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.
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.
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)
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)
Click here for a review of Madame Bovary.
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