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Flaubert, Gustave

The Oxford Companion to English Literature
Dinah BirchDinah Birch

Flaubert, Gustave (1821–80) Major French novelist, 

born in Rouen, the second son of a physician. His first novel, Madame Bovary (1857), the sardonic tragedy of life in provincial Normandy, is notable for its rigorous psychological development, its impersonal narrative method, its irony, and its highly worked style; it was translated into English in 1886 by Eleanor Marx‐Aveling, daughter of Karl Marx, and has attracted and perplexed translators in equal measure ever since. Ancient Carthage is minutely recreated in Flaubert's next novel, Salammbô (1862), for which he undertook detailed researches. Charting the love life of the provincial student Frédéric Moreau against the backdrop of events in Paris between 1840 and 1851, L'Éducation sentimentale (1869: Sentimental Education) is a masterpiece, though relatively little translated since the first rendering in 1898. His three stories, Trois Contes (1877: Un Cœur simple (A Simple Heart), La Légende de Saint‐Julien l'Hospitalier (The Legend of St Julian Hospitator), Hérodias), are set respectively in his own period, in the Middle Ages, and in biblical antiquity; they were first translated in 1903 by G. B. Ives. The metaphysical Tentation de Saint‐Antoine (1874: The Temptation of St Anthony), part poem, part prose narrative, exercised Flaubert over more than 25 years; it was translated in a poetically archaic way by Lafcadio Hearn in 1910. The unfinished and posthumously published Bouvard et Pécuchet (1881), relating the various projects and experiments of two retired copying clerks, was to form ‘a sort of farcical critical encyclopaedia’. The publication of Flaubert's letters (4 vols, ed. J. Bruneau, (1973–98), with their searching reflections on the art of fiction and the life of the novelist, has crowned his reputation as the exemplary artist. See G. Wall, Flaubert (2001).