Summary (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
This is a tantalizingly elusive work of fiction, exhibiting elements of biography, autobiography, literary monograph, parody, novel, and anthology of maxims and epigrams. It is narrated by Dr. Geoffrey Braithwaite, a retired British general practitioner in his sixties, widowed from a wife whom he never understood, who becomes obsessed with seeking to understand the essential nature of Gustave Flaubert.
Braithwaite begins—and finally ends—his quest by attempting to identify the particular green stuffed Amazonian parrot which Flaubert borrowed for a model while writing “Un Coeur simple.” In that tale, a simple, sacrificial Norman domestic, Felicite, devotes her life to serving a largely ungrateful family. The last object of her love is a parrot, Loulou, whom she comes to regard as the incarnation of the Holy Ghost. Braithwaite discovers a green stuffed parrot in Rouen, perched above an inscription certifying that Flaubert had been lent the bird by the city’s museum and had kept it on his desk for three weeks while writing “Un Ciur simple.” A few weeks later, in Croisset, the village where Flaubert lived most of his life, Braithwaite discovers another parrot, also stuffed, also green. Which is the authentic model for Felicite’s Loulou?
Braithwaite ascertains that Flaubert described an ugly English matron he met aboard a boat from Alexandria to Cairo as looking “like a sick old parrot.” In Salammbo (1862), Carthaginian...
(The entire section is 1231 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Geoffrey Braithwaite, an amateur biographer, is at the statue of writer Gustave Flaubert in Rouen, France. Braithwaite’s project, it seems, is to get to know as much as he can about Flaubert so that he can connect with him. He especially needs to establish which of two stuffed parrots at two rival museums is Loulou, the one who inspired Flaubert to write his short story “Un Cur simple” (1877; “A Simple Heart,” 1903). Braithwaite notes that Flaubert had disapproved of seeking out information about authors beyond what is found in their works, but Braithwaite pursues his quest nonetheless.
Braithwaite meets Ed Winterton, an American academic, at a book fair. Winterton acquires a book they both had wanted to buy. He later writes to Braithwaite to say that he has discovered some fascinating material related to Flaubert’s life. This news intrigues Braithwaite, who imagines that based on this material he will be able publish a groundbreaking study about a hitherto unknown love affair between Flaubert and his niece’s governess, Juliet Herbert.
Braithwaite meets Winterton to discuss the discovery. Winterton tells him that the material did indeed reveal that Flaubert had an affair with Juliet, but he also tells him the material also includes a letter in which Flaubert asks that the material be burned—Winterton has done that, and Braithwaite is furious.
Flaubert had compared himself to various animals, from lizards and camels...
(The entire section is 776 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Barnes’s first novel of note, Flaubert’s Parrot, is a fictional biography of Gustave Flaubert, but only in the sense that it exposes the reader to some aspects of the French writer’s personality and achievements. Barnes has likened his approach to the uncovering of an ancient tomb, where random holes are tunneled into the earth covering in an attempt to get a sense of the tomb before excavating and unsealing it. Barnes feels that such an approach might give the reader greater insight into the subject of the biography than a more traditional technique.
In large part, this novel follows the thoughts of the main character, Geoffrey Braithwaite, as he embarks on his mission to uncover the life of the esteemed Flaubert, attempting to separate fact from fiction, sometimes interpreting his findings to fit his own needs. Just as the human mind wanders, so does the narrative, with Braithwaite ruminating about the problems inherent in writing biography, imagining arguments with Flaubert’s critics, recalling rumors and innuendo about his subject, creating a few of his own scenarios, and gathering research materials, as well as telling the novel’s story.
The book is a prime example of a story holding together seemingly disparate elements. It is divided into fifteen chapters, each a separate entity, but each shedding some light on either Flaubert or Braithwaite. It combines reality and fantasy, the natures of literary criticism and...
(The entire section is 613 words.)
Chapter 1 Summary
The narrator begins his observations in Rouen, France, the birthplace of Gustave Flaubert. The great novelist's statue stands tall atop a pedestal, looking almost disdainful, holding its head aloof and turned in the direction of the cathedral. At its base, six North Africans are playing boules, a game of skilled ball throwing, and the thrower—stylish, ecstatic, alive—is contrasted with the bronze Flaubert—frumpy, "straggle-mustached," a toilet for pigeons. The Flaubert statue in Trouville is chipped and his house in Rouen—Croisset—has been demolished, as was his childhood home. The narrator muses that all things Flaubertian decay except his writings, which is in keeping with the novelist's wishes.
