”It is indeed lamentable that any considerable or prominent portion of society in any country should be willing to recognise in such a book as this anything like a portrait of themselves; and it is perhaps even more lamentable that a man of talent should consider such a book a moral one, which we are inclined to believe to be the case with the author of the work before us. The character of Madame Bovary herself is one of the most essentially disgusting that we ever happened to meet with. It is one which we should be extremely sorry to attribute to any woman, and if it could ever become to any extent common, it could not for any length of time be compatible with the existence of society. The notion of duty or responsibility never seems to cross her mind… . From the first page of the book to the last, not a person is introduced calculated to excite any other feelings than contempt or disgust. No skill in the mechanical part of a novelist’s art can redeem a defect so capital as this. We should be sorry to call the book a disgusting performance, but disgust is certainly the most prominent feeling that it awakens… .
“The real immorality which is involved in such a tale asMadame Bovary, lies in the want which it presumes in its readers of any moral distinctions at all. It says emphatically—though, like all such books, rather clumsily—that adultery may very possibly end in the utter ruin and destruction of the sinning woman; but it does not seem to recognise the fact that in itself, and apart from the occasional and exceptional cases in which it may be so punished, it is vile, hateful, and treacherous. Cut off the last chapter or two ofMadame Bovary, and the impression left on the reader is that the author rather sympathizes with his heroine. Leave them in, and they show far more dislike of the consequences than of the character of the offence… . we infer fromMadame Bovarythat poisoning by arsenic is a very painful death, and that it is well to avoid what may lead to it, however pleasant.”
Sir James FitzJames Stephen, “Madame Bovary” (Saturday Review, July 1857)