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Wen 1 The Influence of Marriage in Jane Eyre and Madame Bovary (11) In Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, the institution of marriage serves as the driving force behind both plots. Marriage, whether it is directly or indirectly, dictates almost all of the actions of the main characters, Jane and Emma, and it plays a critical role in their development as well as the development of those around them. However, Bronte and Flaubert differ greatly in their depictions of the expectations of married life, how it affects its participants, and its role in society. In Jane Eyre, Bronte idealizes marriage. She emphasizes its ability to change people for the better. The novel follows a typical fairy-tale plot, with two lovers overcoming numerous obstacles before they finally unite in holy matrimony and live a happy life together forever. Flaubert, on the other hand, uses Madame Bovary, specifically Emma, as a means to illustrate how marriage is nothing like what romance novelists like Bronte make it out to be. It can destroy lives and even lead to death and decay. Although Jane Eyre and Madame Bovary share some similarities in their critiques of marriage, they both depict it in such contrasting manners that only through a side-by-side analysis of each does it become apparent how much the institution of marriage truly influenced and shaped the lives of nineteenth century Europeans. For both Jane Eyre and Madame Bovary, the entire institution of marriage can be broken into three stages: the preconceived notions of marital life while still single, the post-marriage life, and the decline and eventual dissolution of marriage. Of course, the first stage greatly influences the second stage, while the second stage ultimately dictates the third stage. Thus, the stark differences between the marriages of Jane Eyre to Edward Rochester and Emma Rouault to Charles Bovary can be explained by analyzing the childhood lives of both Jane and Emma,


Wen 2 before they even met their eventual spouses, which ultimately dictate their expectations of marriage and how they function once married. In his analysis of Emma’s incompetence as a wife, Roland A. Champagne uses Pierre Bourdieu’s social model of hexis and habitus to explain all of Emma’s faults. Champagne defines hexis as “a physical orientation of the body in a cultural setting” while habitus is “a cultural disposition learned through social encoding” (104). Basically, in this case, habitus defines the societal expectations for a bourgeois wife like Emma and hexis is the physical actions that can either coincide with or reject these expectations. Habitus is purely conceptual, it is of the mind. Hexis is entirely physical, defined by a person’s actions. When put together, Bourdieu’s theory allows a reader to see how a character’s own expectations and actions correspond to the expectations of the society in which they live. Champagne takes Bourdieu’s concept of habitus one step further by attributing its formation to formal and family education. According to Champagne, Emma “acquired competing versions of habitus through her convent education and subsequent life on her father’s farm” (106). As a child in a convent, Emma develops a rather idealistic image of marriage as an eternal union between two heavenly lovers. Her passion for romance novels only adds to this misguided perception. As a result, Emma’s own habitus creates “The mismatch of bourgeois expectations” (107). Her notions of married life are littered with thoughts of “the perfume of lemon-trees,” “villa terraces,” and “Swiss chalets,” as well as words like “bliss, passion, ecstasy” (Flaubert 35). With such wild and extravagant expectations of life after marriage, as Champagne puts it, the actual “habitus of what it means to be a married woman sets up what [Emma] is going to reject with the hexis of her body” (104).


Wen 3 Once married, Emma’s life slowly begins to worsen. Almost instantly, she realizes that the “happiness that should have followed [marriage] failed to come,” but instead of grasping the reality of life as a bourgeois wife, Emma shrugs it off (Flaubert 30). However, nothing she does allows her to escape from that fact that her life as Madame Bovary is nothing like she had envisioned and hoped for. As critic Stephen Heath puts it: “Emma becomes the heroine she wants to be, finds herself in the novels of adultery she has read, but that heroine, these novels, do not correspond to any reality of things” (Champagne 106). She continually attempts to fulfill her own habitus by “seeking alternative roles for herself as a woman,” but in doing so she “breaks with the bourgeois expectations for a spouse and becomes incompetent at meeting these standards” (106). Thus, Emma’s actions, her hexis, conflict directly with the habitus of a married woman. This conflict is the source of the Emma’s suffering, though partly self-induced, and it directly leads to the beginning of the deterioration of her marriage to Charles. Throughout Madame Bovary, Emma continually complains of her suffering; however, she is unable to “adequately communicate the details of her own suffering to those around her” (Champagne 110). No one seems to recognize her inner turmoil, not even Charles, and this only compounds the pain Emma endures; it “exacerbated her” (Flaubert 90). She receives no sympathy because given the time period, suffering was “a common condition” (Champagne 108). As Champagne states, “Society’s habitus thus views suffering as a condition of belonging to the group and accepting its rules” (108). But Emma does not conform to the societal norms. Her pains are not physical. They are deeply rooted within her mind. Her suffering results from “the clothes she did not have, the happiness she had missed, her overexalted dreams, her too cramped home” (Flaubert 90). Emma’s habitus, her lofty visions of an elegant life as a married woman, create desires that cannot easily be satisfied. These “desires of the flesh, the longing for


