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Creator / Gustave Flaubert

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Photograph by Nadar circa 1865-1869.

"It is a principle of mine that a writer must not be his own theme. The artist in his work must be like God in his creation—invisible and all-powerful: he must be everywhere felt, but never seen. And then, Art must rise above personal affections and neurotic susceptibilities!"
Gustave Flaubert, Letter to Mademoiselle Leroyer de Chantefie (translation by Francis Steegmuller)

Gustave Flaubert (12 December 1821 – 8 May 1880) is a French novelist known today by many labels that he would despise today: his realism (a term he was always skeptical and ambiguous about), his harshness to his characters (despite the fact that he famously stated that he identified with his characters to a painful degree), and for his dry realist setting despite his obsessive, fevered imaginings of the Ancient World in his historical fiction.

Flaubert's writing style is famous for its economy and its precision. There are very few words wasted on scene setting, character description and plot. He had an eye for sociological and psychological detail and a very distinct tone of narration which, while striving to erase sentiment towards characters, also often carried with it a highly ironic and witty personality, far from the scientific and sociological approach of his disciples and imitators. He was also one of the first writers who put a high weight on style, correct discipline of writing and was famed for obsessing over "le mot juste". He was noted for his obsessive research into background and history, in a way becoming a precursor to James Joyce who always cited Flaubert as one of his favorites.

Madame Bovary of course is his most famous, widely read and influential work. When it was published in serial form, the suspected lurid nature of the story, a fairly non-judgmental telling of a wife committing adultery, provoked controversy and Flaubert was called to trial where he defended his work. After being cleared, the book was subsequently published and became a success partly out of scandal and partly out of literary merit. Largely due to Small Reference Pools, Madame Bovary remains Flaubert's most famous book with his follow-up works Salammbô and Sentimental Education not being as well-known today, though the former was a classic for the 19th Century.

Because of his obsessive research and extended writing time, Flaubert only completed three novels in his lifetime. In addition, he wrote a collection of short stories Three Tales and a fevered Verse Drama The Temptation of Saint Anthony that examined religion and philosophy on the line of Goethe's Faust. He wrote letters regularly throughout his life and collected editions of his letters are highly prized by writers. After his death, his posthumous works Bouvard et Pecuchet and The Dictionary of Received Ideas have also gotten their due.


  • Madame Bovary (1857)
  • Salammbô (1862)
  • Sentimental Education (1869)
  • The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1874)
  • Three Tales (1877) - A Simple Heart, The Legend of St. Julian the Hospitaller, Herodias
  • Bouvard and Pécuchet (1881)
  • Dictionary of Received Ideas (1911)

Other works by Flaubert contain examples of:

  • Adaptational Jerkass: Flaubert portrayed Julian in The Legend of St. Julian the Hospitaller as a hunter whose bloodlust came to be when he slew a mouse for breaking his concentration during Mass.
  • Book Dumb: Felicité does not understand any of the details of Christian doctrine, nor did she try to understand them. That said, she is a very competent serving-woman, and she works with such efficiency to the point where she is likened to a clockwork.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Bouvard and Pécuchet sees the title characters attempt to commit suicide, only to interrupt each other when they realise that they haven't yet written their wills.
  • Kindhearted Simpleton: Felicité in A Simple Heart is described as having a natural kind-heartedness. At the same time, she does not have the intellectual capabilities to understand Christian doctrine.
  • The Pollyanna: Felicité in A Simple Heart is the perfect picture of the Pollyanna. Friends and relatives die around her right and left, and yet she still puts on a happy face, dropping everything to help anyone who needs it.
  • Sincerity Mode: Flaubert confirmed in one of his letters that Felicité's portrayal in A Simple Heart is meant to be anything but ironic.
    "'A Simple Heart' is just the account of an obscure life, that of Félicité a poor country girl, pious but mystical, quietly devoted, and as tender as fresh bread. She loves successively a man, her mistress, her mistress' children, a nephew, an old man she is taking care of, then her parrot. When the parrot dies she has him stuffed, and when she herself is dying, she confuses the parrot with the Holy Ghost. It's not at all ironic, as you suppose, but on the contrary, very serious and very sad. I want to arouse people's pity, to make sensitive souls weep, since I am one myself."
  • Vagabond Buddies: Bouvard and Pécuchet are more or less this.
  • What Could Have Been: The Dictionary of Received Ideas was posthumously created by compiling notes Flaubert never published. However, it is only the glimpse of a completed work. It is similar to The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce in cynicism, but different in that it ironically repeats cliches common to bourgeois Frenchmen of Flaubert's time.