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Paris, B.J. (1997). The Search for Glory in Madame Bovary: A Horneyan Analysis. Am. J. Psychoanal., 57(1):5-24.

(1997). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 57(1):5-24

The Search for Glory in Madame Bovary: A Horneyan Analysis

Bernard J. Paris, Ph.D.

During the composition of Madame Bovary, Flaubert wrote to Louise Colet, “The reader will not notice, I hope, all the psychological work hidden under the form, but he will sense its effect” (De Man, 1965, p. 317). This wish has been granted. Although Emma Bovary is one of the most celebrated characters in literature, Flaubert's “psychological work” has gone largely unnoticed. A Horneyan approach will help us to recover Flaubert's psychological intuitions and to appreciate the brilliance of his portrait of Emma.

Emma's Narcissistic Personality

Because we know almost nothing about Emma Bovary's childhood, her need for glory is an aspect of her character that is simply there when we meet her. In the fullest psychological study of the novel to date, Giles Mitchell tries to explain Emma's romanticism as the product of “pathological narcissism,” “a personality disorder characterized by intense, excessive, and sometimes fatal devotion to the ego-ideal” (1988, p. 107). Her narcissism is “a flight from humanness, from mortality and bodily vulnerability, from being-in-the-world” (p. 115). Although Flaubert seems to suggest “that Emma's falsely romantic ideals derive from her reading,” Mitchell contends that they “were formed in response to something far more existential” (p. 116). The problem with Mitchell's view of Emma as “a universal figure” (p. 125) is that we are all confronted with our human limitations, but we do not all respond like Madame Bovary.

Nonetheless, I think Mitchell is correct in saying that Emma's destructive “ideals” are not just caused by her reading.

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