Wen 4 money, and the melancholy passion all blended into one suffering, and instead of putting it out of her mind, she made her thoughts cling to it, urging herself to pain and seeking everywhere the opportunity to revive it” (90). It is not long before Emma begins to act on her “adulterous desires” (91). She “flouts the social codes” by running around in public with another man, Leon, and then later showering yet another man, Rodolphe, with gifts (Champagne 109). Her total disregard for the bourgeois expectations of a woman in her position illustrates how Emma begins to be “openly hostile to the habitus” (109). Emma is not entirely at fault, however, because the monotony and restrictiveness of the habitus of bourgeois life is like a prison. It locks a woman like Emma into a routine lifestyle, with absolutely no opportunity to escape. For quite some time, Emma tried hard to be virtuous, “to pretend to be happy and let it be believed,” and anytime she thought of running away, “a dark, shapeless chasm would open within her soul” (Flaubert 91). But a woman of Emma’s character can only stay imprisoned for so long before she needs more space, new places to explore and new things to experience. Emma despises her bourgeois status and “the disposition of ‘wife’ which is choking her” (Champagne 111). Her adulterous actions, though immoral, are a desperate attempt to free herself from the shackles of the habitus of bourgeois marriage that confine and suppress her. Even as Emma begins to borrow money and spend lavishly and enjoy the company of other men, she is in actuality only putting herself deeper in the confines of her bourgeois status. Emma is “metaphorically enclosed by her financial dependence on her husband Charles” and her continual borrowing of money only worsens her financial situation (111). Although the money temporarily allows Emma to escape from her bourgeois lifestyle, her naiveté prevents her from realizing that she must return to her regular life and that any subsequent attempts to escape again


Wen 5 will only become more and more difficult. The tremendous debt Emma accumulates truly makes it impossible for her to ever fully escape her bourgeois life and it drives her to the extremes of prostitution and eventually suicide. Life as a bourgeois wife is so difficult that even death is slow and painful for Emma. Nothing comes easily, not even death. Perhaps understanding that only through death can she obtain the freedom she had so desperately sought, Emma, on her deathbed, makes her last request “that the windows be opened for there, too, she was suffocating from the ideologies of this life” (112). In a sense, Flaubert is not really criticizing the whole institution of marriage, but rather the French bourgeoisie. As is the case with Emma, once enveloped in the bourgeoisie, it is nearly impossible to get out. Marriage, especially for women, compounds the difficulty of escaping. With no real right to money or the ability to divorce, women in Emma’s situation would likely find themselves encountering the same frustrations, suffering, and desires as she did. When told that marriage typically alleviates a woman’s misery, Emma counters by bluntly stating, “But with me, it was after marriage that it began” (Flaubert 91). Emma’s “expectations of being woman and wife were incompatible” and as a result, “Her death was written in that incompatibility” (Champagne 116). Thus, Emma is a victim of bourgeois society. She is a victim of a bourgeois marriage. Charles is a victim as well. Their daughter, Berthe, is perhaps the greatest victim of them all for she is left an orphan. In fact, the only characters who do not suffer and are not victimized by the bourgeois society are the single men, Rodolphe and Leon. Emma, helpless and trapped within her home, can only watch through a window as Leon is “strolling freely outside marriage” and Rodolphe is “fleeing the responsibility of a married woman with a child” (111). This freedom enjoyed by the single men illustrates how harsh Flaubert’s criticism of bourgeois marriages truly


