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Gustave Flaubert

Gustave Flaubert
Born 12 December 1821(1821-12-12)
Rouen, France
Died 8 May 1880 (aged 58)
Rouen, France
Occupation Novelist, playwright
Nationality French
Genres Fictional prose
Literary movement Realism, Romanticism

Gustave Flaubert (French pronunciation: [ɡystav flobɛʁ]) (December 12, 1821 – May 8, 1880) was a French writer who is counted among the greatest Western novelists. He is known especially for his first published novel, Madame Bovary (1857), and for his scrupulous devotion to his art and style.



Portrait by Eugène Giraud.

Early life and education

Flaubert was born on December 12, 1821, in Rouen, Seine-Maritime, in the Haute-Normandie region of France. He was the second son of Achille-Cléophas Flaubert (1784–1846), a surgeon, and Anne Justine Caroline (née Fleuriot) (1793–1872). He began writing at an early age, as early as eight according to some sources.[1]

He was educated in his native city and did not leave it until 1840, when he went to Paris to study law. In Paris, he was an indifferent student and found the city distasteful. He made a few acquaintances, including Victor Hugo. Towards the close of 1840, he traveled in the Pyrenees and Corsica. In 1846, after an attack of epilepsy, he left Paris and abandoned the study of law.

Personal life

From 1846 to 1854, Flaubert had a relationship with the poet Louise Colet (his letters to her survive). After leaving Paris, Flaubert returned to Croisset, near the Seine, close to Rouen, and lived with his mother in their home for the rest of his life; with occasional visits to Paris and England, where he apparently had a mistress. Flaubert never married. According to his biographer Émile Faguet, his affair with Louise Colet was his only serious romantic relationship. He sometimes visited prostitutes.[2] Eventually, the end of his affair with Louise Colet led Flaubert to lose interest in romance and seek platonic companionship, particularly with other writers.

With his lifelong friend Maxime du Camp, he traveled in Brittany in 1846. In 1849-1850 he went on a long journey to the Middle East, visiting Greece and Egypt. In Beirut he contracted syphilis. He spent five weeks in Constantinople in 1850. He visited Carthage in 1858 to conduct research for his novel Salammbô.

Flaubert was a tireless worker and often complained in his letters to friends about the strenuous nature of his work. He was close to his niece, Caroline Commanville, and had a close friendship and correspondence with George Sand. He occasionally visited Parisian acquaintances, including Émile Zola, Alphonse Daudet, Ivan Turgenev, and Edmond and Jules de Goncourt.

The 1870s were a difficult time for Flaubert. Prussian soldiers occupied his house during the War of 1870, and his mother died in 1872. After her death, he fell into financial straits. Flaubert suffered from venereal diseases most of his life. His health declined and he died at Croisset of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1880 at the age of 58. He was buried in the family vault in the cemetery of Rouen. A monument to him by Henri Chapu was unveiled at the museum of Rouen.

Writing career

In September 1849, Flaubert completed the first version of a novel, The Temptation of Saint Anthony. He read the novel aloud to Louis Bouilhet and Maxime du Camp over the course of four days, not allowing them to interrupt or give any opinions. At the end of the reading, his friends told him to throw the manuscript in the fire, suggesting instead that he focus on day to day life rather than on fantastic subjects.

In 1850, after returning from Egypt, Flaubert began work on Madame Bovary. The novel, which took five years to write, was serialized in the Revue de Paris in 1856. The government brought an action against the publisher and author on the charge of immorality, which was heard during the following year, but both were acquitted. When Madame Bovary appeared in book form, it met with a warm reception.

In 1858, Flaubert traveled to Carthage to gather material for his next novel, Salammbô. The novel was completed in 1862 after four years of work.

Drawing on his childhood experiences, Flaubert next wrote L'Éducation sentimentale (Sentimental Education), an effort that took seven years. L'Éducation sentimentale, his last complete novel, was published in 1869.

He wrote an unsuccessful drama, Le Candidat, and published a reworked version of La Tentation de Saint-Antoine, portions of which had been published as early as 1857. He devoted much of his time to an ongoing project, Les Deux Cloportes (The Two Woodlice), which later became Bouvard et Pécuchet, breaking from the obsessive project only to write the Three Tales in 1877. This book comprised three stories: Un Cœur simple (A Simple Heart), La Légende de Saint-Julien l'Hospitalier (The Legend of St. Julian the Hospitaller), and Hérodias (Herodias). After the publication of the stories, he spent the remainder of his life toiling on the unfinished Bouvard et Pécuchet, which was posthumously printed in 1881. It was a grand satire on the futility of human knowledge and the ubiquity of mediocrity. He believed the work to be his masterpiece, though the posthumous version received lukewarm reviews. Flaubert was a prolific letter writer, and his letters have been collected in several publications.

