Who’s That Author? Gustave Flaubert

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) was a French writer and is most well-known for his novel, Madame Bovary, a story about a young provincial woman’s adulterous affairs. Upon its initial publication in serial form, many people declared the novel scandalous and the government charged Flaubert with immorality and obscenity. He was tried and acquitted, however, and Madame Bovary became a huge success. Today, the novel is considered a masterpiece.

Flaubert is regarded as the master of literary realism, the depiction of people in ordinary moments and in situations as they are, not as romanticized ideals. Flaubert was also a perfectionist and insisted on finding the exact word. He was known to toil for a week on just one page.

Image: World Atlas

Flaubert was born in in Rouen, France to a family of doctors. He was the fifth of six children. His father was the chief surgeon at the hospital in Rouen and his mother was the daughter of a doctor. A writer from a very young age, Flaubert studied law at his parents’ urging, but gave it up after he was diagnosed with what was most likely epilepsy. He returned to Rouen to take up writing full-time. He wrote Madame Bovary over a period of five years.

Louise Colet, Image: Encyclopedia Britannica

Although he never married, Flaubert became infatuated at age sixteen with an older married woman named Elisa Schlésinger, who was the subject of Memoirs of a Madman. He also had a romantic but tumultuous relationship with the poet Louise Colet. He traveled extensively as a young man, to England, Greece, Egypt, Beirut, Istanbul and Tunisia, but always returned to Rouen.

Like other creative minds, Flaubert was friends with many writers and poets, including Maxime Du Camp, who first published Madame Bovary in his literary magazine, George Sand and Emile Zola.

In addition to epilepsy, Flaubert suffered from venereal disease most of his life. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage at age 58. Several weeks before his death, already in ill health, he told his niece, “Sometimes I think I’m liquefying like an old Camembert.”

Below is a list of his major works (from Wikipedia):

Rêve d’enfer (1837)
Memoirs of a Madman (1838)
Madame Bovary (1857)
Salammbô (1862)
Sentimental Education (1869)
Le Candidat (1874)
The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1874)
Three Tales (1877)
Le Château des cœurs (1880)
Bouvard et Pécuchet (1881)
Dictionary of Received Ideas (1911)
Souvenirs, notes et pensées intimes (1965)

Thank you to the following sources:
The Literature Network
Wikipedia – Gustave Flaubert
Wikipedia – Literary Realism

Click here for a review of Madame Bovary.

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“The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant

The Necklace pic

“The Necklace”
Guy de Maupassant


I read this short story long ago.  Then my kids read it (not too long ago).  And because I can’t resist re-reading things my kids bring home, I’ve read it again.  I love short stories because of their economy of words and I especially enjoy how many of them end with the ironic twist that keeps you thinking long after you’ve finished reading.

“The Necklace,” by Guy de Maupassant is a perfect example of this style.  It’s the story of Mathilde Loisel, a young and beautiful, but common French woman, married to a simple clerk.  Believing she deserves better and feeling bitter about her circumstances, she suffers in her daily life.  When her husband brings home an invitation to a palace ball, Mathilde’s true character emerges.  Thinking she would be excited to go, her husband quickly discovers that his efforts to get the invitation fall short. Going isn’t enough.  She must also have a new dress.  And when that isn’t enough, she must have jewelry to wear around her neck, not fresh flowers as her husband suggested.

The diamond necklace, borrowed from her wealthy friend Mme. Forestier, transforms Mathilde.  The author writes,

She danced with intoxication, with passion, made drunk by pleasure, forgetting all, in the triumph of her beauty, in the glory of her success, in a sort of cloud of happiness composed of all this homage, of all this admiration, of all these awakened desires, and of that sense of complete victory which is so sweet to a woman’s heart.

Reality strikes them when the ball is over and the necklace is lost…

That’s where I stop because if you’ve never read this story, I don’t want to spoil the ending!

Guy de Maupassant
Guy de Maupassant

Guy de Maupassant was a prolific writer of novels and short stories.  He was greatly influenced by Gustave Flaubert, who became his mentor.  “The Necklace” was first published in 1884 in the French newspaper “Le Gaulois.”

Have you read this story? Did you like it? I’d love to hear from you!

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