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Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880)

Biographical Information

Main Works

Selected Quotations


Biographical Information

  • French novelist, one of the central figures in the Realist movement; best known for his novel, Madame Bovary (1857), a critical portrayal of the life and values of the French middle classes; the novel caused a scandal and led to Flaubert being prosecuted for "immorality."

  • 1821, Gustave Flaubert born in Rouen, France; father surgeon, mother was doctor's daughter
  • 1836, passion for Elisa Schlésinger, a married woman eleven years his elder
  • 1840-41, studied law in Paris against his will, failed exams

  • 1843, nervous disease, gave up law, devoted himself to literature

  • 1846, death of father and sister Caroline; Flaubert retired to Croisset, near Rouen on the Seine, with his mother and infant niece; met poet Louise Colet at studio of painter James Pradier

  • 1847, walking tour of the Loire and Brittany's coast

  • 1849-51, travels with Maxime du Camp through the middle east, Egypt, Greece, Italy

  • 1855 end of relationship with Colet

  • philosophical influences: pessimism, nihilism; interest in the unknown; Alfred Le Poittevin, Spinoza, Herbert Spencer; science and religion as two poles of Flaubert's thought

  • friendships with George Sand, Ivan Turgenev, Émile Zola, Guy de Maupassant, Alphonse Daudet

  • against 'idées reçues' ("received ideas"); critical of bourgeois, middle class ideology and way of life, especially its narrow concern with money, social status, and personal aggrandizement

  • pursuit of perfection in true craftsmanship: "le seul mot juste" ("the only right word")

  • attempt to reach truth and create a beauty beyond conventional morality and social realities

  • combination of Romantic and anti-Romantic ideas coupled with a desire for objectivity and scientific detachment

Main Works

  • Diary of a Fool (Mémoires d'un fou) (1837), journal, tells of Flaubert's passion for Elisa Schlésinger, a married woman eleven years his elder, model for Marie Arnoux in L'Education sentimentale (1869-70)

  • Madame Bovary (1857), novel; life, loves, and death of Emma Bovary, a beautiful woman married to a small town doctor named Charles Bovary; dissatisfied with her marriage, Emma has a series of love affairs which eventually lead her to social disgrace, financial ruin, and suicide.

  • Salammbô (1862), setting of novel is ancient Carthage; about daughter of Carthaginian general Hamilcar; mercenaries revolt 240-237 BC, based on record of Greek historian Polybius (205-125 BC)

  • Sentimental Education (L'Education sentimentale) (1869-70), novel; story of Frédéric Moreau, a young lawyer infatuated with Madame Marie Arnoux; backdrop of the 1848 Revolution.

  • The Temptation of Saint Anthony (La Tentation de Saint Antoine) (1874), novel based on the life of an Egyptian hermit (251?–350?) said to have been tempted by the devil; Flaubert's ambition in this work was to create a French Faust; the work shows the influence of Spinoza's nihilism and of Herbert Spencer.

  • Three Tales (Trois Contes) (1877): "Un Coeur simple" ("A Simple Heart"), "La Légende de Saint Julien l'Hospitalier" ("The Legend of St. Julian the Hospitaler") and "Hérodias."

  • Bouvard and Pecuchet (Bouvard et Pécuchet) (1881), about two clerks who receive an inheritance, retire to the countryside, and engage in a series of misguided scientific experiments; Flaubert's attack on pseudo-science.

  • Through the Fields and Shores (Par les champs et par les grèves) (published posthumously, 1886), journal; observations on 1847 tour, with Maxime du Camp, of the Loire and coast of Brittany.
Selected Quotations
  • "Madame Bovary, c'est moi" ("Madame Bovary, that's me")

  • "The author, in his work, must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere."



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