Wen 6 is. Ultimately, the marriage between Charles and Emma destroys them both and leaves their orphaned daughter to more than likely one day experience a similar fate. On the other hand, Bronte’s Jane Eyre approaches the issue of mid-nineteenth century marriage in almost an entirely opposite manner. Whereas Flaubert begins Madame Bovary with the marriage of Emma and Charles and spends the rest of the novel detailing the marriage, Bronte instead develops Jane’s character as well as her relationship with Rochester first and concludes with their marriage. Bronte takes this approach mainly because of the obstacles preventing the two from marrying any earlier, specifically the fact that Rochester already has a wife. However, in doing so, Bronte is able to greatly develop Jane into a woman that is quite the antithesis of Emma, effectively illustrating how differently Bronte views the institution of marriage than Flaubert. Jane’s childhood experiences are entirely different than Emma’s. As an orphan, Jane must constantly deal with hardships, whether it is the death of loved ones or the “violent and tyrannical mistreatment” by her oppressive aunt and cousins (Pell 401). Her experiences leave her with a “heart saddened” and “humbled by the consciousness of [her] physical inferiority” (Bronte 11). As a result, Jane adopts a pessimistic view towards the world. Unlike Emma, Jane’s habitus is realistic; she sees the world for what it is, a harsh and unfriendly place. As a result, Jane is “candidly committed to her own survival; but, more than that, she plans as well to keep in good health” (Pell 403). No such “mismatch of bourgeois expectations” exists in Jane’s world; her habitus coincides with the societal expectations of those around her. She understands her lowly upbringings and where it places her in society. Bronte illustrates this harmony between Jane’s perceptions of reality and actual reality through many of Jane’s rational decisions. For example, upon discovering that Rochester had already been married, Jane, despite


Wen 7 her passionate love for Rochester, knew that she could not be a mistress and that leaving Thornfield was her only option. This act, her “frantic effort of principle,” causes her to abhor herself, to be “hateful in [her] own eyes” (Bronte 391). But, unlike Emma, Jane understands the social implications of being a mistress and as much as it hurts her, she knows exactly what she must do. The numerous obstacles that prevent Jane from initially marrying Rochester shed light as to how Bronte views marriage. Interestingly enough, both Rochester and Charles have spouses while they pursue their younger love interests. This freedom is exclusive to men; however, it is limited for they cannot divorce unless they can prove adultery. Rochester’s wife, Bertha Mason, or as he calls her “mad-woman,” has gone insane and is locked away, for she is often “prompted by her familiar to burn people in their beds at night, to stab them, to bite their flesh from their bones” (367). Rochester reveals that he is in fact a victim, a victim of an arranged marriage, one he was forced into as a young man. The secret of this marriage has “crippled his life socially and psychologically” (Pell 411). But Bertha is also a victim, much like Emma. Marriage to the wrong person, at least for the female, can lead to a life of imprisonment. In Bertha’s case, she is literally imprisoned and is unable to free herself like Emma was temporarily able to, and this drives her to insanity. Bronte, like Flaubert, emphasizes the power of marriage to forever alter a person’s life, for better or for worse. The difference in the ages, as well as class, of Jane and Rochester also serve as barriers to their marriage. Bronte makes a point to present “marriage in the context of equality between the partners,” but many, including Rochester’s housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax, believe that the inequalities between the two are far too great (Pell 407). As Mrs. Fairfax says to Jane, “Equality of position and fortune is often advisable in such cases; and there are twenty years of difference


Wen 8 in your ages. He might almost be your father” (Bronte 321). However, throughout the novel, Bronte empowers Jane so that she is often Rochester’s equal, or even in a position of power over him. Jane’s strength and independence play a critical role in advancing her relationship with Rochester and is ultimately what allows them to overcome the obstacles to eventually marry. Jane quickly develops into a “young woman who completely supports herself in a society about which she has few illusions” (Pell 408). In a gender role reversal, it is Rochester who time and time again comes to depend on Jane’s strength throughout the novel. When she first encounters Rochester, she helps him get back on his horse after being hurt. Jane later saves him from his burning bed. However, the most important instance of Jane’s power over Rochester occurs when she returns from her stay with her cousins. She returns to find Rochester “helpless, indeed—blind and a cripple” (Bronte 521). As an independent woman with an inherited fortune, Jane asserts her power over Rochester with the following proposition: “If you won’t let me live with you, I can build a house of my own close up to your door, and you may come and sit in my parlour when you want company of an evening…. I am my own mistress” (528). Jane, after finally achieving her goal of becoming an independent woman, is willing to put it all aside in order to be with Rochester. This “affirmation of interdependence rather than of autonomy helps to explain the genuineness of her acceptance of Rochester” (Pell 418). Unlike in Madame Bovary, this marriage is one forged out of sacrifice and perseverance; the ideal, lasting marriage. Bronte depicts both the negative aspects of marriage, through Bertha, as well as the positive aspects of marriage, as seen by Jane and Rochester’s long marriage. The arranged marriage between Bertha and Rochester was doomed from the start. In Bronte’s eyes, two random people cannot be thrown together and have a happy marriage. The time spent and hardships endured and sacrifices made by Rochester and Jane in order to marry each other