Work and legacy

Gustave Flaubert

Flaubert scrupulously avoids the inexact, the abstract, the vaguely inapt expression which is the bane of ordinary methods of composition. As a writer, Flaubert was nearly equal parts romantic, realist, and pure stylist. Hence, members of various schools, especially realists and formalists, have traced their origins to his work. The exactitude with which he adapts his expressions to his purpose can be seen in all parts of his work, especially in the portraits he draws of the figures in his principal romances. The degree to which Flaubert's fame has extended since his death presents an interesting chapter of literary history in itself. He is also accredited with spreading the popularity of the colour Tuscany Cypress, a colour often mentioned in his chef-d'oeuvre Madame Bovary.

Flaubert was fastidious in his devotion to finding the right word ("le mot juste"), and his mode of composition reflected that. He worked in sullen solitude - sometimes occupying a week in the completion of one page - never satisfied with what he had composed, violently tormenting his brain for the best turn of phrase, the final adjective. His private letters indeed show that he was not one of those to whom correct, flowing language came naturally. His style was achieved through the unceasing sweat of his brow. Flaubert’s just reward, then, is that many critics consider his best works to be exemplary models of style.

Novelists should thank Flaubert the way poets thank spring; it all begins again with him. There really is time before Flaubert and a time after him. Flaubert decisively established what most readers and writers think of as modern realist narration, and his influence is almost too familiar to be visible. We hardly remark of good prose that it favors the telling of brilliant detail; that it privileges a high degree of visual noticing; that it maintains an unsentimental composure and knows how to withdraw, like a good valet, from superfluous commentary; that it judges good and bad neutrally; that it seeks out the truth, even at the cost of repelling us; and that the author's fingerprints on all this are paradoxically, traceable but not visible. You can find some of this in Defoe or Austen or Balzac, but not all of it until Flaubert.

—Critic James Wood in How Fiction Works (2008)[3]

Flaubert's lean and precise writing style has had a large influence on 20th century writers such as Franz Kafka through to J.M Coetzee. As Vladimir Nabokov discussed in his famous lecture series:

The greatest literary influence upon Kafka was Flaubert's. Flaubert who loathed pretty-pretty prose would have applauded Kafka's attitude towards his tool. Kafka liked to draw his terms from the language of law and science, giving them a kind of ironic precision, with no intrusion of the author's private sentiments; this was exactly Flaubert's method through which he achieved a singular poetic effect.

This painstaking style of writing is also evident when one compares Flaubert’s output over a lifetime to that of his peers (see, for example Balzac or Zola). Flaubert published much less prolifically than was the norm for his time and never got near the pace of a novel a year, as his peers often achieved during their peaks of activity. The legacy of his work habits can best be described, therefore, as paving the way towards a slower and more inspective manner of writing.

The publication of Madame Bovary in 1856 was followed by more scandal than admiration; it was not understood at first that this novel was the beginning of something new: the scrupulously truthful portraiture of life. Gradually, this aspect of his genius was accepted, and it began to crowd out all others. At the time of his death he was widely regarded as the most influential French Realist. Under this aspect Flaubert exercised an extraordinary influence over Guy de Maupassant, Edmond de Goncourt, Alphonse Daudet, and Zola. Even after the decline of the Realist school, Flaubert did not lose prestige in the literary community; he continues to appeal to other writers because of his deep commitment to aesthetic principles, his devotion to style, and his indefatigable pursuit of the perfect expression.

He can be said to have made cynicism into an art form, as evinced by this observation from 1846:

To be stupid, and selfish, and to have good health are the three requirements for happiness; though if stupidity is lacking, the others are useless.

His Œuvres Complètes (8 vols., 1885) were printed from the original manuscripts, and included, besides the works mentioned already, the two plays, Le Candidat and Le Château des cœurs. Another edition (10 vols.) appeared in 1873–1885. Flaubert's correspondence with George Sand was published in 1884 with an introduction by Guy de Maupassant.

He has been admired or written about by almost every major literary personality of the 20th century, including philosophers and sociologists such as Pierre Bourdieu and Jean Paul Sartre whose partially psychoanalytic portrait of Flaubert in The Family Idiot was published in 1971. Georges Perec named Sentimental Education as one of his favourite novels. The Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa is another great admirer of Flaubert. Apart from Perpetual Orgy, which is solely devoted to Flaubert's art, one can find lucid discussions in Vargas Llosa's recently published Letters to a Young Novelist.


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Correspondence (in English)

  • Selections:
    • Selected Letters (ed. Francis Steegmuller, 1953, 2001)
    • Selected Letters (ed. Geoffrey Wall, 1997)
  • Flaubert in Egypt: A Sensibility on Tour (1972)
  • Flaubert and Turgenev, a Friendship in Letters: The Complete Correspondence (ed. Barbara Beaumont, 1985)
  • Correspondence with George Sand:
    • The George Sand-Gustave Flaubert Letters, translated by Aimée G. Leffingwel McKenzie (A.L. McKensie), introduced by Stuart Sherman (1921), available at the Gutenberg website as E-text N° 5115
    • Flaubert-Sand: The Correspondence (1993)

