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Reading Resources: Flaubert Biography

Below are my notes on Flaubert's biography. If you have a specific question regarding any of the below information, or if you have better information than I have ("No, Mike, Flaubert wasn't an exotic dancer for a brief time."), please feel free to send me an email (mbevel2002 at yahoo dot com) or reply in the comments.

The two books I consulted the most:

Madame Bovary, Norton Critical Edition
Flaubert and Madame Bovary by Francis Steegmuller

Flaubert Biography

b. 12 December 1821 in Rouen, France.

Sickly child – or, rather, “sickly”; there might be some hypochondria going on. (For instance, almost all of his epileptic episodes seem to occur shortly after Flaubert doesn't get his way.) 

When his sister marries, poorly (the Flauberts feel), the family decides to go on the honeymoon with her and her new husband thinking that she couldn’t possibly want to be alone with him.

He sees the painting of the temptation of St Anthony by Breughel, and becomes obsessed with the image. His overworked The Temptation of St Anthony is his personal favorite of all of his works.

Also, at 14, sees the breast of a woman breastfeeding, becomes obsessed, stalks her dog (whispering sweet-nothings in its ear), and then later has sex with his mother’s chambermaid. Later, he’ll write Sentimental Education, based, in part, on this early “love.”

His sister and father die close together: he of an abscess on his thigh; she of puerperal fever. This sort of seals the deal on his maternal entrenchment.

Meets Louise Colet; much whining ensues
  • Married to Hyppolite Colet
  • Lover of Victor Cousin
  • Neither man acknowledged paternity to Louise’s daughter Henriette
  • Louise expresses “concern” about the adultery she’s committing with Cousin (and, of course, Flaubert); Flaubert tells her that “adultery is glorious; a revolt against the most bourgeois and detestable of institutions.”
Favorite line of a Flaubert letter: “I can continue no longer a correspondence that is becoming epileptic.”

Takes a long, Oriental journey with his friend Maxime du Camp
  • Obsessed with prostitutes and eunuchs and dwarfs: 
I saw the mosques, the seraglio, Santa Sophia. In the seraglio there was a dwarf, playing with white eunuchs outside the throne-room. The dwarf was richly dressed, European style, spats, overcoat, watch-chain – hideous. As for eunuchs, the black ones (which were the only ones I had seen up to now) had no effect on me. But the white eunuchs! I was not prepared for them. They look like nasty old women. The sight irritates the nerves and torments the imagination. You are filled with a devouring curiosity, and at the same time a bourgeois feeling makes you hate them. There is something so anti-normal in them, physically speaking, that your vitality is shocked. Explain that to me. Nevertheless, they are one of the most curious products of the hand of man. What would I not have given in the Orient, to become the friend of a eunuch! But they are completely unapproachable. (Flaubert to Louis Bouilhet, 19 December 1850)
  • Max takes numerous photos, using an “extremely handsome Nubian” – for scale, he says. 
After his return, his friend Louis Bouilhet tells him the story of Eugene Delmare – a country officier de sante with a pretty wife who overspends and entertains a lot of gentlemen callers. Oh, and she commits suicide.

According to Flaubert, in writing Madame Bovary, it took him 4 days per page; 39 pages in 3 months; 114 pages in 10 months.

d. 8 May 1880 (58) – Prussian soldiers occupy his house, his mother dies, he’s riddled with all sorts of venereal disease (Flaubert had a thing for the working girls), and he finally has a cerebral hemorrhage.
 

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