Madame Bovary Syndrome (English Translation from the original French paper – 1892)

Madame Bovary Syndrome (or bovarysme/bovarism) represents a delusional fixation on romantic ideals.  The term was coined by French writer J. de Gaultier in his 1892 essay Le bovarysme, la psychologie dans l’oeuvre de Flaubert, with the following two excerpts translated (and paraphrased) from the original French essay. – PW

Mr. Montégut noted that the appearance of Madame Bovary “was a reaction to certain long-sovereign influences.” She stood in all reality for the false ideal made fashionable by the school of romantic love and for the dangerous sentimentality that has as its counterpart the male figure of Don Quixote who was a consequence for the too long-prolonged chivalric mania of Spain.

Mr. Montégut continues; “As Cervantes dealt the death blow to the chivalrous mania with the very weapons of chivalry, it is with the very same processes that G. Flaubert has destroyed the false ideal promoted by the romantic love school; it is with the very resources of the romantic imagination that he has painted the vices and errors of that imagination in the figure of Madame Bovary.”  [Page 11]

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If all of Flaubert’s characters reveal in their feelings and in their ideas the morbid principle that governs them, there is one who manifests a more complete, singularly evil set of symptoms: Madame Bovary. Equipped with a strongly accentuated temperament and an active will, she creates within herself, in contradiction to her real nature, a being of imagination, made of the substance of her reveries and  enthusiasms.

In complete good faith she incarnates in this ghost, and lends it passions and desires, putting in it all the tension of her nerves, and putting all the energy of her soul at its service to satisfy them.  Her true instincts however, always ready to emerge, protest with their violence against this usurpation and try to reconquer the place that has been taken from them; she strives to stifle their calls, and with incredible determination she persists in turning her eyes away from herself, seeing herself only under the appearance of her dream.

Her entire life is torn apart by this poignant struggle between her little-known real self and the chimerical monster she has installed in her brain. Thus torn between these two equal powers, abused by the false romantic ideal that she has formed of herself, the poor woman becomes this hybrid being dedicated to the necessary lie and leading ultimately to suicide, which alone puts an end to her terrible duality.

By the obstinate blindness by which she carried out her incessant evolution, and by her tragic end, she personified in herself this original disease of the human soul for which her name can serve as a label: we can understand that “Bovarysm” is the faculty given to man to conceive of himself otherwise than he is, without taking into account the various motives and external circumstances which determine this intimate transformation in each individual. [Page 26]

SEE ALSO: What is Madame Bovary Syndrome?