Sunday, March 12, 2017


Yesterday in Friedell's Cultural History of Modernity, I ran across a passage on Flaubert:
But he is in this again utterly opposed to Romanticism: for he rejects all stylization, idealization, tidying-up of reality, rejects rose-colored glasses, and shows men in their smallness, meanness, vulgarity, indeed their contemptibility; his heroes are not heroes. He depicts his world with the same thoroughness and coolness with which an entomologist regards an anthill or a beehive: he writes not one subjective line. He said himself: "The author must be in his work like God in the the universe: everywhere present and nowhere visible." But does not the artist also resemble God in loving his creations as a father his children? Doubtless; and so it is with Flaubert. The unheard-of novelty of his scientific, unsentimental method of observation concealed from his contemporaries, and from Flaubert himself, that as with every other artist his creative principle was an understanding love.
 This reminded me of Yeats on Synge:
 Whenever he tried to write drama without dialect he wrote badly, and he made several attempts, because only through dialect could he escape self-expression, see all that he did from without, allow his intellect to judge the images of his mind as if they had been created by some other mind. His objectivity was, however, technical only, for in those images paraded all the desires of his heart.
 (Ch. XIX of "The Tragic Generation" in Autobiographies)


  1. I have not yet succeeded in loving Flaubert... Admiring, yes, but that is all. Alas. No doubt it is a flaw in me, or perhaps when I am quite ancient I will love him.

    1. I don't know that Flaubert set out to be lovable, or worried much about being loved.

    2. Yes. I can never get that black, flung-open mouth of Mme. Bovary out of my head...

      And was reminded of James Wood: The psychology of desire interests Flaubert not at all. Emma Bovary is a beautiful creation, yet one feels that the truest, most vivid Flaubertian character is Homais, the vain and pompous chemist in that novel, a character straight out of Molière. Flaubert's characters seem like mistakes; his disgust is felt on every page. Madame Bovary ends on a note of disgust at the continuance of these mistakes: "He [Homais] has just been awarded the Legion of Honour" is its famous, sour last sentence. Flaubert complained that it was a great effort to write Madame Bovary because "I find them [the characters] deeply repulsive."