‘Madam Bovary’ a very famous novel by Gustave Flaubert, published in 1857, gives a detailed picture of the social status of women in the nineteenth century through the travails of Emma Bovary, as she passes from an impoverished childhood as the daughter of an illiterate farmer, to adulthood as the wife of a capable but lazy doctor, and later on, to her relationships with her lovers. Like Isabel, Emma is trapped in the middle class social norms and longs to escape. However, the similarities between the two characters end here. Emma uses her only power, her body, to rebel and tries to cut the suffocating social bonds of her era, while Isabelle uses her mind and spirit to remain free. At the end of each novel, the leading female protagonists are found to be unhappy and disillusioned with their lives. This article will discuss these two similar, yet so different, female characters keeping in view the social aspects of their times. It will examine their similarities and differences and compare their methods, in their rebellion against the stringent social norms of the nineteenth century Europe.
In the story “Portrait of a Lady” set in the 1860’s America, the chief protagonist Isabel Archer is portrayed as a free spirited girl, from an affluent family, who having lost her mother when very young had been brought up by her father in a rather haphazard way. He had allowed Isabel to become educated and had always fostered her independence. Under such circumstances, Isabel had become extremely strong willed, confident, was well read and a little bit of a narcissist. In their hometown in Albany, in America, Isabel had managed to earn herself quite a name as an intellect and an intimidating personality. Unwilling to settle down for a marriage that would undermine her free spirit and not willing to compromise at any cost, Isabel decides to travel to Europe with her aunt Mrs. Touchett, after her father’s death.