The Function of Italics in Madame Bovary

Flaubert used a variety of stylistic devices to achieve a high degree of objectivity in his fiction. The author of this article contends that in Madame Bovary italics represent another device with a similar aim that has hitherto escaped close scrutiny. In this novel, the use of italics is multifaceted. In some instances they function as atmosphere-setting pointers revealing a group mentality that affects the thinking and behavior of the protagonists. In other cases they provide a concise means of characterizing minor figures or of underscoring a particular tendency of a major one setting, for example, in sharp relief the effect of some of Charles's mannerisms on Emma's state of mind. Italics also serve to denote certain popular expressions. Wherever they occur within a passage written in the "style indirect libre" italics tend to reduce its degree of omniscience by narrowing the distance between the author's style and the character's more prosaic level of expression. By often carrying a quintessential message italics also tend to bring into sharper focus the ironic basis of the novel. (HHW)

Weinberg, Henry H
Volume 1974-1975 Fall-Winter; 3(1-2): 97-111.