Monday, December 12, 2011

Author Birthday: Gustave Flaubert

From today's Writer's Almanac:

Today is the birthday of Gustave Flaubert (1821) (books by this author), born in Rouen, France. He was a notorious perfectionist in his work, and once said, "I spent the morning putting in a comma and the afternoon removing it." In 1851, he began what would become his first published novel, and his masterpiece. Five years later, Madame Bovary (1856) appeared in La Revue de Paris in serialized form. It's the story of Emma, a doctor's wife, who is dissatisfied with her life and longs to experience the passion, excitement, and luxury she has only read about in novels. She has two long-term affairs, accrues insurmountable debt, and ultimately takes her own life with arsenic.

From Madame Bovary, chapter nine: "Deep down in her heart, she was waiting and waiting for something to happen. Like a shipwrecked mariner, she gazed out wistfully over the wide solitude of her life, if so be she might catch the white gleam of a sail away on the dim horizon. She knew not what it would be, this longed-for barque; what wind would waft it to her, or to what shores it would bear her away. She knew not if it would be a shallop or a three-decker, burdened with anguish or freighted with joy. But every morning when she awoke she hoped it would come that day."

A month after the final installment of Madame Bovary was published, the French government banned the book, and hauled Flaubert up on charges of offending public and religious morality. Flaubert and his lawyers defended the book, saying that, by exposing vice, the novel was actually promoting virtue. Flaubert was narrowly acquitted, and Madame Bovary was published in book form two months later. The publicity and scandal of the trial contributed to its success.

Flaubert wrote: "It is a delicious thing to write, to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating. Today, for instance, as man and woman, both lover and mistress, I rode in a forest on an autumn afternoon under the yellow leaves, and I was also the horses, the leaves, the wind, the words my people uttered, even the red sun that made them almost close their love-drowned eyes."

Madame Bovary was one of my favorites books of 2010.


  1. Wonderful tribute. I loved all the quotes you provided. I read MB so long ago it hardly counts as being read. I better put it on the tb-reread pile :)

    I just finished reading Their Eyes Were Watching God, and am currently reading Women Icons of the West. Both books show women escaping the chains of a dull life in such different ways than that Emma Bovary took.

  2. Madame Bovary is definitely one of my favorite reads of 2011, if not THE favorite read.
    Love the last quote from Flaubert.

  3. loved loved this post, so much!

    i didn't realize it was his birthday - and i finally read madame bovary in the new translation this year. it was beyond amazing - and definitely one of my favourite books of the year.

  4. So this guy scares me, especially now that I've seen a picture. ;) Though your post on translation has me so curious about the Davis translation of Madame day.

    But the idea of writing being delicious. Love that!

  5. Thanks for this succinct and informative write-up. I didn't know today's Flaubert's birthday. I finished listening to Madame Bovary audio book a few weeks ago, not quite the same as actually reading it, but the voice is engaging and I find the story utterly absorbing.


  6. JansGS - When you get to the reread, be sure it's the new Lydia Davis translation - it's just beautiful! I loved Their Eyes Were Watching God. Ruby Dee reads the audio version and she really made the book come alive for me. Will look up Woman Icons of the West... sounds interesting.

    Everybookandcranny - Can't wait to see you entire list... hope you'll do a post. You've read some amazing books this year! I read those quotes and knew I had to post this article.

    luxehours - So glad you liked this! I love reading The Writer's Almanac every morning and share the posts every once in a while. You're right, the new translation is beyond amazing. I loved it, too.

    Trish - He's definitely a scary looking fellow! I hope you get a chance to read the new translation some day.

    Arti - I often enjoy classics on audio, especially Dickens. I become even more immersed when I listen in the car and read at home in the evening. The Writer's Almanac has author birthdays or 'on this day' posts every morning... really enjoy receiving their daily email.

  7. I want to reread Madame Bovary which I read in college. I really enjoyed it but I wonder what I'll think of it now and if I'll get more from the story.

    I love the quote from Flaubert you posted, JoAnn - it makes me want to write!

  8. I'm putting Madama Bovary on my tbr right now. Looks great.

  9. Amy - I didn't like Madame Bovary in college, but loved it last year. Not sure how much to attribute to age/life experience and how much credit the new translation deserves. I have a feeling both are very important!

    Care - Make sure you get a copy of the Lydia Davis translation when you're ready to read this. It is simply beautiful (as is the cover).

  10. Do you think he'd mind belated b-day wishes? I'm thinking someone who spent all day on a comma would understand. :-D

  11. Softdrink - An entire day spent on one comma is pretty amazing...

  12. thanks so much for this wonderful post-I am pondering a post for Dec 18-Saki's birthday

  13. Glad you liked this, Mel. Look forward to seeing what's in store tomorrow for Saki's birthday.


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