Madame Bovary is Gustave Flaubert's first novel and considered his masterpiece. The story focuses on a doctor's wife, Emma Bovary, who has adulterous affairs and lives beyond her means in order to escape the banalities and emptiness of provincial life. Though the basic plot is rather simple, even archetypal, the novel's true art lies in its details and hidden patterns. Flaubert was notoriously a perfectionist about his writing and claimed always to be searching for le mot juste ("the right word").
The novel was attacked for obscenity by public prosecutors when it was first serialized in La Revue de Paris between October 1, 1856 and December 15, 1856, resulting in a trial in January 1857 that made the story notorious. After the acquittal on February 7, 1857, it became a bestseller when it was published as a book in April 1857, and now stands virtually unchallenged not only as a seminal work of Realism, but as one of the most influential novels ever written.
A 2007 poll of contemporary authors, published in a book entitled The Top Ten, cited Madame Bovary as one of the two greatest novels ever written, second only to Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.
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