Biographical and other related publications

  • Brown, Frederick, Flaubert: A Biography, Little, Brown; 2006. ISBN 0-316-11878-8
  • Hennequin, Émile, Quelques écrivains français Flaubert, Zola, Hugo, Goncourt, Huysmans, etc., available at the Gutenberg website as E-text N° 12289
  • Barnes, Julian, Flaubert's Parrot, ISBN 0-330-28976-4
  • Steegmuller, Francis, Flaubert and Madame Bovary: A Double Portrait, Viking Press; 1939.
  • Tooke, Adrianne, Flaubert and the Pictorial Arts: From Image to Text, Oxford University Press; 2000. ISBN 0-19-815918-8
  • Wall, Geoffrey, Flaubert: A Life, Faber and Faber; 2001. ISBN 0-571-21239-5
  • Various authors, The Public vs. M. Gustave Flaubert, available at the Gutenberg website as E-text N° 10666.
  • Sartre, Jean-Paul. The Family Idiot: Gustave Flaubert, 1821-1857, Volumes 1-5. University Of Chicago Press, 1987.
  • Patton, Susannah, A Journey into Flaubert's Normandy, Roaring Forties Press, 2007. ISBN 0-9766706-8-2


This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

  1. ^ Gustave Flaubert, The Letters of Gustave Flaubert 1830-1857 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980) ISBN 0-674-52636-8
  2. ^ Flaubert, Gustave (2005). The desert and the dancing girls. Penguin books. p. 10-12. ISBN 0-141-02223-X. 
  3. ^ Wood, James (2008). How Fiction Works. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 29. ISBN 0-374-17340-0. 

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Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Gustave Flaubert, French author

Gustave Flaubert (1821-12-121880-05-08) was a French novelist.



  • One must not always think that feeling is everything. Art is nothing without form.
    • Letter to Madame Louise Colet (August 12, 1846)
  • To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost.
    • Letter to Madame Louise Colet (August 13, 1846)
  • Quelle atroce invention que celle du bourgeois, n'est-ce pas?
    • What a horrible invention, the bourgeois, don't you think?
    • Letter to Madame Louise Colet (September 22, 1846)
  • One becomes a critic when one cannot be an artist, just as a man becomes a stool pigeon when he cannot be a soldier.
    • Letter to Madame Louise Colet (October 22, 1846)
  • An author in his book must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere.
    • Letter to Madame Louise Colet (December 9, 1852)
  • The idea of bringing someone into the world fills me with horror. I would curse myself if I were a father. A son of mine! Oh no, no, no! May my entire flesh perish and may I transmit to no one the aggravations and the disgrace of existence.
    • Letter to Madame Louise Colet (December 11, 1852)
  • You can calculate the worth of a man by the number of his enemies, and the importance of a work of art by the harm that is spoken of it.
    • Letter to Madame Louise Colet (June 14, 1853)
  • Everything one invents is true, you may be perfectly sure of that. Poetry is as precise as geometry.
    • Letter to Madame Louise Colet (August 14, 1853)
  • The artist must be in his work as God is in creation, invisible and all-powerful; one must sense him everywhere but never see him.
    • Letter to Mademoiselle Leroyer de Chantepie (March 18, 1857)
  • Do not read as children do to enjoy themselves, or, as the ambitious do to educate themselves. No, read to live.
    • Letter to Mademoiselle Leroyer de Chantepie (June 1857)
  • The brazen arms were working more quickly. They paused no longer. Every time that a child was placed in them the priests of Moloch spread out their hands upon him to burden him with the crimes of the people, vociferating: "They are not men but oxen!" and the multitude round about repeated: "Oxen! oxen!" The devout exclaimed: "Lord! Eat!"
  • Axiom: hatred of the bourgeois is the beginning of wisdom.
    • Letter to George Sand (10 May 1867)
  • Mieux vaut l'exubérance que le goût.
  • Rien n'est humiliant comme de voir les sots réussir dans les entreprises où l'on échoue.
    • Nothing is more humiliating than to see idiots succeed in enterprises we have failed in.
    • Sentimental Education (1869) Pt. 1 Ch. 5
  • For some men, the stronger their desire, the more difficult it is for them to act. They are hampered by mistrust of themselves, daunted by the fear of giving offence; besides, deep feelings of affection are like respectable women; they are afraid of being found out and they go through life with downcast eyes.
  • He is so corrupt that he would willingly pay for the pleasure of selling himself.
  • The whole dream of democracy is to raise the proletarian to the level of bourgeois stupidity.
  • Our ignorance of history causes us to slander our own times.
    • Letter to George Sand (September 8, 1871)
  • Soyez réglé dans votre vie et ordinaire comme un bourgeois, afin d'être violent et original dans vos œuvres.
    • Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.
    • Letter to Gertrude Tennant (December 25, 1876)
  • What is beautiful is moral, that is all there is to it.

