Book Burning with Madame Bovary

Bovary Lit LIterature Writing Reading BooksI am taking my first Coursera class called The Modern and The Post-Modern, taught by Wesleyan University President Michael Roth. To all those interested in casual or even serious learning, I truly recommend getting started on Coursera.

As part of the course, I had to read Gustave Flaubert’s classic soap opera “Madame Bovary.” Regardless of what one may think of this swollen read, it is considered by Professor Roth, and a legion of intellectuals, as one of the first modern novels. Here, very quickly, is why:

  1. In the early 1800’s a movement called Romanticism emerges in opposition to the rationality of The Enlightenment.
  2. Romanticism celebrated emotions, spirituality and nature.
  3. Romantic literature was subjective in content, favoring feelings over facts.
  4. Flaubert writes “Madame Bovary” as a criticism to Romanticism and its literature. He valued form and objective storytelling and, above anything else, wanted to depict a true reality.
  5. Flaubert’s disillusion with Romantic and bourgeoise ideals leads him to focus on pure aesthetics, or art for art’s sake. This championing of form over content is at the core of Modernism.

Thus, the quote pictured to the right captures the spirit of Flaubert’s “modern” novel in its cynical rejection of the unreachable, and potentially dangerous, ideals expounded by Romantic books and art.

Emma tried to find out what one meant exactly in life by the words felicity, passion, rapture, that had seemed to her so beautiful in books.

Even today, the question remains. Should we promote art for art’s sake, or art for fun’s sake?

Read Bogotá 2014


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