Writing on Ironic Juxtaposition

Writing technique: Ironic juxtaposition

I was flipping through “Madame Bovary”, written by Gustave Flaubert, when something struck me about a particular dialog. Rodolphe, a confirmed cad and runner-after-women is trying to seduce the pretty and bored wife of a country doctor, Emma.

The venue is an agricultural fair, and I am struck by how Flaubert manages to tell us exactly what he thinks of Rodolphe through the contrasting background voices that intrude into Rodolphe’s seductive monologue:


“Thus we,” he said, “why did we come to know one another? What chance willed it? It was because across the infinite, like two streams that flow but to unite; our special bents of mind had driven us towards each other.”

And he seized her hand; she did not withdraw it.

“For good farming generally!” cried the president.

“Just now, for example, when I went to your house.”

“To Monsieur Bizat of Quincampoix.”

“Did I know I should accompany you?”

“Seventy francs.”

“A hundred times I wished to go; and I followed you–I remained.”


“And I shall remain to-night, to-morrow, all other days, all my life!”

“To Monsieur Bain of Givry-Saint-Martin for a merino ram!”

“And I shall carry away with me the remembrance of you. But you will forget me; I shall pass away like a shadow.”

“To Monsieur Belot of Notre-Dame. Porcine race; prizes–equal, to Messrs. Leherisse and Cullembourg, sixty francs!”


I searched, then and searched some more, and figured out that this writing technique is called the ironic juxtaposition.

Use irony to hilarious effect by putting two contrary things together.

I am so kicked with the way Flaubert has used it, I am going to try and use it in one of my stories. I know this is no writing technique for a novice, but there is no harm in trying, is there?

Have you found other examples of such writing, where the author uses the contrast to such telling effect?

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  1. John Huth

    I just used ironic juxtaposition in part of a chapter for my current book (in writing). Oddly enough, when I was an undergraduate, I wrote about this technique and used precisely that passage by Flaubert, but in the original.

    I was trying to find a few other examples on the web and stumbled on your blog.

    My main purpose was to criticize someone's behavior but not leave myself open to a lawsuit, so I simply juxtaposed two contradictory facts. The Daily Show employs this technique regularly.

    John Huth

    Huth (at) physics (dot) harvard (dot) edu