Madame Bovary (1857)

  • He was happy now, without a care in the world. A meal alone with her, a stroll along the highway in the evening, the way she touched her hand to her hair, the sight of her straw hat hanging from a window hasp, and many other things in which it had never occurred to him to look for pleasure -- such now formed the steady current of his happiness.
    • Pt. I, Ch. V
  • Seen from close, her eyes appeared larger than life, especially when she opened and shut her eyelids several times on awakening: black when looked at in the shadow, dark blue in bright light, they seemed to contain layer upon layer of color, thicker and cloudier beneath, lighter and more transparent toward the lustrous surface.
    • Pt. I, Ch. V
  • 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.
    • Pt. I, Ch. V
  • She loved the sea for its storms alone, cared for vegetation only when it grew here and there among ruins. She had to extract a kind of personal advantage from things and she rejected as useless everything that promised no immediate gratification -- for her temperament was more sentimental than artistic, and what she was looking for was emotions, not scenery.
    • Pt. I, Ch. VI
  • The sentimental songs she sang in music class were all about little angels with golden wings, madonnas, lagoons, gondoliers -- mawkish compositions that allowed her to glimpse, through the silliness of the words and the indiscretions of the music, the alluring, phantasmagoric realm of genuine feeling.
    • Pt. I, Ch. VI
  • And now she could not bring herself to believe that the uneventful life she was leading was the happiness of which she had dreamed.
    • Pt. I, Ch. VI
  • It seemed to her that certain portions of the earth must produce happiness -- as thought it were a plant native only to those soils and doomed to languish elsewhere. Why couldn't she be leaning over the balcony of some Swiss chalet? Or nursing her melancholy in a cottage in Scotland, with a husband clad in a long black velvet coat and wearing soft leather shoes, a high-crowned hat and fancy cuffs?
    • Pt. I, Ch. VII
  • She might have been glad to confide all these things to someone. But how to speak about so elusive a malaise, one that keeps changing its shape like the clouds and its direction like the wind? She could find no words; and hence neither occasion nor courage came to hand.
    • Pt. I, Ch. VII
  • But even as they were brought closer together by the details of daily life, she was separated from him by a growing sense of inward detachment. Charles' conversation was flat as a sidewalk, a place of passage for the ideas of everyman; they wore drab everyday clothes, and they inspired neither laughter nor dreams.
    • Pt. I, Ch. VII
  • He took it for granted that she was content; and she resented his settled calm, his serene dullness, the very happiness she herself brought him.
    • Pt. I, Ch. VII
  • But her life was as cold as an attic facing north; and boredom, like a silent spider, was weaving its web in the shadows, in every corner of her heart.
    • Pt. I, Ch. VII
  • The music was still throbbing in her ears, and she forced herself to stay awake in order to prolong the illusion of this luxurious life she would so soon have to be leaving. . . . She longed to know all about their lives, to penetrate into them, to be part of them.
    • Pt. I, Ch. VIII
  • Everything immediately surrounding her -- boring countryside, inane petty bourgeois, the mediocrity of daily life -- seemed to her the exception rather than the rule. She had been caught in it all by some accident: out beyond, there stretched as far as the eye could see the immense territory of rapture and passions. In her longing she made no difference between the pleasures of luxury and the joys of the heart, between elegant living and sensitive feeling. Didn't love, like Indian plants, require rich soils, special temperatures?
    • Pt. I, Ch. IX
  • Though she had no one to write to, she had bought herself a blotter, a writing case, a pen and envelopes; she would dust off her whatnot, look at herself in the mirror, take up a book, and then begin to daydream and let it fall to her lap. . . . She wanted to die. And she wanted to live in Paris.
    • Pt. I, Ch. IX
  • Deep down, all the while, she was waiting for something to happen. Like a sailor in distress, she kept casting desperate glances over the solitary waster of her life, seeking some white sail in the distant mists of the horizon. She had no idea by what wind it would reach her, toward what shore it would bear her, or what kind of craft it would be – tiny boat or towering vessel, laden with heartbreaks or filled to the gunwales with rapture. But every morning when she awoke she hoped that today would be the day; she listened for every sound, gave sudden starts, was surprised when nothing happened; and then, sadder with each succeeding sunset, she longed for tomorrow.
    • Pt. I, Ch. IX
  • So from now on the days were going to continue one after the other like this, always the same, innumerable, bringing nothing!... It was God's will. The future was a pitch-black tunnel, ending in a locked door. She gave up her music: why should she play? Who was there to listen?... She left her drawing books and her embroidery in a closet. What was the use of anything? What was the use?
    • Pt. I, Ch. IX
  • My God is the God of Socrates, of Franklin, of Voltaire, of Béranger! My credo is the credo of Rousseau! I adhere to the immortal principles of '89! I have no use for the kind of God who goes walking in his garden with a stick, sends his friends to live in the bellies of whales, gives up the ghost with a groan and then comes back to life three days later! Those things aren't only absurd in and of themselves, Madame -- they're completely opposed to all physical laws!
    • Pt. II, Ch. I
  • "What's more delightful than an evening beside the fire with a nice bright lamp and a book, listening to the wind beating against the windows?"
    "How true!" she said, her great dark eyes fixed widely on him.
    "I'm absolutely removed from the world at such times," he said. "The hours go by without my knowing it. Sitting there I'm wandering in countries I can see every detail of -- I'm playing a role in the story I'm reading. I actually feel I'm the characters -- I live and breathe with them."
    • Pt. II, Ch. II
  • Noble characters and pure affections and happy scenes are very comforting things. They're a refuge from life's disillusionments.
    • Pt. II, Ch. II
