“The Origin of Emma And Nora”


Gustave Flaubert and Henrik Ibsen are both known as great writers and
harsh social critics. In fact when Flauberts masterpiece Madame Bovary was
released, he was arrested on the grounds that his novel was morally and
religiously offensive to the public, despite the fact that it was a bestseller. Also
Henrik Ibsens “A Doll’s House” was such a slap in the face to many Europeans
that it was banned in some countries and revised in Germany so that it had a
happy ending. Some people in Norway even attributed the rising divorce rate to
this play! What is it that drove both of these authors to be such harsh social
critics? What exactly were their views? And what drove these two authors to
create two of their most famous characters: Nora, from “A Dolls House”, and
Emma from Madame Bovary? An insight into the background of these authors
reveals that both Nora and Emma are reflections of social and political viewpoints
of their authors, and are at least partially based on people that the authors knew.
First of all, it is important to know the socio-economic status and
background of the two authors. It is also good to at least have an idea about the
society in which they lived. Then it is possible to see why they had certain
viewpoints and how these viewpoints had an effect on the personalities and
actions of their characters.
Gustave Flaubert was born on December 12, 1821 in Rouen, France to a
wealthy surgeon. As a boy he was well aware of the incompetence in the medical
profession, and the middle class “lip service” which he portrayed through Homais
in Madame Bovary. In his college years, Flaubert began to despise the middle
class even more as he became enthralled in the romantic writings of Hugo,
Rousseau, Lord Byron, and Sir Walter Scott. In Madame Bovary, Emma has a
certain romantic aspect similar to Flaubert which is a longing for things to be
perfect. This perfectionism was arguably an obsession for Flaubert. In fact, it
took him 5 years to write Madame Bovary. I remember hearing that he even
made sketches of the characters houses and of the town of Yonville. It was also
in college that he fell victim to excessive romantic ideals, such as those portrayed
in Emma, and had a failed marriage with an older woman named Elisa
Schlesinger. His personal attitudes about love are portrayed through Emma.
After his divorce, he entered into a relationship with the poet Louise Colet that
was mainly based on letter writing, just as Emma’s affairs with Rodolphe and
Leon rely heavily on letter writing. In fact, Flaubert and Colet only saw each other
six times in their first two years. This relationship with Miss Colet shows clearly
the fact that Gustave Flaubert, like Emma Bovary, liked the idea of having a lover
more than actually having one. In 1844, Flaubert started to develop a nervous
disorder that forced him to retire to his family’s estate. As Flaubert returned to his
provincial lifestyle, he realized how boring it was. It was this boredom and
isolation that shined through in Emma Bovary, who was created not only as a
representation of Flauberts romantic longings, but as a universal example of a
woman bored with provincial life. His intention was to create a type of character,
not a specific individual, and he claimed that Emma was “suffering and weeping
at this very moment in twenty villages in France”. In fact, Flaubert was once
quoted as saying “Madame Bovary c’est moi”, which in French means “I am
Madame Bovary”. What he meant by saying this was that he possessed some of
the romantic traits that Emma did. However, part of Emma was also based off
the true story of Eugene Delemare, who was a student of Flauberts father and a
physician in the French army. After Eugene lost his first wife, he married
Delphine Couturier, who turned out to be unfaithful to him, just as Emma was to
Charles. She also died at a very young age, leaving Delemare with many debts
and a young child to raise. Eugene, like Charles, died shortly after his wife out of
despair.

Nora, like Emma, is a mixture of elements from Henrik Ibsens personal
life, as well as a representation of a larger group of people. Unfortunately, Ibsen
did not have the best family life. He was born into a fairly wealthy family, but at
the age of eight, his parents went bankrupt. Because of this, all of the Ibsen
family