Prompted by the prior work of critics like Ross Chambers and sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, this article pursues the possibility that there would be a way of reading Madame Bovary that is not just about learning to be a sophisticated and refined enough reader of Gustave Flaubert to appreciate all that he managed to achieve in that novel. Rather, while sophistication and refinement may constitute a typical first step in becoming a reader of Flaubert’s novel, the novel also, from a different perspective, offers a critical experience of the symbolic violence of a cultural universe structured by hierarchies of sophistication, potentially leaving you wondering what your fought-for sophistication is really worth. While pursuing this possibility, I examine how Madame Bovary continually figures acts of reading such as the one it is offering its readers, how a sensibility to free indirect style can be considered an index of sophistication, and how Flaubert uses figural language and certain prosodic effects to create collisions of registers of diction that destabilize any secure sense of linguistic sophistication.

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