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Flaubert and Don Quijote

The Influence of Cervantes on Madame Bovary

Soledad Fox is professor of Spanish and comparative literature at Williams College. She has published articles and lectured on Spanish and French literature on exile and autobiographical writing, and is the author of Constancia del la Mora: International Voice for the Spanish Republic. “ . . . embeds her story in the domestic political history of twentieth-century America with its central mobilising narrative of anticommunism.” Professor Helen Graham, Dept. of History, Royal Holloway, University of London

This book tells the story of how Flaubert’s admiration for Cervantes’ Don Quijote unfolded, and how profoundly it shaped and influenced Flaubert’s ambition and his approach to all his major works, beginning with his breakthrough novel Madame Bovary. It thus fills a major gap in the history of the novel and explores, for the first time, just what Flaubert meant when he said, while writing Bovary: “Je retrouve toutes mes origins dans le livre que je savais par coeur avant de savoir lire, Don Quichotte”(I can trace all my origins back to the book I knew by heart).

Several cultural and personal factors converged to establish the prominent place of Don Quijote in Flaubert’s imagination, and these are dealt with in depth in the book. But it is the profound parallels between the two novels that clearly illustrate how Don Quijote permeates Madame Bovary in both subject and approach. One such parallel is Alonso Quijano and Emma Bovary’s desire to imitate fiction, which reflects a kind of literary madness in which the attempt to impose the narrative conventions of romances on life only leads hero and heroine, respectively, to destruction, disappointment, and ultimately death. The borrowings and the transpositions are substantial and endless; and indeed the influence did not stop at Bovary, for Flaubert’s later grands romans, including the rewritten Education Sentimentale and Bouvard et Pécuchet, also display the quixotic hallmark.

This study situates each author in his respective historical and aesthetic context, and provides key examples from Don Quijote and Madame Bovary, Flaubert’s Correspondence, as well as his earlier novels. Flaubert’s letters and novels show how the French author penetrated deeply into Cervantes’novelistic approach and how his relationship to Don Quijote directly shaped his success at the crux of his career

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-257-0
Hardback Price: £44.95 / $69.50
Release Date: November 2008
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-397-3
Paperback Price: £19.95 / $35.00
Release Date: July 2010
Page Extent / Format: 224 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: Yes


List of Illustrations
Preface and Acknowledgements

I Cervantes in Context

II Don Quijote: A Selective Genealogy

III A Self-Conscious Author

IV Readers and Books

V A Prosaic Education

VI Madame Bovary and Don Quijote


Despite the frequent references to Cervantes in Flaubert’s Correspondence, specialist critics of Flaubert have paid surprisingly scant attention to the profound and complex intertextual reverberations of Don Quijote on the subject matter and style of all of laubert’s major novels. Soledad Fox’s study therefore marks an important first step to such a thoroughgoing re-evaluation by focusing specifically on the singular and genre-breaking facets of Cervantes’ work that found such appeal for Flaubert as he grappled in his own early works with the temptations and folly of Romanticism from which he created and honed Madame Bovary … the close readings of episodes in Don Quijote and Madame Bovary in the final chapter set a clear course for future analyses, for example of Bouvard et Pécuchet. This book thus offers an antidote to notions of undecidability and misanthropy in Flaubert, by being a highly readable and refreshing comparative understanding both of Flaubert’s narrative stances, irony and aesthetic priorities, and of their rich debt to longer European literary heritages particularly in times of strict censorship.
Forum for Modern Language Studies

A fascinating, authoritative study of Don Quijote and Madame Bovary, written with precision and clarity. Richly defining their cultural, social, and historical contexts, Prof. Fox develops a highly intelligent analysis of Cervantes’ influence on Flaubert’s novel and offers fresh insight concerning their differences, especially the contrast between the authors’ conceptions of their central characters.
David Kleinbard, Professor Emeritus, City University of New York

Flaubert used Cervantes’ great novel as a model in his attempt to renew literature, to liberate him from the grasp of dominant literary schools. But the significance of Fox’s study goes far beyond a detailed analysis of a single case in the history of literature. It is a ‘comparative’ study in the deepest sense of this term. The book shows how the discontent with actual literature in both cases of Cervantes and Flaubert leads first of all toward an ironic parody, distantiation from the dominant trends and later to radically new forms of artistic consciousness… The study is full of insights and is made by a very subtle and intelligent scholar who has a rare capacity not to force the material, but to listen to its voice with extraordinary respect and acumen.
Mikhail Iampolski, professor of comparative literature, NYU

The affinities between Flaubert and Cervantes have often intrigued the readers of Madame Bovary and Don Quixote. Are their heroes victims of literature or a menace to society? Professor Fox’s original study and unexpected insights bring to light the manifold historical, social and aesthetic links between the two authors and their protagonists, and fill a real void in both the fields of Flaubert and Cervantes studies.
Professor A. Nematollahy, Department of Modern Languages, City University of New York

