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Romantic Boredom, Boring Romances : Madame Bovary



… She said to herself again and again : “I have a lover ! A lover !”
… a blue-tinged immensity surrounded her, heights of feeling sparkled under her thoughts, and ordinary life appeared only in the distance, far below, in shadow, in the spaces between those peaks …

Romantic Boredom, Boring Romances : Madame Bovary

Rarely had boredom ever been such an entertainment. Emma waits, she looks out the window and daydreams of the bourgeois next door. Monsieur Bovary, the remarkable character of unambition and naive irrelevance. Rodolphe, Léon and their replacements : as many objects for Emma’s furtive existential fantasies. The scene is set : a banal, uneventful village out of Rouen in the first half of the 19th century. A story “about nothing”, the ultimate goal of Flaubert. And yet, one of the most transparent and engaging experiments on the questions of individuality and culture in our modern world.

Madame Bovary owes up to its thorough success, immediately after publication in 1856-1857, and its universal acclaim, ever since. After many years of personal and literary quests, and over four years of daily labour on each sentence of this story, Flaubert signed a defining moment and turning point in the history of literature. Imagination and craft reach a peak through the masterpiece of the author. Gustave delivered and refined every character, every instant of the dramatic narration through months of reflection, to condense in one ordinary scenario the atemporal tensions of human psychology and social organisation. Flaubert’s writing is a treat, each expression targeting delight and surprise in the reader, when even the basest of human habits becomes an elegant literary formula. Madame Bovary sets a standard, an ideal, perhaps, for the genre of a certain literature, a particular, ironically humanist and pre-existential portrayal of the world around us, and the many characters of its endless play.

Madame Bovary deserves its attentive study for anyone even remotely interested in literature and philosophy. But rarely can university courses dedicate the scale of time required for the minute appreciation which such a refined piece of human creativity should demand. This course is thus conceived and designed to respond to this demand and satisfy the aesthetic and reflective delight Madame Bovary can offer to all. The participative approach is particularly highlighted, through the course of this programme, as each session will cover the progressive, chronological development of the story, while also coinciding with a thematic study of the topics evoked : desire, imitation, feminism, romanticism, individuality, boredom, existentialism, urbanisation, industrialisation, class struggle… While the instructor orients and frames the reflections through conceptual and biographical comments, participants are invited to meditate upon their own sensibility to the text, via questions, debates and reflections, in a collective and dynamic manner.

How this course works

The participants and the instructor meet on the decided weekly timing via a group Skype, for a session of textual analysis of sections from the Madame Bovary. The students are expected to attend the session after having read these chapters. Samuel leads each session with questions and themes of discussions stemming from selected passages, and the session progresses through discussions between the participants. As Samuel is a French native, the original French edition of the text may be consulted and read, alongside various English translations.

In the course of the second month of this course, the study of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary is complemented with CineWords, our participative exchange of movie interpretation, based on Gemma Bovery (A. Fontaine, 2014) (more details here), selected by the guide in relation to the course. This participative session takes place through a group Skype.

Finally, also during the second month of this course, the group connects for a live Questions & Answers session with the instructor. The session is optional, and based on the questions of the participants.

Term Course

Duration : 8 weekly sessions of 90 minutes each
Dates and Times : decided with the participants
Modality : Skype Videoconference
Open to : All · No pre-requisites

At IST, a new edition of each course is organised upon 3 confirmed participants


Madame Bovary



Deceit, Desire and the Novel

René Girard


The session dates for the next edition of this course will be set
based on the common availability of the registrants.

