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Gustave Flaubert

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About Gustave Flaubert

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880)

Gustave Flaubert was born two hundred years ago, on December 12, 1821, at the Hôtel-Dieu in Rouen, in the official accommodation of the hospital occupied by his father, the chief surgeon. Is it to this environment that he owes this "medical glimpse of life", claimed in a letter to Louise Colet? The most famous of his caricatures, due to Lemot and published in La Parodie in 1869, depicts him as a surgeon, brandishing a bloody heart at the end of a scalpel; it belongs to a woman lying behind the man with the long mustache. The reader guesses that it is Madame Bovary, the heroine of her first novel.

"I am a pen-man," said Flaubert, totally identifying his life with writing. He remained for us the figure of the absolute writer, sacralizing Literature to the point of making it a religion, subordinating his life to this passion lived as a priesthood and a sacrifice. The legend of the "hermit of Croisset", voluntary recluse in the large family home on the banks of the Seine, is built on the splendid isolation of the novelist who stands aside. He traveled, however, he toured the Mediterranean with his friend Maxime Du Camp; he lived in Paris for several months each year, he attended artistic salons and literary dinners, he was even received in Compiègne and the Tuileries by the Emperor Napoleon III. But he always returned to Croisset, where he died on May 8, 1880.

The success came to him late, for his first published novel, Madame Bovary, in 1856 and 1857, but it was resounding, thanks to the lawsuit in immorality. His work is small in volume, each book requiring five years of research and writing, but the density compensates for the scarcity. It has two sets: modern works (after Madame Bovary, L'Éducation sentimentale in 1869 and Bouvard and Pécuchet, unfinished) and ancient works: Salammbô in 1862, La Tentation de saint Antoine in 1874. Trois contes, the last published book during his lifetime, presents the synthesis of modern times, the Middle Ages and Antiquity with A Simple Heart, The Legend of Saint Julien the Hospitalier and Herodias.

Claimed as a precursor by both Zola and the Nouveau Roman school, Flaubert is one of the most translated and widely read French writers in the world. It continues to be an object of critical research and inspiration for writers and filmmakers: Madame Bovary has around thirty adaptations for film and television ...

Yvan Leclerc, professor emeritus at the University of Rouen Normandie