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Emma Bovary, a doctor's wife, has a highly romanticized view of the world and craves beauty, wealth, passion, and high society. The disparity between these romantic ideals and the realities of her country life lead her into extramarital love affairs as well as causing her to accrue an insurmountable amount of debt.
The book, loosely based on the life story of a school friend who had become a doctor, was written at the urging of friends, who were trying to cure Flaubert of his Romanticism by assigning him the dreariest subject they could think of, and challenging him to make it interesting.
When it was first serialized in La Revue de Paris, the novel was attacked for obscenity by public prosecutors. Flaubert's masterpiece is now considered a seminal work of Realism and one of the most influential novels ever written.