SparkNotes: Madame Bovary: Context
This essay consists in an extended gloss on Balzac's paradoxical claim that "." Author and audience (figured as guide and mentor, degraded avatars of Virgil and Dante), descend into a merely material underworld constructed as an illusion of depth upon the flat field of the text. A symbol of Balzac's art appears as a arch over a plaster figure of Eros. The allegory of "realism" proceeds from a low-mimetic temptation scene to the Diorama as model of the factitious 'reality' shared by artist and spectator and to the materialist reduction of Shakespeare's tragedy into a -orama. Balzac's tragedy lacks a Cordelia, representing reality's third dimension or the apex of the triangle identified in as symbol of transcendence. In the end Rastignac, hero, confronts the mere orama of Paris and resumes the "descent."
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We would reiterate that where you have authentic poetry — but you have to make the effort to perceive it, beyond any preconceived schema of a book's "contents" — you always have sociological truth. That is, you have realism — polysemic-symbolic representation (which therefore in one way or another passes judgement) of an historical and social reality. Such realism can as well be the optimistic and constructive bourgeois realism of Fielding and Balzac (as Lukács believes) as the pessimistic and constructive realism of Swift (here we agree with Brecht, thinking not only of the Houyhnhnms in Gulliver's Travels, but of the Modest Proposal). Equally, it can be the different versions of a pessimistic and apocalyptic realism we find in Eliot, Proust, Joyce, and Kafka, or the modest "immanent" realism, the hic et nunc, of Mann. Finally it can be the new constructive optimism of the socialist realism of Mayakovsky and Brecht (for all their parables and hyperbole).
The modulation begins with the book's explication, which involves a shifting series of frames, each focusing more tightly on the street, the houses, the Grandet home, and finally the door frames with their "hieroglyphs." Balzac writes, "The history of France lies written in these houses," thus expanding his explication both chronologically and socially beyond that found in simpler melodrama (34).