Book: Flaubert: A Biography

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Flaubert: A Biography

Author: Frederick Brown
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

Gustave Flaubert, whose Madame Bovary outraged the right-thinking bourgeoisie when it was first published in 1856, is brought to life here in all his singularity and brilliance. Frederick Brown’s portrayal is of an artist fraught with contradictions, his wit and bravado merging into vulnerability. A sedentary man by nature, Flaubert undertook epic voyages through Egypt and the Middle East. He could be flamboyantly uncouth but was fanatically devoted to beautifully cadenced prose. While energized by his camaraderie with male friends, who included Turgenev, the Goncourt brothers, Zola, and Maupassant, he depended for emotional nurture upon maternal women, notably George Sand. His assorted mistresses—French, Egyptian, and English—fed his richly erotic imagination and found their way into his fictional characters.

Flaubert's time and place caused him to be literally put on trial for portraying lewd behavior in Madame Bovary. His milieu also made him a celebrity and, indirectly, brought about his financial ruin, probably hastening his sudden death at the age of fifty-nine. Although writing was something like torture for him, it preoccupied his mind and dominated his life. He privately dreamed of popular success, which he in fact achieved with Madame Bovary, but adamantly refused to sacrifice to it his ideal of artistic integrity.

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