Madame Bovary and Written on the body, penned by Gustave Flaubert and Jeanette Winterson respectively, encapsulate the essence of gender while breaking free of the stigma attached to it. The actions of both the protagonists from these works reflect a complete divorce of the influence of their genders from the course of action they took. The ambiguity of the sex of Winterson’s character along with the Volatile nature of Flaubert’s Emma twist many facets of gender and society together into solid plots.
Both are narratives of the highest order and equally reflect ideas which are considered radical. Both novels place sexual structures and explanations of gender into question, i. e. is the male sex really superior? Are woman really constricted by their femininity? Through the narrative on Emma we get a taste of a woman who goes again societal norms and at times acts more masculine than feminine. Then we have the I-narrator in Winterson’s novel that continually transcends boundaries set for sexes because of his/her own unidentified and undefined gender.
Similarly, one would have to notice that Winterson’s novel shuns sexes completely. Instead of working within a space where there is a fixed gender, which is further placed into a categorically constructed culture and society in order to pinpoint the wants and needs of an individual, we are left with imagery that shows us a being, which has an identity and subsequently wants and needs things based on that identity. (Sonnenberg 3) Typical to this fact both the characters tip toe around the limitations of the sexes.
This is the reason Winterson’s character is easy to compare to Emma. The novels’ negate the traditional roles of the sexes, in particular they negate the role of women as passive object of exploration by following masculine paradigms, but also in ultimately rejecting such models in favor of reciprocity, they becomes an almost perfect illustration of a refusal of the role of woman and also the refusal of the economic, ideological, and political power of a man. The actions of both characters set them apart from normal behavior (Maynard, Purvis 151).
One has to wonder whether Emma is a victim in the traditional sense or has the author deliberately downplayed the masculinity of the three main male characters i. e. Charles, Leon and Rodolphe. (Porter 263). The character does not follow the norms of one gender. This was the reason that Flaubert’s novel was greatly protested. On one hand she is extremely feminine but on the other hand she has extremely masculine markers in her personality. It was Charles Baudelaire who pointed out that Emma’s desires masculinized her, and he labeled her a “bizarre androgyne.
” In reality, in the background of the 19th-century French anticipations about women’s conduct, Emma’s blatant sexuality and far-reaching aspiration did stand out as alien and unacceptable, as the trial of Madame Bovary on allegations of violating public morals showed. (Porter 124). She is definitely feminine in many ways, but very easily slips into the lead of forefront of her relationships which is usually reserved for the male counterparts. An example of this would be her relationship with Leon and also the fact that she wore monocles which was highly unlikely for a woman of that day and age.
Likewise the I-narrator in “Written on the body” seems to be neither male nor female. As tempting as it would be, it does not work for the reader to search for the gender clues in this character, the mention of a shirt, a nipple, a motorcycle – for none of these provides conclusive evidence, there are however, many hints that suggest that the character is in fact female such as the description s/he awards to the objective of his/her affection i. e. Louise.
It is that very fact which throws the plot into controversy; a plain tale of adultery would have been rather poetic, one which is filled with ambiguity and revolves around a woman stealing another mans wife is highly bizarre (Farwell 187). Explaining Emma’s character, Laurence porter writes, “Naomi Schor described Emma as a woman who desired to break the chain of passive femininity but who fails to accede to the phallic writing state. Roger Huss centers similarly on the impossibility of Emma’s incorporation of the masculine, the impossibility of gender plentitude, and the problem of the different itself.
” (Porter 125). In a world where men ruled supreme, Emma’s charm stemmed from her education which had taken away some parts of her femininity because of the knowledge she had gained. She was now a part of the male world whether anyone admitted her into that world or not was not even a question. In the same way as the protagonist in “Written on the body,” who, if indeed a lesbian, failed to separate herself from the masculine side of her personality, and if a man, fell short of acting like the traditional Alpha. Another comparison could be the ideology of love and in fact the myth of romance.
The protagonists of both novels have a very cliched understanding of love. They are deluded with their preconceived notions about love and how it is meant to play out in their lives. Emma becomes depressed with her life and her marriage because of this very fact. The narrator in ‘Written on the body’ also feels the same, which is reflected in the following words, “I was trapped in a cliche every bit as redundant as my parents’ roses round the door, I was looking for the perfect coupling, the never-sleep-non-stop mighty orgasm. Ecstasy without end.
I was deep in the slop-bucket of romance,” (Written on the body 21). They are both looking for something which is basically too idealistic and utopian in nature to really exist. One more front on which both the novels collide is adultery. Both the protagonists wholeheartedly indulge. Emma does it by cheating on her husband not once but twice. She craves the kind of love that she had read about in her books and goes around looking for it till she finds it in Leon and Rodolphe. Winterson’s character is also infatuated with the idea of love and goes looking for it in the arms of another man’s wife.
There seems to be nothing that can stop the two and their own selfish motives are the only ones they care about. The character in ‘Written on the body’ seems to be a narcissist who cares for no one but him/herself. Emma is indeed selfish in the same way because she cares only for her own self-satisfaction and disregards the pain she could cause her husband when she finds out about her affairs. Madame Bovary reflects the 19th century French society, while Winterson’s expose is from more recent times.
What the works show us is that sexuality and gender have been conflicted since a long time and continue to stay so. Society will always gape and be appalled at such pieces of literature because they go against the dead rules that have been constructed for the existence of mankind. Traditionally men and women have both been assigned their places in the world and those places are not to be tampered with; one of the most sensitive areas one can go experimenting with is sexuality. In some ways both works reflect how anyone from a particular gender cannot stay happy once it has tasted the waters from the other side.
The knowledge of the other side gives them an insane desire to climb onto it repeatedly, thereby causing friction and in fact a chaotic contradiction the roles that society had already laid out for them.
Work Cited Farwell, Marilyn R: Heterosexual Plots and Lesbian Narratives: 1996 Flaubert, Gustave: Madame Bovary: 2004 Maynard, Mary & Purvis, June: Hetero) sexual Politics: 1995 Porter, Laurence M: A Gustave Flaubert encyclopaedia: 2001 Sonnenberg: Body Image and Identity in Jeanette Winterson’s “Written on the Body”: 2007 Winterson, Jeanette: Written on the Body: 1994