Flaubert’s realistic portrait of the tragic fate of this complex woman has earned him the reputation as one of the most celebrated and influential novelists of the nineteenth century.