THE LETTERS OF GUSTAVE FLAUBERT 1830-1857 by Gustave Flaubert
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First of a two-volume edition meant to supplant Steegmuller's earlier (1953) selection, the letters here track Flaubert from juvenile yearnings for an ""anti-prose"" of poetry-soaked beauty to a contemporary hard-nosedness picked up from hanging around his surgeon father's laboratory: ""The most beautiful woman is scarcely beautiful. . . with her bowels draped over her nose, one leg minus its skin, and half a burnt-out cigar on her foot."" There are letters back from the trip to Egypt and the Mediterranean he took with Maxime DuCamp in 1849, explicitly going into (as Steegmuller's earlier volume left out) the brothels, the chancres--a sort of gruff and revolted but eager sensualism. It's the letters to his mistress, Louise Colet, of course, that are the main interest: Flaubert's aesthetic is set down there pitilessly, both as a true reflection of his purity and devotion to art, and as a psychological cudgel against Louise: who needs you when I have all this? All the famous ones are here: ""What seems beautiful to me, what I should like to write, is a book about nothing. . . ."" ""An author in his book must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere."" ""Prose must stand upright, from one end to the other, like a wall whose ornamentation continues down to its very base: seen in perspective, it must make a long continuous line. Oh! If I wrote the way I know one has to write, I'd write so well!"" Brilliant, exemplary--and colder than the grave. Not that Louise was any prize; but in constantly telling her how happy he was to be far off, doing his work, Flaubert was not insensible to the effect he was making. The letters about the writing of Bovary are predictably fascinating: the cage that Flaubert felt he'd put himself in, an exotic writing about the rudest bourgeois clich‚s. And how much he loved every minute of it Steegmuller cleverly makes clear. For any student of fiction, a necessary book.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1979
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press