  • In the tragedy in question, for example, he condemned the ideas but admired the style, abhorred the conception but praised all the details, found the characters impossible but their speeches marvelous
    • Pt. II, Ch. III
  • Had they nothing more to say to each other? Their eyes, certainly, were full of more meaningful talk; and as they made themselves utter banalities they sensed the same languor invading them both: it was like a murmur of the soul, deep and continuous, more clearly audible than the sound of their words. Surprised by a sweetness that was new to them, it didn't occur to them to tell each other how they felt or to wonder why. Future joys are like tropic shores: out into the immensity that lies before them they waft their native softness, a fragrant breeze that drugs the traveler into drowsiness and makes him careless of what awaits him on the horizon beyond his view.
    • Pt. II, Ch. III
  • He was in agony trying to think of a way of "declaring himself" to her. He was constantly torn between the fear of offending her and shame at his own cowardice; he shed tears of despair and frustrated desire.
    • Pt. II, Ch. IV
  • And all this time she was torn by wild desires, by rage, by hatred. The trim folds of her dress hid a heart in turmoil, and her reticent lips told nothing of the storm. She was in love with Léon, and she sought the solitude that allowed her to revel undisturbed in his image.
    • Pt. II, Ch. V
  • What exasperated her was Charles's total unawareness of her ordeal. His conviction that he was making her happy she took as a stupid insult: such self-righteousness could only mean that he didn't appreciate her.
    • Pt. II, Ch. V
  • Léon was tired of loving without having anything to show for it, and he was beginning to feel the depression that comes from leading a monotonous life without any guiding interest or buoyant hope.
    • Pt. II, Ch. VI
  • There was a silence. They looked at each other; and their thoughts clung together in their common anguish like two throbbing hearts.
    • Pt. II, Ch. VI
  • Nevertheless the flames did die down -- whether exhausted from lack of supplies or choked by excessive feeding. Little by little, love was quenched by absence; regret was smothered by routine; and the fiery glow that had reddened her pale sky grew gray and gradually vanished... But the storm kept raging, her passion burned itself to ashes, no help was forthcoming, no new sun rose to the horizon. Night closed in completely around her, and she was left alone in a horrible void of piercing cold.
    • Pt. II, Ch. VII
  • Poor little thing! She's gasping for love like a carp on a kitchen table gasping for water.
    • Pt. II, Ch. VII
  • "What an unutterable catastrophe!" The apothecary always had the proper expression ready, whatever the occasion.
    • Pt. II, Ch. VIII
  • And they talked about the mediocrity of provincial life, so suffocating, so fatal to all noble dreams.
    • Pt. II, Ch. VIII
  • "Do you really not know," he said, "that there exist souls that are ceaselessly in torment? That are driven now to dreams, now to action, driven from the purest passions to the most orgiastic pleasures? No wonder we fling ourselves into all kinds of fantasies and follies!"
    • Pt. II, Ch. VIII
  • Our duty is to feel what is great and love what is beautiful -- not to accept all the social conventions and the infamies they impose on us.
    • Pt. II, Ch. VIII
  • Never had her eyes been so enormous, so dark, so deep: her whole being was transfigured by some subtle emanation.
    • Pt. II, Ch. IX
  • At last she was going to know the joys of love, the fever of the happiness she had despaired of. She was entering a marvelous realm where all would be passion, ecstasy, rapture: she was in the midst of an endless blue expanse, scaling the glittering heights of passion; everyday life had receded, and lay far below, in the shadows between those peaks.
    • Pt. II, Ch. IX
  • How happy she had been in those days! How free! How full of hope! How rich in illusions! There were no illusions left now. She had had to part with some each time she had ventured on a new path, in each of her successive conditions -- as virgin, as wife, as mistress; all along the course of her life she had been losing them, like a traveler leaving a bit of his fortune in every inn along the road.
    • Pt. II, Ch. X
  • It was for him that she had done it -- for this creature here, this man who understood nothing, who felt nothing.
    • Pt. II, Ch. XI
  • She repented her virtue of days past as though it had been a crime; and what virtue she had left now crumbled under the furious assault of her pride. Adultery was triumphant; and she reveled in the prospect of its sordid ironies. The thought of her lover made her reel with desire; heart and soul she flung herself into her longing, borne toward him on waves of new rapture; and Charles seemed to her as detached from her life, as irrevocably gone, as impossible and done for, as though he were a dying man, gasping his last before her eyes.
    • Pt. II, Ch. XI
  • He saw no reason why there should be all this to-do about so simple a thing as love-making.
    • Pt. II, Ch. XII
  • He had had such things said to him so many times that none of them had any freshness for him. Emma was like all his other mistresses; and as the charm of novelty gradually slipped from her like a piece of her clothing, he saw revealed in all its nakedness the eternal monotony of passion, which always assumes the same forms and always speaks the same language... Whereas the truth is that fullness of soul can sometimes overflow in utter vapidity of language, for none of us can ever express the exact measure of his needs or his thoughts or his sorrows; and human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.
    • Pt. II, Ch. XII
  • Never had Madame Bovary been as beautiful as now. She had that indefinable beauty that comes from happiness, enthusiasm, success -- a beauty that is nothing more of less than a harmony of temperament and circumstances. Her desires, her sorrows, her experience of sensuality, her ever-green illusions, had developed her step by step, like a flower nourished by manure and by the rain, by the wind and the sun; and she was finally blooming in the fullness of her nature.
    • Pt. II, Ch. XII
  • Nothing specific stood out against the vast background of the future that she thus evoked: the days were all of them splendid, and as alike as the waves of the sea; and the whole thing hovered on the horizon, infinite, harmonious, blue and sparkling in the sun.