The narrator's goal is not to write a thorough biography of the great French writer but to compose a leisurely meditation on the man. The narrator is a retired doctor, widower, father of scattered adult children who keep in touch "when guilt impels." His Flaubertian odyssey begins in Rouen in the mid-1980s, forty years after the Nazis had seized the original casting of the statue. Evidence of the war is still abundant, but it has taken on a historical character and strikes the tourist as "not at all sinister." He recalls his own wartime memories without emotion and compares the Normandy invasion with the Norman Conquest: "one too distant to be true, the other too familiar to be true." The past, he says, is like a greased pig, making those who try to grasp it look ridiculous.
Like the narrator, Flaubert's father was a doctor, and the Flaubert museum in the Hôtel-Dieu is also a museum of medical history. Gustave was born in a room there. In later photographs, he seems an old man, but it is not clear whether it was syphilis that devoured his youth or simply life in the nineteenth century. There is a cartoon of Flaubert dissecting Emma Bovary, her heart on a fork. It is in the Hôtel-Dieu that the narrator is introduced to Loulou, the taxidermied model for the parrot in the short story Un Cœur Simple. The parrot in the story is a grotesque of the Holy Ghost according to the narrator, who goes on to cite parallels between Gustave and the human female protagonist of Un Cœur Simple. The parrot motif is present throughout the life of Flaubert: In the 1830s, the family visited a sea captain in Trouville who...
(The entire section is 585 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
The narrator presents a time line of Flaubert's life. It is formatted like a two-column table in a reference book: Year and Event. He breaks the time line into three parts.
The first part begins with the 1821 birth of Gustave to Achille (a prominent surgeon) and Anne. They are a middle class family with property in Rouen. In 1825, a nurse is hired to care for Gustave. Her name is Julie, and she remains in his employ until his death. About five years later, Gustave acquires the first of a lifelong string of devoted friends. Gustave goes to school and begins to write from an early age. In 1836, Gustave develops his first passionate crush on a respectable Trouville matron, Elisa Schlesinger, who does not requite his passion but does maintain a forty-year correspondence with the writer. Around the same time, Gustave has sex for the first time. The next year he publishes his first work. In 1840, Gustave finishes school and travels widely in Europe, North Africa, and the Levant. By 1843, he is in law school in Paris, where he meets Victor Hugo. A year later he suffers his first epileptic attack, which ends his law career and allows him to become the "hermit of Croisset." He does not indulge in so much solitude that he doesn't meet Louise Colet, his muse and lover, intermittently, between 1846 and 1854. Madame Bovary is written, published, prosecuted for obscenity, and acquitted during the years 1851-1857. Salammbō is published in 1862. By this time, Flaubert is a literary lion in Europe. He begins a correspondence with George Sand. He is presented to Napoleon III in 1864 and is created a chevalier de la Légion d'honneur in 1866. In 1869, L'Education Sentimentale is published. The narrator notes that Flaubert complained a lot about his struggle as a writer in free flowing letters while producing large, ambitious novels every five to seven years. In 1874, he publishes La Tentation de Saint Antoine. In 1877, Trois Contes is a huge success and he begins work on Bouvard et Pécuchet. At the top of his game, he dies at Croisset in 1880.
Part 2 focuses on the blows: familial deaths and his own unpromising start in life; the unrequited love of Elisa Schlesinger and her later internment in a mental hospital; his expulsion from school; his failure as a law student and the shattering...
