Madame Bovary

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Date: 1856 - 1857

Region: Europe

Subject: Explicit Sexuality

Medium: Literature


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Artist: Gustave Flaubert

Confronting Bodies: editors of the newspaper Revue de Paris, French government

Dates of Action: 1856-1857

Location: France

Description of Artwork: Madame Bovary is about Emma Bovary, a doctor's wife who seeks an escape from her dull life through having extra-marital affairs. It was originally published in parts in the Revue de Paris.

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The Incident: The editors of the Revue de Paris, where Madame Bovary was first published, censored the work because they feared that it would be censored by the authorities. The editors cut out 69 passages, including one in which Emma and a man she is having an affair with stay shuttered inside a coach for many hours. The editors claimed that many of the changes were made for aesthetic reasons, but Flaubert felt it was due to the editor's lack of style. Flaubert insisted on putting a note in with the work saying that it had been censored. This, along with an article Flaubert published containing many excerpts he had written that had been censored, attracted the authorities' attention. In 1857 Flaubert was brought to trial under a law that had been passed in 1819 saying that the sale or distribution of any written work that offended public or religious decency was to be suppressed. The prosecutor in the case argued not only was the work offensive because of the sexuality, but also because you could not tell "what is going on in the author's conscience".

Results of Incident: The judge acquitted Flaubert while at the same time agreeing with many of the prosecutors statements.

Source: "Censorship: A World Encyclopedia"