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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Gustave Flaubert was born 191 years ago today

Quelle atroce invention que celle du bourgeois, n'est-ce pas? Pourquoi est-il sur la terre, et qu'y fait-il, le misérable? Pour moi, je ne sais pas à quoi peuvent passer le temps ici les gens qui ne s'occupent pas d'art. La manière dont ils vivent un problème.
- Gustave Flaubert (letter to Louise Colet, 22 September 1846)

(What a horrible invention, the bourgeois, don't you think? Why is he on earth, this wretch, what is he doing here? For my part, I do not know what people unconcerned with art can spend their time on. Their way of living is a riddle to me.)

La courtisane est un mythe. Jamais une femme n'a inventé une débauche.
- Flaubert (letter to Louise Colet, August 1852)

(The courtesan is a myth, no woman has ever invented anything in the
realm of sensual pleasure.)

Les honneurs déshonorent, les titres dégradent, la fonction abrutit.
- Flaubert (letter to Mme Brainne, 25 January 1879)

(Honors dishonor, titles degrade, an office dulls the mind.)

Before her marriage she had thought that she had love within her grasp, but since the happiness which she had expected this love to bring her hadn't come, she supposed she must have been mistaken. And Emma tried to imagine just what was meant, in life, by the words "bliss," "passion," and "rapture" -- words that had seemed so beautiful to her in books.
- Flaubert (Madame Bovary, Part I, Ch. 5)

No matter: she wasn't happy, and never had been. Why was life so unsatisfactory? Why did everything she leaned on crumble instantly to dust?... Besides, nothing was worth looking for: everything was a lie! Every smile concealed a yawn of boredom; every joy, a curse; every pleasure, its own surfeit; and the sweetest kisses left on one's lips but a vain longing for a fuller delight.
- Ibid., Part III, Ch. 6

Adultery, Emma was discovering, could be as banal as marriage.
- Id.

An interviewer asked me what book I thought best represented the modern American woman. All I could think of to answer was Madame Bovary.
- Mary McCarthy (1912-1989) (On the Contrary)

Today is the 191st anniversary of the birth of French novelist and short-story writer Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880), remembered in the English-speaking world largely for his path-breaking novel, Madame Bovary (1857). Born in Rouen, Flaubert was first educated locally but then moved on to Paris to study law, which he abandoned in 1846. By 1842, he had already completed a novella, and in 1849-50, he traveled to the Middle East, where he apparently enjoyed a wide range of bisexual experiences, while also contracting syphilis. Upon returning to France, Flaubert spent five years writing Madame Bovary, only to be prosecuted for immorality upon its publication. (He was acquitted, and the novel achieved a succès de scandale .) Subsequently, he produced several more novels and short stories, but none equaled Madame Bovary. He labored for the last three years of his life on the satirical Bouvard et Pécuchet, which he considered his masterpiece, but when it appeared posthumously, it gained only a tepid reception. Flaubert was an obsessive perfectionist in his writing, carefully avoiding the inexact, the abstract, the vaguely inapt expression - always seeking "le mot juste" ("the right word"). Alternately a romantic and a realist, he had a far-reaching influence on writers as diverse as Franz Kafka and Jean-Paul Sartre. In a letter to George Sand in 1871, Flaubert noted,

"Our ignorance of history causes us to slander our own times."

Gustave Flaubert:

The above is taken from Ed's Quotation of the Day, only available via email. If you'd like to be added to his list, leave your email address in the comments.

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