(The entire section is 667 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
The narrator encounters another bibliophile in a secondhand bookstore. His new acquaintance, Ed Winterton, is an American working on a biography of the life of Edmund Gosse, an English contemporary of Flaubert. A year later, Winterton sends a note inquiring whether the narrator might be interested in a possible lover of Flaubert named Juliet Herbert. He apparently has come across some material relating to her, and the narrator is more than interested. He compares the moment to that of a fiancée opening the ring box—a moment, which, on reflection, he never discussed with his wife afterward and never can now. Juliet Herbert is a mystery in the much studied life of Flaubert. She was his niece's governess for a few years and then moved on. There is disagreement as to whether the lack of information about her is a conspicuous clue about her secret importance in Flaubert's life or suggestive of nothing at all. Gustave called his dog Julio; he called his niece Loulou; George Sand called her goat Gustave. The narrator is aware that such connections are speculative, but he compares biography to a net: a lot of holes held together with string.
It is when the narrator allows himself dreams of glory as the author of "Juliet Herbert: A Mystery Solved" that the reader finally learns the narrator's name: Geoffrey Braithwaite. He meets with Winterton and listens to his story. While researching Gosse, Winterton had discovered that the poet's elderly descendant was in possession of some letters. They had been left with Herbert's cousin, who took them to Gosse for his opinion whether they were worth anything. Gosse said no, and the old lady gave them to him. They had passed to his descendant who in turn asked Winterton if he thought they were valuable. He said not really, but he gave her fifty pounds for them. Braithwaite is appalled but asks whether Winterton had read the letters. Winterton says they give a detailed account of the Flaubert-Herbert affair, answering many outstanding questions. There were even photographs. Flaubert complains of the London fog and describes the Great Exhibition, though he says nothing of brothels.
Braithwaite breathlessly asks to see the letters, but Winterton confesses that he burned them. After further torturing Braithwaite with the priceless detail contained in the letters, he gives as his reason for destroying them that it had been Flaubert's instruction to...
(The entire section is 444 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
The Flaubert Bestiary
Braithwaite has compiled a list of animals that he believes feature significantly in the life of Flaubert. Each entry is a short essay on an aspect of Flaubert, the animal illustrating his relationships and self image.
The first and lengthiest entry is "The Bear." Gustave describes himself as a bear who lives alone, though Braithwaite points out that the hermit of Croisset lived in a relatively full house. A white bear-rug was a much loved (by himself and his niece) feature in his study. Though Braithwaite can cite many references comparing Flaubert to other animals—from oyster to gorilla—the bear is Flaubert's own essential self image—a mangy bear, a stuffed bear, a bear in his cave.
The camel elicits enthusiasm from Flaubert, whose visit to Egypt was a seminal event in his life. The camel walks like a turkey and sways like a swan. Like the writer himself, its inertia is hard to overcome, its forward momentum is unstoppable.
Flaubert's love of the grotesque found a mark in a five-legged sheep with a deformed tail that he saw at a fair in 1847. With his friend Du Camp in tow, he feted the sheep's owner, who called the sheep The Young Phenomenon. The phrase briefly became part of the writer's vocabulary. A year later, when Du Camp became ill, Gustave burst into his room with The Young Phenomenon, whom he had found nearby. The sheep behaved as sheep do and quickly wore out its welcome. The fourth entry is "The Monkey, the Donkey, the Ostrich, the Second Monkey, and Maxime Du Camp" and it comprises a single paragraph containing several lewd anecdotes extracted from a letter to his friend Louis Bouilhet.
The entry on the parrot begins with the etymology, history, and natural history of parrots. The ancient Greeks noted that the parrot is lecherous when drunk; Buffon records that it is prone to epilepsy. The niece, Caroline, states that Loulou once lived, though she does not specify which among the several known candidates the real Loulou might be. Among Flaubert's collected press clippings is a story about a man who teaches his parrot to pronounce the name of his dead lover, and when the parrot dies, the man comes to believe himself to be a parrot, squawking his beloved's name. Flaubert's note in the margin: "make it a dog."
About the dog, Braithwaite's entry contains four subentries: The Dog Romantic, about Elisa Schlesinger's...
(The entire section is 537 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
Braithwaite dislikes coincidences and especially the fashionable invocation of Anthony Powell every time ordinary events result in ordinary convergences. He recalls a dinner party at which he was the only one present who had not just finished reading A Dance to the Music of Time. He ironically opines that irony is one way of legitimizing coincidence. Flaubert was a great admirer of irony.
