Gustave Flaubert


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Flaubert, Gustave

(güstäv` flōbĕr`), 1821–80, French novelist, regarded as one of the supreme masters of the realistic novel. He was a scrupulous, slow writer, intent on the exact word (le mot juste) and complete objectivity. The son of a surgeon, he studied law unsuccessfully in Paris and returned home to devote himself to writing. Because of a severe nervous malady, probably epilepsy, he spent much of his life at Croisset, near Rouen, with his mother and niece. Nonetheless, he also became an established figure in the Parisian social and literary world. In 1856, after five years of work, Flaubert published his masterpiece, Madame Bovary, in a Paris journal. Portraying the frustrations and love affairs of a romantic young woman married to a dull provincial doctor, the novel is written in a superbly controlled style. The book resulted in his being prosecuted on moral grounds, but he won the case. It was followed by Salammbô (1863), a meticulously documented novel of ancient Carthage; a revision of an earlier novel, L'Éducation sentimentale (1870); The Temptation of St. Anthony (1874); and Three Tales (1877), which contained the great short story "A Simple Heart." After his death his unfinished satire Bouvard and Pécuchet was published (1881). His correspondence, including that with George SandSand, George
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 and the letters to his niece Caroline, appeared in nine volumes (1926–33).

Bibliography

See The Selected Letters of Flaubert (ed. and tr. by F. Steegmuller, 1954); biographies by E. Starkie (2 vol., 1967–71), H. Lottman (1989), G. Wall (2002), and F. Brown (2006); study by V. H. Brombert (1966); H. James, Notes on Novelists (1914), and F. Steegmuller, Flaubert and Madame Bovary (rev. ed. 1968).

Flaubert, Gustave

 

Born Dec. 12, 1821, in Rouen; died May 8, 1880, at Croisset, near Rouen. French writer.

The son of a physician, Flaubert graduated from the Collège Royal in Rouen. He then enrolled in the faculty of law at the University of Paris, but a nervous malady that he developed in 1844 compelled him to interrupt his studies. He settled down on his small estate, at Croisset, where he lived almost continuously until his death. Flaubert wrote his most important literary works at Croisset, from which he also conducted an extensive correspondence, an invaluable source of information on his philosophical, aesthetic, and sociopolitical views.

Flaubert’s first literary efforts, the novellas Memoirs of a Madman (1838) and November (1842), lacked originality and were written in the spirit of conventional romanticism. However, these early works clearly manifested Flaubert’s antibourgeois orientation. His rejection of romanticism was evident in an unpublished early version of The Sentimental Education (1843–45). Flaubert definitively abandoned his youthful romantic ideals during the revolutionary events of 1848 to 1851 in France.

Flaubert was keenly sensitive to topical events and approved of the antibourgeois enthusiasm of the popular uprising of 1848, but his attitude toward political programs was skeptical and contemptuous, and his fundamental sociopolitical position was one of nonparticipation in public life. He maintained a mistrustful attitude toward revolution throughout his life, and neither understood nor approved of the Paris Commune.

Flaubert’s aesthetic views were expressed in his theory of the exclusiveness and selectness of literature, which to an extent he likened to a science. However, his keen and tireless observation of life and the superhuman efforts he exerted on his works cannot be reconciled with his aesthetic system.

Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary: Provincial Mores (1857; Russian translation, 1858) represented six years of work. It is a masterpiece of world literature and a true encyclopedia of 19th-century French provincial life. The authorities considered the book immoral and prosecuted Flaubert, but he was acquitted. The progressive critics Sainte-Beuve and Baudelaire warmly acclaimed the novel.

The tragic outcome of Madame Bovary, Emma Bovary’s suicide, poses the question of who is more amoral: a woman who had become enmeshed in infidelity, or such smug, sententious representatives of the bourgeoisie as the apothecary Homais, who is depicted with masterful, mordant satire. Emma’s death results from her longing for a different kind of life, free of philistine emptiness and banality.

In 1858, Flaubert traveled to Algeria and Tunisia to collect material for his novel Salammbô (1862; Russian translation, 1863). The novel is set in Carthage after the First Punic War (third century B.C.). The antibourgeois theme appears obliquely in the longing expressed in the novel for persons of integrity and strong character.

