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Flaubert, Gustave

paris bovary moral romantic

(French, 1821–80)

Born in Rouen, Flaubert abandoned his law studies at L'École de Droit, Paris, in 1845 and returned to his birthplace to devote himself to writing. He had a major influence on nineteenth-century fiction through his rejection of romantic conventions in favour of a rigorous realism. The technical advances produced by his exacting concern with style and form were also widely influential. Begin with his masterpiece Madame Bovary (1857). The success of this harrowing account of marital discontent and infidelity was encouraged by an unsuccessful prosecution for moral offensiveness. The self-obsessed Emma Bovary, wife of a provincial doctor, inhabits a world of sterile middle-class respectability from which romantic delusion is her only escape. An agonizing suicide ends the increasingly hopeless descent into debt and adultery that results from her search for emotional fulfilment. Drawing on his own experiences of Paris during the politically unstable 1840s, L'Éducation sentimentale (1869) charts the intellectual and moral progress of provincial student Frédéric Moreau. After a succession of amours and transient political involvements, he achieves a detached individuality that reflects Flaubert's morally neutral attitude as a writer. Salammbô (1862), set during the siege of Carthage following the First Punic War, centres on the tragic love relationship between a Carthaginian priestess and a military leader. The novel is rich in carefully researched archaeological detail and possesses a mythological gravity unique in Flaubert's work.

Victor Hugo, Guy de Maupassant, Stendhal, Julian Barnes.


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