34 (Winter 2008)
2008 by The University of Chicago. 0093-1896/08/3402-0005$10.00..All rights reserved.
Why Emma Bovary Had to Be Killed
Atﬁrstsightthereissomethingwrongwithmytitle.Whenyouannouncethat you will give the reason why a person was killed, you take for grantedthat he or she was killed, that his or her death was a murder. In this casehowever there exists strong textual evidence against the alleged fact. Eventhosewhohaveneverread
knowatleastonething:nobody killed Emma, she committed suicide. Those who have read it know that,after absorbing the poison, she took care to write, “No one is guilty. . . .”Therefore the right question apparently reads as follows:
Why did Emma Bovary commit suicide?
The answer to that “right” question is well known:she killed herself because she could not pay her debts. She was indebtedbecause of her extramarital love aﬀairs. And she had love aﬀairs becauseof the discrepancy between the life she had dreamed of, out of the romancesshe had read as a schoolgirl in a convent, and the life she had to live as thewife ofapoor stubborndoctorinamurky,provincial,smalltown.Inshort,her suicide happened to be the last consequence of a chain of causes thatreached back to a ﬁrst mistake: as she had too much imagination, she hadmistaken literature for life. Needless to say, it is easy to reach further backand invoke deeper social reasons: inappropriate education, social alien-ation,maledomination,andsoon.Thisissupposedtoamounttoa
account for the suicide.Clearly enough, if I decided to change the question and ask, against allevidence, why she had to be killed, it is because I was not satisﬁed with thelogic of the answers, not satisﬁed with the kindof cause-and-eﬀectrelationthat they implemented as a political account. It seemed to me that they