In 1949, Du Camp and Flaubert climbed the pyramid of Cheops, timing their ascent with the rising of the sun. As Du Camp looked out over the Nile valley at dawn from the top of the Great Pyramid, Flaubert reached down and picked up a business card, presumably left there by a French polisher named Humbert. Later, Du Camp admitted leaving the card there himself as a hoax; even later, Flaubert claimed that Du Camp had found the card in Flaubert's bag, where he had put it with the intention of leaving it at the top of the Great Pyramid for Du Camp to find. Is it a coincidence that the name of the twentieth century's most famous pedophile should appear on a business card left on top of the Great Pyramid by a pair of nineteenth-century literary pranksters?
As a youth spending his holidays in Trouville, Gustave became friends with Gertrude Collier. Gertrude and Gustave stayed in touch over the years, and Gertrude in her memoirs confessed that she had been in love with him. Gertrude eventually married and had a daughter, who in turn married the explorer Henry Morton Stanley. Stanley, lost in Africa, jettisoned his unnecessary belongings, retaining his Bible, his Shakespeare, and his Salammbō.
When Flaubert's beloved sister Caroline died, a death mask was made of her face before the procession to the cemetery. Once there, the coffin would not fit in its narrow hole. After considerable wrangling and hammering, one gravedigger finally planted a foot on the lid above Caroline's face and shoved the coffin into place. Caroline's bust, cast from the death mask, kept Gustave company in his study for the rest of his life. When Flaubert died, his niece was unable to get a cast of his hands, traditional with deceased writers, because his fists had balled up tight during his heart attack and had not relaxed. The hole for his coffin was too short, but there was no shoehorning it into its hold. The mourners left, and the gravediggers abandoned it—sunk at an angle.
(The entire section is 406 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
Emma Bovary's Eyes
Braithwaite hates literary critics. He holds up as an example the scholar and lecturer Enid Starkie, a highly distinguished Oxford emeritus whose professional life had been dedicated to the study of French literature, primarily Flaubert. Starkie had an atrocious French accent, he carps. He is angry with Starkie for pointing out that Flaubert gave the color of Emma Bovary's eyes as blue, brown, and black—with the passages given in footnotes. He admits that on reading this, he was at first annoyed with Flaubert, but his ire soon shifted to the critic.
Writers are not perfect, Braithwaite argues, "anymore than husbands and wives are perfect." He never believed that his wife was perfect, but he loved her anyway. He cites famous bloopers in esteemed works by diligent authors, such as in William Golding's Lord of the Flies: Piggy's glasses being in reality incapable of starting a fire. Arcane errors that do not hinder the text and are innocently made by imperfect writers are forgivable. Braithwaite, however, is greatly perturbed by a proof that the quintessentially careful Flaubert had been sloppy about the color of his best-known heroine's eyes.
Braithwaite pities authors when it comes to choosing a character's eye color. The options are incredibly limited, and each color carries an established indicator. Blue is for innocence, black is for passion, brown is for common sense, green is for wildness. His wife's eyes were bluish green, "which makes her story a long one."
After launching more cheap shots at Starkie's clothes and mannerisms, Braithwaite notes that the portrait used for the frontispiece in Starkie's biography of Flaubert is, in fact, of his friend Louis Bouilhet. He adds that he has just finished rereading Madame Bovary and that the moral of the chapter is not to be afraid of footnotes. He then gives in full the six passages that describe Emma's eye color. They are brown, but appear black; they are black in shadow and blue in bright daylight, but on waking contain layers of color that lighten toward the surface; they are black in the remaining four passages. It is clear to Braithwaite that far from being sloppy, Flaubert had shown particular craftsmanship in giving Emma's eyes the "rare and difficult" quality of a "tragic adulteress." To bolster his claim, he cites Du Camp's description...
(The entire section is 409 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
Braithwaite is taking the ferry across the English Channel to France. He remarks that the light on the French side is picturesque, while the view from the English side is gloomy and monotonous. He wistfully recalls going into a French pharmacy with his wife. The pharmacien tenderly examined and cleaned the blister on his wife's foot and sold them a box of bandages. Emma Bovary's body is watched over by Homais—a pharmacien. Braithwaite promises the reader that he will tell three stories: Flaubert's, his own, and his wife's.