Session 1

Introduction : Flaubert, origins of the novel, literary importance

Textual Analyses, Questions and Discussions on excerpts from :

Part I, Chs 1-4

Charles’ youth, early adult life and first marriage

Encounter with Emma and marriage day

Session 2

Textual Analyses, Questions and Discussions on excerpts from :

Part I, Chs 5-9

Emma’s first months with Charles in Tostes

Emma’s youth at the convent

Daily life and boredom settle, the ball at the Marquis’, sickness and decision to shift to Yonville-l’Abbaye

Session 3

Textual Analyses, Questions and Discussions on excerpts from :

Part II, Chs 1-6

Yonville and its characters ; Emma gives birth to a girl, Berthe

Innocent romance with Léon, Emma dwells in her spleen and Léon, bored, leaves for Paris

Session 4

Textual Analyses, Questions and Discussions on excerpts from :

Part II, Chs 7-10

Emma meets Rodolphe ; the Comices (popular festival)

She grows obsessed with him, intense romance but he finally takes her for granted and grows indifferent

Session 5

Textual Analyses, Questions and Discussions on excerpts from :

Part II, Chs 11-15

Charles fails a serious surgery

Emma daydreams of an escape with Rodolphe, a date is set

Rodolphe cancels the plan through a letter, pretending an excess of emotions

Emma is sick, silent and imbalanced for months ; impressions of a sudden, intense religious zeal

Charles invites Emma to attend an opera in Rouen ; they stumble upon Léon

Session 6

Textual Analyses, Questions and Discussions on excerpts from :

Part III, Chs 1-5

The romance with Léon starts and peaks ; scene of the fiacre

Emma starts intervening in the debts of Charles and engages more money-lending

Emma makes a habit, with excuses as needed, to visit Léon more in Rouen

Session 7

Textual Analyses, Questions and Discussions on excerpts from :

Part III, Chs 6-8

The money-lender increases the due amount and threatens Emma with a seizure, she panics and goes to everyone desperately to borrow more money

After even Rodolphe refuses to help, she ingests arsenic, the visit of legendary doctors does not help, she undergoes a torturous death

Session 8

Textual Analyses, Questions and Discussions on excerpts from :

Part III, Chs 9-11

Last moments around Emma’s body, till the funeral and burial — the whole village is present but the overall indifference persists

Charles finally discovers the letters of Emma’s lovers, he grows secluded and finally dies, discovered by his daughter Berthe


Participative discussion on the following film, with open interpretations and cross-analyses with the text of the course.

Gemma Bovery (A. Fontaine, 2014) (details)

The participants will be shared a link to watch the movie online. They are expected to watch the movie on their own before joining the discussion.

Questions & Answers

Questions & Answers session.

Open discussions based on the questions of the participants.


Samuel Buchoul

Samuel Buchoul

Instructor & Coordinator

Experience with the Texts of this Course : 6 years +

The writer and his craft. Lines saying a lot, too much, lava cake-like, sickening treat. Rustic expressions, regional humour. Felicities and melancholies of a language. La langue, his language, French, was probably his oxygen, his everything, a symbolic and emotional world throwing too much, all the time, with every sentence and every word. Gift and cure. And one soon imagines that beautifying language, to such a level of unnatural intensity, would be his only possible healing. Language is mystic with Flaubert, but he wouldn’t be the only one. In the history of literary geniuses. And for numbers of French souls till today. This voice of the country-side is the voice of another France ; France of those surprising political positions, absurd to the urbanised classes ; France of a people still full of misery and vulnerability, in spite of all the great ‘progress’ of this side of the globe ; France of another paradigm of identity, beyond the multicultural, relativistic and critical individual, photofit of the French as per its international image. Flaubert is a return to French roots, to my roots maybe ; a voice raising, finally, to a question long ago asked, while responses had become patiently unexpected. Voice and quill, visionary, of an abstinent Romantic, of a visionary of existentialism killing it in the bud. Alpha and omega of French destinies ; artisan of a language and its solaces : Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary.

Samuel Buchoul is the founder and coordinator of IST.
Discover his courses and blogs here.



The financial contribution is open
beyond a minimum amount of

59.00 $

or the equivalent in your local currency
Check the conversion rates here

8 Sessions of Textual Analysis
1 CineWords Discussion
1 Questions and Answers session
Reading Material in soft copy
Instructor’s Notes for each session
HD Audio Recordings of the sessions


A new edition of this course will be organised
upon 3 confirmed registrations