THE LETTERS OF GUSTAVE FLAUBERT 1857-1880 by Gustave Flaubert


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The Flaubert of these post-Bovary letters is neither a happy writer nor a happy man. In the early letters (Steegmuller's 1980 edition), he passionately, cruelly set down his incandescent artistic dogma to mistress Louise Colet; here instead Flaubert is driven to reiterated self-defense, as book after book--Salammbo, L'Education Sentimentale, Trois Contes, Bouvard et PÉcuchet--is panned critically and usually misunderstood by those closest to him. Politically, too, the times were a plague to Flaubert, as he witnessed the France-Prussian War, the German victory: ""I regret that Paris wasn't burned to the last house, leaving only a great black void. France has fallen so low, is so dishonored, so debased, that I wish she might disappear completely. But I hope that civil war will kill a lot of people for us. Would that I might be included in that number!"" (Flaubert's anti-republicanism, his ideal of an artistic meritocracy, is fierce here.) And there was yet another tribulation for the aging master during this period. After Flaubert's mother's death, his financial stability was repeatedly threatened by his niece Caroline Commanville and her husband-who, through complex will arrangements, became his financial guardians; so this ""curse of the Commanvilles"" (as editor Steegmuller calls it) was constant--with overdue notes, debts, defaults, and complaints that devastated poor Flaubert and created one crisis after another. ("". . . This morning I sent your husband yet another summons I have received from a process-server! If this is a bet, to see whether I'll die of pure rage, it's about won."") There was, however, one epistolary angel of Flaubert's last decades: the surprising George Sand, who chided him for hopelessness (personal, artistic), offered to buy his house in Croisset to give him financial freedom to write, and provided her steadfast friendship when Flaubert was losing that of so many others--through death or alienation. And Steegmuller provides wise, generous examples of this correspondence here. So, while the rest of this volume is primarily for scholars, without the titanic literary impact of the early letters, the remarkably touching, highly unlikely link between Flaubert and Sand (artistically alien yet equally hard-working writers) will have a strong appeal to anyone interested in the phenomenon of literary friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press