Madame Bovary versus The Woman of Rome

In "Emma Unglued" (Saturday Review, 2 Dec. 1972), Alberto Moravia attacks Flaubert's Madame Bovary, finding the bovarysme of Emma clumsily superimposed. Moravia attempts to show that Emma cannot be motivated by the insatisfaction romanesque that Flaubert attributes to her. Moravia's denigration of Emma is explicable only when interpreted in the light of his own fiction. Contrasting The Woman of Rome and other of Moravia's novels and stories with Madame Bovary, one finds Moravia's women, animate with instinct alone, consistently unresponsive to the cultural impact of their ambiance. Emma's response, therefore, seems to Moravia, as it did to Baudelaire before him, implausibly virile. That Emma should recall and identify with the heroines of novels avidly perused in convent days, Moravia deems a "cultural and ideological digression" on the part of Flaubert. Yet, like Emma, Moravia's own pivotal male protagonists consciously invest "real" life experiences with literary overtones. What is permissible for them, Moravia considers inadmissible in Emma, solely because she is a woman and, as such, must be denied even a minimal intellectual or metaphysical dimension, the exclusive prerogative of the effete, introspective male. Though shedding little light upon Flaubert, "Emma Unglued" obliquely illumines Moravia's own fiction. (QMS)

Shriver, Margaret M.
Volume Summer 1973; 1(4): 197-210.