Realism is just one of the arbitrary views man takes of man. It sees us all as little ant-like creatures toiling against the odds of circumstance. . . . I think the inherent flaw in Madame Bovary is that individuals like Emma and Charles Bovary are too insignificant to carry the full weight of Gustave Flaubert’s profound sense of tragedy . . . Emma and Charles Bovary are two ordinary persons, chosen because they are ordinary. But Flaubert is by no means an ordinary person. Yet he insists on pouring his own deep and bitter tragic consciousness into the little skins of the country doctor and his dissatisfied wife. . . .
the human soul has supreme joy in true, vivid consciousness. And Flaubert’s soul has this joy. But Emma Bovary’s soul does not, poor thing, because she was deliberately chosen because her soul was ordinary. . . .
[Yet] Even Emma Bovary has a certain extraordinary female energy of restlessness and unsatisfied desire. So that both Flaubert and Verga allow their heroes something of the hero, after all. The one thing they deny them is the consciousness of heroic effort.
(Phoenix II 281-282)
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