Often, the history of literary criticism becomes bogged down in clichés and repetitive simplifications: an opinion, an idea, a seductive synthesis is forwarded and it remains for years, even centuries, as the solid truth. This is what seems to have happened with the relationship between Cervantes and Flaubert, frequently limited to the oft-repeated anecdote of the child fascinated with Don Quijote, a fascination that dates the birth of Flaubert the writer “avec la lecture qu’on luit fait du Quichotte” (Yvan Leclerc, “Preface”, Flaubert, Memories d’un fou, Novembre et autres textes de jeunesse, Paris, 1991, 12). Beyond this ultimately biographical argument, the sole literary relationship between both authors is usually limited those studies dedicated exclusively or primarily to Madame Bovary that point out in passing the coincidence between Don Quijote and Emma due to a fervor for reading that causes daydreaming impossible illusions. And this in turn becomes immediately suspect of what turned out to be another disillusion, for us this time, and especially for comparative literature, namely, that of a world literature dreamed by Goethe, Schiller, and the German Romantics, one that would join nations and overcome nationalisms. The broadening and deepening of the literary kinship between Cervantes and Flaubert that Professor Fox’s book reveals, in itself suffices to prove once again how far we still are from that intellectually and spiritually laudable dream, a distance no doubt expanded even more by what Ortega y Gasset aptly labeled la barbarie de la especialización, or the barbarity of specialization, particularly detrimental, of course, to Comparative Literature.
... Five chapters prepare us for the final “Madame Bovary and Don Quijote” dedicated explicitly to a comparison between both works. These previous chapters contextualize the two authors within their respective eras and predominating literary trends and influences of the times. In this respect, Fox’s book is another study that reestablishes a welcome balance between biography and literary production, often lost in certain Twentieth Century studies not limited necessarily to New Criticism or pure explication de texte critics. The evolution of the two writers is traced from both their readings and their earlier works. The positive influence of Erasmian and Italian Renaissance literature on Cervantes (where, however, we miss the mention of Ariosto’s Orlando furioso), and that of the classics, both ancient and French, to which Flaubert’s reading evolved; the rejection of chivalry romances by Cervantes and of melodramatic Romanticism by Flaubert that led in both cases to the brilliant irony of literary parody; the analysis of common influences on the Spaniard and the Frenchman (including Erasmus, incidentally, evidenced for Fox in Memories d’un fou), as well as common influences exerted by Cervantes which may have reached Flaubert through other authors (Goethe standing out here): Fox delves into a truly thought-provoking comparative analysis that, as usual in the always slippery issue of literary influences, may raise eyebrows, but usually also to lower them again, if not yet convincingly, then at least sufficiently intriguingly as to pursue further exploration. In certain comparisons, however, a neat differentiation between influence and mere intertextuality (case of Maese Pedro’s retablo or puppet show in Don Quijote and the opera Lucia di Lammermoor in Madame Bovary, for example) results for us a more plausible solution to textual coincidences. Interestingly enough, this same opera offers a more solid comparison, that of chivalry romance – Don Quijote, on the one hand, and Romantic literature, Madame Bovary, on the other – in the section dedicated to Walter Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor, where once again Fox transcends the passing mention – if that – of so many studies that may casually allude to Scott’s novel as the source of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, of which Emma was so fond. Not only does Fox pose the possibility of another indirect Cervantes influence on Flaubert through no less a secondary author as Walter Scott, but indeed Fox goes so far as to argue with repeated textual support that what Amadís de Gaula was to Don Quijote, The Bride of Lammermoor was to Madame Bovary.
... Flaubert and Don Quijote definitely fills in a void long overdue concerning two masters of the novel form without whose works that genre would not be what it is today. Indeed, given the incomprehensible lack of lack of comparative studies between both authors and their respective works, evidenced once again in the extensive bibliography provided by Fox, her book may very well classify as a pioneer work. As such, it paves the way for many and varied issues and questions of special interest to comparative literature: where does Henry Fielding, whose Cervantine concept of the epic in prose antedates that of both Goethe and Flaubert, enter into all this, for one; or how many other Cervantine works have influenced Flaubert; or how does Cervantes reach other authors through Flaubert; or – to pass on to an issue pertaining also to the sociology of literature – how could such two contrasting lives (a haphazard, adventurous, marginalized, economically-deprived and, if we are to credit certain Cervantine biographers, bohemian life, versus Flaubert’s methodical, disciplined, secure existence) have spawned two authors and works so similar in so many ways, especially when it comes to the conscious and conscientious aspect which Unamuno denied Cervantes, and which Fox’s study once again supports through the comparison with the French novelist.
... In short, as with any critical work of lasting value, the explosive capacity of Flaubert and Don Quijote with regards to awakening the reader to new possibilities and perspectives, responds neatly to the challenging contents successfully met of two authors tantamount to the conception of that most elusive of genres, the modern novel.
Eugenio Suárez-Galbán, American Comparative Literature Studies

Fox draws comparisons between Cervantes’ Don Quixote and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. After placing Cervantes within a historical and literary tradition, she turns to Flaubert and the acknowledged influence Cervantes had on him. While, initially, the books may seem totally dissimilar, Fox points out many parallels, particularly in literary intent and social commentary.
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