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Gustave Flaubert – Life and Thought

Gustave Flaubert was born in Rouen into a bourgeois family and he spent his adolescence reading the works chosen by the romantic generation, from Cervantes to Shakespeare. Indeed, he begins his literary production with small romantic texts but also autobiographical.
Because of his poor health, he will have to prefer provincial tranquility to the frenetic Parisian life.

This relative loneliness will lead him to maintain a rich correspondence with his friends, who will be essential for him.
He travels with his friend Maxime Du Camp in the Middle East, Greece and Italy. After these trips, Flaubert dedicated himself to writing Madame Bovary, a novel published the same year of Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal in 1857 which was a great success. He also publishes other novels, such as Salammbô, a historical novel, and L’Education sentimentale, which neither critics nor readers have appreciated.
He died at the age of 59, leaving a work unfinished and much regretted by the novelists Zola and Maupassant, who saw in him a master, titled Bouvard and Pécuchet.

Thought of Gustave Flaubert

Gustave Flaubert bases his novels on true facts, on documentation and on careful descriptions and the objective voice of the narrator. Madame Bovary has often been considered the most accomplished expression of realism, although the author has rejected its direct connection with this movement.
Flaubert has a conception of literary activity, one might say, poetic. His thinking is close to that of Parnassians and followers of “Art for the sake of Art” in their quest for a precise form. He believes that the writer should explore all the secrets of the language and the perfection of the structure.
For him to be a writer is a kind of existential necessity and literature is his very nature. Flaubert himself says “I am a feather man”.
We must underline the modernity of Flaubert: he is the first to use internal focusing and free indirect discourse. These two elements will constitute the style of the novelists of the following century. Flaubert prefers a vision “from within” of the characters to the vision of the narrator “from above” Balzac. He also avoids the intrusions of Stendhal, who comments on the facts and the actions of the characters, and seeks impersonality, very dear to the Parnassians.
Faubert also affirms the role attributed to the profession of the writer: to make oneself heard without showing oneself. He tries to disappear behind his characters: “Madame Bovary, it’s me.”
He mocks “bourgeois stupidity” through his caricatures, which reflect a sad comedy that represents the ineptitude of the whole society.


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