A thorough, evenhanded biography of Gustave Flaubert by Lottman, European correspondent for Publisher's Weekly, biographer...

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FLAUBERT: A Biography

A thorough, evenhanded biography of Gustave Flaubert by Lottman, European correspondent for Publisher's Weekly, biographer of Camus and PÉtain, and author of several works on French culture, including The Left Bank (1982). Born in 1821, Flaubert survived a stifling bourgeois upbringing to obsess over the exact words and authorial objectivity necessary to scandalize his future readers. Madame Bovary alone absorbed five years of tinkering and fine-tuning, and for his trouble Flaubert was rewarded with legal prosecution on moral grounds. Flaubert's perfectionism kept production down, but the limited output is impressive and widely influential: Salammbo (1862), A Sentimental Education (1869), Three Tales (1877). Highlights of Lottman's investigation include a detailed look at Flaubert's Norman bourgeois background, as well as an adolescence frittered away in a penal-style boarding school. Other points of interest are a study of the author's first mistress, Louise Colet; and the kleig lights that Lottman points in the direction of Flaubert's sex life, which are meant to clear up any previous confusion about the author's sexual preferences (conclusion: emphatically hetero). Inevitably, then, Lottman provides an account of Flaubert's early trip to the Orient (Egypt, Beirut, Jerusalem), an out-and-out whoring binge that imparted a venereal souvenir but also fostered a fascination for orientalism in his work. Also of note here is Lottman's dovetailing of historical detail that Flaubert experienced firsthand (e.g., the toppling of Louis Philippe's regime), and a frank account of financial humiliations that nevertheless didn't prevent Flaubert from working slowly and to an exacting standard. Lottman's plodding style at times seems out of whack with Flaubert's eccentric life, but overall his project is redeemed by balance, an eye for revelatory anecdote, and good sense.

Pub Date: Feb. 24, 1988

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1988