Flaubert’s next novel, The Sentimental Education (1869; Russian translation, 1870), dealt with events of Flaubert’s time—the Revolution of 1848, its collapse, and the establishment of Napoleon Ill’s dictatorship in 1851. The hero, Frédéric Moreau, is an unfortunate victim of circumstances like Emma Bovary, but for all his shortcomings and weaknesses he is able to maintain his moral integrity in spite of the rise of the cynical bourgeoisie. The revolutionist Dussardier is depicted in a positive light.

Flaubert’s dramatic narrative poem in prose, The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1874; Russian translation, 1879), is a philosophical work, original in genre and based on a legend from the life of a saint. It unequivocally questions the claims of the Christian religion to possess the sole true understanding of the meaning of life.

Flaubert’s last works were Three Tales (1877) and the unfinished novel Bouvard and Pécuchet (1881). One of the stories in Three Tales, “A Simple Heart” (Russian translation, 1892), recounts the life of a country servant, Félicité, whose hard lot is depicted with great sympathy. The two other stories in Three Tales, “The Legend of Saint Julian the Hospitaler” (translated in Russian as “The Catholic Legend of Julian the Merciful,” 1877) and “Herodias” (Russian translation, 1877), are set in the classical and medieval periods.

Bouvard and Pécuchet, which is to a great extent satirical, deals with a subject that preoccupied Flaubert: man and his search for scientific and scholarly knowledge. Flaubert had a staunch faith in man’s creative powers and considered it his duty to satirize mercilessly any profanation of true knowledge. In the novel, this view finds expression in the foolish claims to omniscience made by the two heroes, philistine representatives of the bourgeoisie. While writing Bouvard and Pécuchet, Flaubert compiled a small satirical work, the Dictionary of Truisms (published 1910), a unique collection of philistine platitudes that the author abhorred.

Flaubert’s importance and his influence on French and world literature have been immense. He continued Balzac’s tradition of realism and was an admirer of Turgenev and Tolstoy. Flaubert inspired a group of talented writers; to some of them, for example, Maupassant, he gave personal instruction in the art of writing. A great stylist, Flaubert was a model of conscientiousness. He was dedicated to his art, to the search for the precise word, and to his native language.

Flaubert’s works were well known in Russia and were acclaimed by Russian critics. Turgenev, a close friend of Flaubert, translated some of his works, and Mussorgsky composed an opera based on Salammbô. Flaubert’s works were analyzed by G. V. Plekhanov, A. V. Lunacharskii, and M. Gorky. Soviet literary scholars study the works of Flaubert in their historical context, emphasizing his prominent role in establishing realism in French literature.

WORKS

Oeuvres complètes illustrées [vols. 1–14]. Paris, 1921–25.
Oeuvres complètes, vols. 1–2. Paris, 1964.
Correspondance. [Paris, 1973.]
In Russian translation:
Sobr. soch., vols. 1–8. Edited by A. V. Lunacharskii and M. D. Eikhengol’ts. Moscow-Leningrad, 1933–38.
Sobr. soch., vols. 1–4. Moscow, 1971.

REFERENCES

Plekhanov, G. V. Literatura i estetika, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1958. (See Index of Names, vol. 2.)
Gorky, M. Sobr. soch., vols. 1–30. Moscow, 1949–55. (See Index of Names and Titles, vol. 30.)
Lunacharskii, A. V. “Flober: Obshchaia kharakteristika.” Sobr. soch., vol. 5. Moscow, 1965.
Ivashchenko, A. F. Giustav Flober. Moscow, 1955.
Reizov, B. G. Tvorchestvo Flobera. Moscow, 1955.
Puzikov, A. I. “Ideinye i khudozhestvennye iskaniia Flobera.” In Piat’ portretov. Moscow, 1972.
Bertrand, L. Gustave Flaubert. Paris, 1912.
Proust, M. “A propos du ‘style’ de Flaubert.” In Chroniques. Paris, 1927.
Digeon, C. Flaubert. Paris, 1970.
Culler, J. Flaubert: The Uses of Uncertainty. Ithaca, N.Y. [1974].
Dumesnil, R., and D. L. Demorest. Bibliographie de Gustave Flaubert. Paris, 1937.

S. E. VYSOTSKII

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