    • Pt. II, Ch. XII
  • But some day sooner or later our passion would have cooled -- inevitably -- it's the way with everything human.
    • Pt. II, Ch. XIII
  • She cast her eyes about her, longing for the earth to open up. Why not end it all? What was holding her back? She was free to act. And she moved forward. "Do it! Do it!" she ordered herself, peering down at the pavement.
    • Pt. II, Ch. XIII
  • The difficulties he foresaw were so formidable that he quickly banished the disagreeable subject from his mind.
    • Pt. II, Ch. XIV
  • She was filled with wonderment at the discovery that there was a bliss greater than mere happiness -- a love different from and transcending all others -- a love without break and without end, a love that increased throughout eternity!... She conceived the idea of becoming a saint. She bought rosaries and festooned herself with holy medals; she wished she had an emerald-studded reliquary within reach at her bed's head, to kiss every night.
    • Pt. II, Ch. XIV
  • When she knelt at the gothic prie-dieu she addressed the Lord with the same ardent words she had formerly murmured to her lover in the ecstasies of adultery. It was her way of praying for faith; but heaven showered no joy upon her, and she would rise, her limbs aching, with a vague feeling that it was all a vast fraud.
    • Pt. II, Ch. XV
  • But that kind of happiness was doubtless a lie, invented to make one despair of any love. Now she well knew the true paltriness of the passions that art painted so large.
    • Pt. II, Ch. XV
  • A mad idea seized her: he was gazing at her now! She was sure of it! She long to rush into his arms and seek refuge in his strength as in the very incarnation of love; she longed to cry: "Ravish me! Carry me off! Away from here! All my passion and all my dreams are yours -- yours alone!"
    The curtain fell.
    • Pt. II, Ch. XV
  • Self-confidence depends on surroundings: the same person talks quite differently in the drawing room and in the garret, and a rich woman's virtue is protected by her banknotes quite effectively as by any cuirass worn under a corset.
    • Pt. III, Ch. I
  • "Ah!" she said, lifting her lovely tear-bright eyes to the ceiling. "If you knew all the dreams I've dreamed!"
    • Pt. III, Ch. I
  • That was how they would have liked to be: what they were doing was to dream up ideals and then refashion their past lives to match them. Speech is a rolling-machine that always stretches the feelings it expresses.
    • Pt. III, Ch. I
  • As she listened to him, Madame Bovary marveled at how old she was: all those re-emerging details made her life seem vaster as though she had endless emotional experiences to look back on.
    • Pt. III, Ch. I
  • The clerk assured her warmly that idealistic natures were rarely understood.
    • Pt. III, Ch. I
  • "What's improper about it?" retorted the clerk. "Everybody does it in Paris!"
    It was an irresistible and conclusive argument.
    • Pt. III, Ch. I
  • His rage had sent him into Latin: he would have spouted Chinese or Greenlandic had he been able to, for he was in the throes of one of those crises in which the soul lays bare its every last corners, just as the ocean, in the travail of a storm, splits open to display everything from the seaweed on its shores to the sand of its deepest bottom.
    • Pt. III, Ch. II
  • It wasn't the first time in their lives that they had seen trees, blue sky and lawn, or heard the flowing of water or the rustle of the breeze in the branches, but never before, certainly, had they looked on it all with such wonder: it was as though nature had not existed before, or had only begun to be beautiful with the slaking of their desires.
    • Pt. III, Ch. III
  • She was the amoureuse of all the novels, the heroine of all the plays, the vague "she" of all the poetry books.
    • Pt. III, Ch. V
  • A clear day's warmth will often move / A lass to stray in dreams of love
    • Pt. III, Ch. V
  • Often, when they spoke of Paris, she would murmur: "Ah! How happy we'd be, living there!" "Aren't we happy here?" the young would softly ask, passing his hand over her hair.
    • Pt. III, Ch. V
  • "I well understand your doing this," said the notary. "A man of science can't be expected to burden himself with the practical details of existence." Charles felt soothed by these oily words: they flattered his weakness, making it look like preoccupation with lofty things.
    • Pt. III, Ch. V
  • She stood there, solemn, almost terrible, transfixing him with her great blazing eyes.
    • Pt. III, Ch. VI
  • Gradually, growing calmer, she came to see that she had been unjust to him. But casting aspersions on those we love always does something to loosen our ties. We shouldn't maltreat our idols: the gilt comes off on our hands.
    • Pt. III, Ch. VI
  • He even did his best to stop loving her; then at the sound of her footsteps he would feel his will desert him, like a drunkard at the sight of strong liquor.
    • Pt. III, Ch. VI
  • 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.
    • Pt. III, Ch. VI
  • There isn't a bourgeois alive who in the ferment of his youth, if only for a day or for a minute, hasn't thought himself capable of boundless passions and noble exploits. The sorriest little woman-chaser has dreamed of Oriental queens; in a corner of every notary's heart lie the moldy remains of a poet.
    • Pt. III, Ch. VI
  • Adultery, Emma was discovering, could be as banal as marriage.
    • Pt. III, Ch. VI
  • She looked at him sadly. "Whatever it was," she said, "I suffered a great deal." He answered philosophically: "Existence is thus!"
    • Pt. III, Ch. VIII
  • He wasn't lying. If he had had it he would probably have given it to her, unpleasant though it usually is to make such generous gifts: of all the icy blasts that blow on love, a request for money is the most chilling and havoc-wreaking.
    • Pt. III, Ch. VIII
  • And in his eyes she read a love such as she had never known.
    • Pt. III, Ch. VIII
  • First he anointed her eyes, once so covetous of all earthly luxuries; then her nostrils, so gluttonous of caressing breezes and amorous scents; then her mouth, so prompt to lie, so defiant in pride, so loud in lust; then her hands that had thrilled to voluptuous contacts; and finally the soles of her feet, once so swift when she had hastened to slake her desires, and now never to walk again.
    • Pt. III, Ch. VIII
  • The wind blew very hard that day / And snatched her petticoat away!
    • Pt. III, Ch. VIII


