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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.”

“Manures!”

“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?

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her forthcoming literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and will be published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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One Comment

  • John Huth says:

    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

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