The infamous fiacre passage of Flaubert's Madame Bovary, though suppressed by the editors of the Revue de Paris in the initial publication, nevertheless becomes crucial to the 1857 obscenity trial brought against the author and publishers. The absent passage circulates within the arguments of both the imperial prosecution and the defense, which thereby misrecognize and register the novel's mode of insinuating scandal without representing it. In the process, the trial's own discourse becomes entangled in that paraliptical mode, with the result that the novel and the trial form an inextricable aesthetic ensemble. This essay claims that this strange relationship has quietly shaped central categories of subsequent literary criticism. By reading the novel in the trial and the trial in the novel, the essay suggests a more nuanced sense of Flaubertian style—but also of the relationships between the literary and the institutions of the sociohistorical world.
Flaubert's Alibi: The Impossible Ensemble of Madame Bovary
c.f.s. creasy is a PhD candidate in the Department of English and the Program in Critical Theory at the University of California, Berkeley. He is presently completing a dissertation titled “Things Passed Over: Narrating and the Modern Ensemble.”
C.F.S. Creasy; Flaubert's Alibi: The Impossible Ensemble of Madame Bovary. Novel 1 November 2015; 48 (3): 363–380. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-3150317
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