  • As a rule we disbelieve all the facts and theories for which we have no use.

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

GUSTAVE FLAUBERT (1821-1880), French novelist, was born at Rouen on the 12th of December 1821. His father, of whom many traits are reproduced in Flaubert's character of Charles Bovary, was a surgeon in practice at Rouen; his mother was connected with some of the oldest Norman families. He was educated in his native city, and did not leave it until 1840, when he came up to Paris to study law. He is said to have been idle at school, but to have been occupied with literature from the age of eleven. Flaubert in his youth "was like a young Greek," full of vigour of body and a certain shy grace, enthusiastic, intensely individual, and apparently without any species of ambition. He loved the country, and Paris was extremely distasteful to him. He made the acquaintance of Victor Hugo, and towards the close of 1840 he travelled in the Pyrenees and Corsica. Returning to Paris, he wasted his time in sombre dreams, living on his patrimony. In 1846, his mother being left quite alone through the deaths of his father and his sister Caroline, Flaubert gladly abandoned Paris and the study of the law together, to make a home for her at Croisset, close to Rouen. This estate, a house in a pleasant piece of ground which ran down to the Seine, became Flaubert's home for the remainder of his life. From 1846 to 1854 he carried on relations with the poetess, Mlle Louise Colet; their letters have been preserved, and according to M. Emile Faguet, this was the only sentimental episode of any importance in the life of Flaubert, who never married. His principal friend at this time was Maxime du Camp, with whom he travelled in Brittany in 1846, and through the East in 1849. Greece and Egypt made a profound impression upon the imagination of Flaubert. From this time forth, save for occasional visits to Paris, he did not stir from Croisset.

On returning from the East, in 1850, he set about the composition of Madame Bovary. He had hitherto scarcely written anything, and had published nothing. The famous novel took him six years to prepare, but was at length submitted to the Revue de Paris, where it appeared in serial form in 1857. The government brought an action against the publisher and against the author, on the charge of immorality, but both were acquitted; and when Madame Bovary appeared in book-form it met with a very warm reception. Flaubert paid a visit to Carthage in 1858, and now settled down to the archaeological studies which were required to equip him for Salammbo, which, however, in spite of the author's ceaseless labours, was not finished until 1862. He then took up again the study of contemporary manners, and, making use of many recollections of his youth and childhood, wrote L'Education sentimentale, the composition of which occupied him seven years; it was published in 1869. Up to this time the sequestered and laborious life of Flaubert had been comparatively happy, but misfortunes began to gather around him. He felt the anguish of the war of 1870 so keenly that the break-up of his health has been attributed to it; he began to suffer greatly from a distressing nervous malady. His best friends were taken from him by death or by fatal misunderstanding; in 1872 he lost his mother, and his circumstances became greatly reduced. He was very tenderly guarded by his niece, Mme Commonville; he enjoyed a rare intimacy of friendship with George Sand, with whom he carried on a correspondence of immense artistic interest, and occasionally he saw his Parisian acquaintances, Zola, A. Daudet, Tourgenieff, the Goncourts; but nothing prevented the close of Flaubert's life from being desolate and melancholy. He did not cease, however, to work with the same intensity and thoroughness. La Tentation de Saint-Antoine, of which fragments had been published as early as 1857, was at length completed and sent to press in 1874. In that year he was subjected to a disappointment by the failure of his drama Le Candidat. In 1877 Flaubert published, in one volume, entitled Trois conies, Un Ceur simple, La Legende de Saint-Julien-l'Hospitalier and Herodias. After this something of his judgment certainly deserted him; he spent the remainder of his life in the toil of building up a vast satire on the futility of human knowledge and the omnipresence of mediocrity, which he left a fragment. This is the depressing and bewildering Bouvard et Pecuchet (posthumously printed, 1881), which, by a curious irony, he believed to be his masterpiece. Flaubert had rapidly and prematurely aged since 1870, and he was quite an old man when he was carried off by a stroke of apoplexy at the age of only 58, on the 8th of May 1880. He died at Croisset, but was buried in the family vault in the cemetery of Rouen. A beautiful monument to him by Chapu was unveiled at the museum of Rouen in 1890.