Wen 9 illustrate Bronte’s belief that fairy-tale marriages are possible; they just require true dedication and love. Bertha, much like Emma, is a victim of her own circumstances. Each is a “Woman under too rigid a restraint—a woman offered as an object in a marriage settlement,” and Bertha “displays in perverse ways the power that she is continually denied” (Pell 419). Bronte also differs from Flaubert in that she concludes the novel with the women characters getting happily married while the man, St. John, is unmarried, “sufficed to the toil… his glorious sun hastens to its setting” (Bronte 548). This conclusion is a sharp contrast to that of Madame Bovary where the single men are the only survivors. The institution of marriage is a fundamental aspect of human interaction and existence. However, marriage signifies different things to different people. Flaubert is critical of the state of marriage in the mid-nineteenth century and chose to highlight its negative aspects in Madame Bovary. Flaubert uses Emma to show how “The habitus of wifely comportment is thus compromised by the hexis of womanly desire” (Champagne 114). He points to how even a man like Charles can experience “the suffocation of the habitus regarding marriage and its social disposition” (115). Ultimately, it is the bourgeois society and its firm grasp on all its members which corrupts the institution of marriage and thus, serves as the focus of Flaubert’s criticism. Bronte, unlike Flaubert, creates the perfect marriage in Jane Eyre and instead uses a failed, arranged marriage in order to emphasize what she views are the most important aspects in achieving a perfect union. These contrasting depictions of marriage in mid-nineteenth century Europe show how critical the institution of marriage is to any society and how greatly its influence and power can vary from one situation to the next.


Wen 10 Works Cited Bronte, Charlotte. The Illustrated Jane Eyre. New York: Viking Studio, 2006. 11-359. Champagne, Roland A. "Emma's Incompetence as Madame Bovary." Orbis Litterarum 57.2 (2002): 103-119. Academic Search Premier. 13 April 2007. <http://search.ebscohost.com.avoserv.library.fordham.edu>. Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005. 7275. Pell, Nancy. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Resistance, Rebellion, and Marriage: The Economies of Jane Eyre.â&#x20AC;? NineteenthCentury Fiction, Vol. 31, No. 4. (Mar., 1977), pp. 397-420. <http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=00290564%28197703%2931%3A4%3C397%3ARRAMTE%3E2.0.CO%3B2-9>.


Wen 11 Annotated Bibliography Champagne, Roland A. "Emma's Incompetence as Madame Bovary." Orbis Litterarum 57.2 (2002): 103-119. Academic Search Premier. 13 April 2007. <http://search.ebscohost.com.avoserv.library.fordham.edu>. Roland Champagne uses Pierre Bourdieu’s social theory of hexis and habitus in analyzing Emma’s competence as a bourgeois wife. Her preconceived notions of marriage conflict directly with the expectations of bourgeois society. Her actions, her hexis, go against her society’s habitus or expectations. The problem is rooted in her childhood where she spent time in a convent and also reading romantic novels. Ultimately, the conflict between the expectations of the bourgeois society she lives within with her actual actions leads to the deterioration of her marriage and eventually to her suicide. This source provides an interesting analysis of Emma’s character and showed how her expectations shaped her marriage. Pell, Nancy. “Resistance, Rebellion, and Marriage: The Economies of Jane Eyre.” NineteenthCentury Fiction, Vol. 31, No. 4. (Mar., 1977), pp. 397-420. <http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=00290564%28197703%2931%3A4%3C397%3ARRAMTE%3E2.0.CO%3B2-9>. Nancy Pell analyzes three different aspects of Jane Eyre: resistance, rebellion, and marriage. She discusses the development of Jane and how she becomes increasingly independent. A free-thinker, Jane’s powerful character allows her relationship with Rochester to eventually work out. His dependence upon her and her willingness to care for him illustrate the strength of their union. Pell also briefly looks at the role Bertha plays in the novel, as well as why she became the way she is. This source provides a valuable, in-depth analysis of Jane along with her motives. It also highlights the defining moments in her relationship with Rochester.


Marriage in Jane Eyre and Madame Bovary