Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


Caroline Reitz

Subject Categories

Comparative Literature | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Other French and Francophone Language and Literature


Madame Bovary, Flaubert, Pro-woman, matricide


This thesis will argue that Gustave Flaubert kills the women in Madame Bovary, all of whom are married and/ or mothers in the novel, in order to overtly represent the impossible conditions of womanhood and domestic life in nineteenth century France. Further, I will expose the ways in which Flaubert, through these killings, aims to release his woman characters from their lives of oppression and imprisonment, detailing their increasingly limited options in life and their lack of agency. Although Flaubert does attempt to give his women, in particular Emma Bovary, limited agency in the work, this agency is always met with scandal, suppression, and it is eventually revealed that the only alternative to this unhappy life is death. While it is easy to misunderstand Flaubert as punishing Emma throughout the work for her sexual deviance and various wrongdoings, as there is no shortage of consequences in her life, Flaubert’s ultimate murder of Emma at the novel’s end is quite literally her only chance at escaping her abysmal existence. This is similarly the case for the other Madame Bovarys of the work, who are equally discontented in their marriages and as mothers, and who are easily and mercifully eliminated or dismissed by Flaubert throughout the work. While I acknowledge the many interpretations of Flaubert’s work, for this thesis I will be discussing Flaubert’s specific treatment of women as a means of constructing a pro-woman novel.