The personal character of Flaubert offered various peculiarities. He was shy, and yet extremely sensitive and arrogant; he passed from silence to an indignant and noisy flow of language. The same inconsistencies marked his physical nature; he had the build of a guardsman, with a magnificent Viking head, but his health was uncertain from childhood, and he was neurotic to the last degree. This ruddy giant was secretly gnawn by misanthropy and disgust of life. His hatred of the "bourgeois" began in his childhood, and developed into a kind of monomania. He despised his follow-men, their habits, their lack of intelligence, their contempt for beauty, with a passionate scorn which has been compared to that of an ascetic monk. Flaubert's curious modes of composition favoured and were emphasized by these peculiarities. He worked in sullen solitude, sometimes occupying a week in the completion of one page, never satisfied with what he had composed, violently tormenting his brain for the best turn of a phrase, the most absolutely final adjective. It cannot be said that his incessant labours were not rewarded. His private letters show that he was not one of those to whom easy and correct language is naturally given; he gained his extraordinary perfection with the unceasing sweat of his brow. One of the most severe of academic critics admits that "in all his works, and in every page of his works, Flaubert may be considered a model of style." That he was one of the greatest writers who ever lived in France is now commonly admitted, and his greatness principally depends upon the extraordinary vigour and exactitude of his style. Less perhaps than any other writer, not of France, but of modern Europe, Flaubert yields admission to the inexact, the abstract, the vaguely inapt expression which is the bane of ordinary methods of composition. He never allowed a cliche to pass him, never indulgently or wearily went on, leaving behind him a phrase which "almost" expressed his meaning. Being, as he is, a mixture in almost equal parts of the romanticist and the realist, the marvellous propriety of his style has been helpful to later writers of both schools, of every school. The absolute exactitude with which he adapts his expression to his purpose is seen in all parts of his work, but particularly in the portraits he draws of the figures in his principal romances. The degree and manner in which, since his death, the fame of Flaubert has extended, form an interesting chapter of literary history. The publication of Madame Bovary in 1857 had been followed by more scandal than admiration; it was not understood at first that this novel was the beginning of a new thing, the scrupulously truthful portraiture of life. Gradually this aspect of his genius was accepted, and began to crowd out all others. At the time of his death he was famous as a realist, pure and simple. Under this aspect Flaubert exercised an extraordinary influence over E. de Goncourt, Alphonse Daudet and M. Zola. But even since the decline of the realistic school Flaubert has not lost prestige; other facets of his genius have caught the light. It has been perceived that he was not merely realistic, but real; that his clairvoyance was almost boundless; that he saw certain phenomena more clearly than the best of observers had done. Flaubert is a writer who must always appeal more to other authors than to the world at large, because the art of writing, the indefatigable pursuit of perfect expression, were always before him, and because he hated the lax felicities of improvization as a disloyalty to the most sacred procedures of the literary artist.

His Ouvres completes (8 vols., 1885) were printed from the original manuscripts, and included, besides the works mentioned already, the two plays, Le Candidat and Le Chateau des cceurs. Another edition (10 vols.) appeared in 1873-1885. Flaubert's correspondence with George Sand was published in 1884 with an introduction by Guy de Maupassant. Other posthumous works are Par les champs et par les greves (1885), the result of a tour in Brittany; and four volumes of Correspondance (1887-1893). See also Paul Bourget, Essais de psychologie contemporaine (1883); Emile Faguet, Flaubert (1899); Henry James, French Poets and Novelists (1878); Emile Zola, Les Romanciers naturalistes (1881); C. A. Sainte-Beuve, Causeries du lundi, vol. xiii., Nouveaux lundis, vol. iv.; and the Souvenirs litteraires (2 vols., 1882-1883) of Maxime du Camp. (E. G.)

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Gustave Flaubert
Gustave Flaubert
Born 12 December 1821(1821-12-12)
Rouen, France
Died May 8, 1880 (aged 58)
Rouen, France
Occupation Novelist, playwright
Nationality French
Genres Fictional prose
Literary movement Realism, Romanticism

Gustave Flaubert (pronounced [gystaːv flobɛːʁ] in French) (December 12, 1821May 8, 1880) was a French writer. He is known especially for his first published novel, Madame Bovary (1857). He was very devoted to what he did, and always looked for the word that would best fit the context.

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