A Gustave Flaubert Encyclopedia
Zola is another precisely lyrical, socially concerned realist; Nabokov was a great admirer of Flaubert's clinically accurate style; Julian Barnes's Flaubert's Parrot is a subtle tale of literary affection.
See Memoirs d'un Fou, written in , Flaubert's reminiscences of his early life, and Louise Colet's Lui , a memoir of their relationship. Sartre also wrote a massive biography, L'Idiot de la Famille. Did you know? Critical verdict The unjudgmental, ultra-realistic portrayal of adultery in Madame Bovary was considered immoral: Flaubert, his publisher and printer were all prosecuted, though they escaped conviction.
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Gustave Flaubert is probably the most famous novelist of nineteenth-century France, and his best known work, Madame Bovary, is read in numerous comparative literature and French courses. His fiction set the standard to which other authors turned to learn their craft, and his cult of art and his unrelenting search for stylistic perfection inspired many later writers, such as Maupassant, Proust, Conrad, Faulkner, and Joyce. His denunciation of materialistic, corrupt society; his fascination with altered states of consciousness; his oscillation between metaphysical longings and a radical nihilism; and his deep-seated mistrust of the adequacy of words themselves anticipate the works of contemporary authors.
This reference is a convenient guide to his life and writings.
Madame Delamare was leaving behind a young daughter and a distraught husband. One of those reading the newspaper was a twenty-seven year old aspiring novelist, Gustave Flaubert — who grew so fascinated by the story, he used it to provide him with the exact plot structure for his eventual novel. One of things that happened when Madame Delamare, the adulteress from Ry, turned into Madame Bovary, the adulteress from fictional Yonville, was that her life ceased to bear the dimensions of a black-and-white morality tale.
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Readers saw how easy it is to have a thoroughly miserable marriage without being in any way a bad person. Emma gets bored with her husband, loses interests in her child, runs up debts, has affairs — and eventually kills herself. But by the time readers had taken in how she had pushed arsenic into her mouth and been laid down in her bedroom to await her death, they would not be in a mood to judge. All they could feel was pity at the cruelty and senselessness of life. Flaubert seemed almost deliberately to enjoy unsettling the desire to find easy answers.
No sooner had he presented Emma in a positive light, than he would undercut her with an ironic remark. But then, as readers were losing patience with her, he would draw them back to her, would tell them something about her sensitivity that would bring tears to the eyes.
He tells us that from a young age, Emma used to read Romantic novels that gave her an unrealistic, overly rosy picture of love that left her unprepared for the reality of marriage. Emma was unprepared for how boring it can be to have dinner with the same person every night and by how difficult it is to keep a relationship alive after one has a baby — and therefore responded with too great a degree of panic, having multiple affairs to remind herself that she was still capable of passion and going shopping for more than she could afford as an alternative to the sometimes tedious business of bringing up a child.
What might ultimately have saved Emma Bovary was to read the novel of which she is the heroine.
In the s, Flaubert began keeping a record of what he judged to be the most idiotic patterns of thought promoted by the modern world in general and by the newspapers in particular.