Flaubert, Braithwaite states, is remembered as a bourgeois "bourgeoisophobe," a fat, bald aesthete who disparaged democracy for raising the peasant to the "stupidity" of the middle class. Flaubert actively compiled but never published a dictionary of skewed definitions, clichés, and wry advice—the Dictionnaire des idées reçues. Braithwaite contemplates writing his own dictionary of received ideas regarding Flaubert. Of the author's role in his own work, Braithwaite compares Flaubert ("like God in his universe") and the moderns who offer ambiguous or multiple endings. In life, as Braithwaite had once told his wife, you make a decision and you end up where you are. After labeling a variety of possible kinds of endings, Braithwaite assumes the pose of a "hesitant narrator" and fumblingly terminates the section, arranging to meet the reader on the return ferry.
"How do we seize the past," begins the next section, and Braithwaite wonders if fat people used to be fatter or mad people madder. He insists on using terms that feel right to him, such as "adultery" rather than all the euphemisms that make light of the act. He notes that the closed carriage in which Emma Bovary was famously seduced was actually a cramped little coach.
Braithwaite gives a desultory description of himself in the form of a personal ad. He adds that his eyes are brown. He never killed a patient, wrote fake prescriptions, or molested females in his examination room. He enumerates the kinds of novels he would like to ban, at least temporarily. He ponders Flaubert's sexuality—he was "ambi-sexual," Braithwaite concludes. Admitting that he has digressed, he pleads embarrassment. He tells the reader that he was going to put his photograph on the cover, but he found that he hadn't had his picture taken in ten years.
Caroline, the niece, had...
(The entire section is 498 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
The Train-Spotters Guide to Flaubert
The Flaubert family move to Croisset, presumably because it was a more therapeutic location for Gustave after the initial onset of his epilepsy. Their former house at Déville was doomed anyway; it would be soon be demolished for the railway. Gustave's was the first "railroad" generation, but he never liked trains. He called them a misdeed of modern civilization and claimed that train rides made him want to howl with boredom. It was the railway that facilitated his long affair with Louise Colet.
Flaubert had once excised a passage from one of Colet's poems which featured the image of a train's smoke, lined out horizontally on the landscape. He said he didn't like it. Later, however, he included the image of a train's smoke trailing in a horizontal line, resembling a "gigantic ostrich feather" blown back on the wind.
Colet lived in Paris; Flaubert, in Rouen. Mantes was midway. She would plead and cajole, and he would capitulate, and they would meet in Mantes. Her letters came through Du Camp to prevent his mother from finding out about the affair. His mother, nevertheless, was there to meet Flaubert on the Rouen station platform on his return from one of their Mantes rendezvous. She didn't say anything, but Flaubert believed she knew—her face was full of reproach. Colet's reproaches created scenes on the Mantes platform requiring intervention by railway personnel. Braithwaite takes the train to Mantes, observing the signs in different languages—one in French requesting that guests refrain from throwing energy out the windows. Their hotel, the Grand Cerf, is no longer standing. It had been demolished the previous year. Braithwaite finds only two stone gateposts indicating the place where Flaubert and Colet conducted their lovemaking. Waiting for the return train, the disappointed Braithwaite discovers a café called Le Perroquet—the parrot.
Back at Croisset, Braithwaite tours the paper mill that stands where Flaubert's house had stood. The mill makes paper for books, but it is an unsentimental, machine driven place. Flaubert claimed that Pascal had once visited the house, and local legend had it that Abbé Prévost had written Manon Lescaut there before the Flauberts came to occupy it. Braithwaite sullenly remarks that there is no one left to repeat or believe "such fictions." In the distance, Braithwaite sees a train moving toward...
(The entire section is 418 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
The Flaubert Apocrypha
Braithwaite considers a host of what-ifs. "Do the books that writers don't write matter?" he asks. What follows is a sort of annotated bibliography of works that Flaubert might have written. Flaubert always threatened to write his autobiography. He claimed to have translated Candide into English; Juliet Herbert is supposed to have translated Madame Bovary. He considered a number of novels, including one about the notably pious pharaoh Mycerinus, who Flaubert conceived as incestuous, and another about a man who is happier in his dreams than in his real life. He contemplated a novel of chivalry. A novel about insanity was considered around the same time as one about the theater, which he believed was ripe for the novelist. He was enamored of the East and dreamed of writing a story about the convergence of the modern and "barbarian" worlds around the Suez Isthmus. He planned to write about the battle of Thermopylae after Bouvard et Pécuchet. He imagined a different ending for L'Education Sentimentale.
"But what of the unled lives?" Braithwaite wonders. A phrenologist had told Flaubert that he was born to be a beast tamer. He was told he would learn to dance (but never did) and that he would marry. Before he settled down to writing Madame Bovary, Flaubert had entertained a multitude of professions. He might have been a Spanish muleteer or a coach driver on the French coast. He considers becoming a Turkish bandit; he should have been a Chinese emperor. He wants to live in a castle by the sea. He wants to be a Brahmin. He wants to disappear in South America. In a past life he directed a troupe of comedians in ancient Rome. He claimed to be descended from an American Indian. With Bouilhet, he imagines a nostalgic old age (never attained). With Colet, he imagines marriage, a child—also Colet's premature death and his subsequent single parenthood. With Du Camp, he dreams of an extravagant "Winter in Paris" at an estimated cost of twelve million francs. He would like a little palazzo in Venice or a kiosk on the Bosporus. He does not move to Italy after his mother's death. He does not expatriate himself to the East when he is invited to come to Beirut.
Braithwaite contends that at thirty-five, with Madame Bovary under his belt, Flaubert's path had been determined and accepted. From then on, he would internalize his alternative...
(The entire section is 423 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
The Case Against
Braithwaite states that there are two kinds of people: the kind that want to know the worst, and the kind that do not want to know anything. He wanted to know the worst about Ellen, his wife, because he loved her. She believed only the best about him. So it is with beloved authors, and Flaubert has often been upbraided by his admirers for what they see as faults. Braithwaite enumerates and defends those faults:
- That Flaubert hated humanity—No, he was unimpressed by it. He was devoted to his family and his friends. He just didn't pay his respects to humankind generally.
- That he hated democracy—He preferred the Chinese model of enlightened oligarchy. He did not advocate for dictatorship or anarchy. He saw democracy as a stage between the last social form and the next.
- That he didn't believe in progress—Braithwaite waves the twentieth century in Flaubert's defense.
- That he wasn't interested enough in politics—He was an "enraged liberal," and the reader must never assume that if Flaubert had considered issues more carefully he would have agreed with his admirers.
- That he was against the Commune—He did not approve of people-on-people killing. He was not inclined to kill people himself.
- That he was unpatriotic—Flaubert bought a gun and conducted military drills at Croisset in anticipation of a Prussian invasion. When Rouen was overrun by the Prussian, all he could do was look after his mother. He was a prematurely old epileptic with syphilis who lacked experience with killing people.
- That he hunted animals—Yes.
- That he didn't involve himself with life—By which, Braithwaite counters, it is meant that he did not marry. Braithwaite challenges the implication that married men with children write better books than childless bachelors.
- (part of number 8) That he tried to live in an ivory tower—He maintained a "half-and-half" existence, neither drunkard nor teetotaler. The reader must not be so vain as to assume that the writer must be like him. Further, is there anything wrong with his books that a wife and babes would have fixed?
- That he was a pessimist—Braithwaite declines to defend any author for being a pessimist.
- That he teaches no positive virtues—Whatever he may have said at his trial, Flaubert did not write Madame...
(The entire section is 514 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
Louise Colet's Version
Flaubert's mistress strolls arm in arm with the reader, or maybe it’s Braithwaite, and tells the story of her affair with the famous writer from her own perspective. She begins by pointing out that Flaubert was not famous when they met. On the contrary, she was an established Parisian poet with powerful connections, including Victor Hugo. She was a renowned beauty and the lover of Victor Cousin. Flaubert was a provincial young man. "I was his catch; he wasn't mine."
Louise was thirty-five when she met Gustave. He was twenty-four. No, she says, she wasn't bothered by the age difference, though maybe it was more significant to Gustave. Louise was the same age as Elisa Schlesinger, almost to the day.
As a lover, Gustave was vain and eager. He bragged about "firing shots" into other women—prostitutes and grisettes. She was willing to credit speculation that his friends, his "band of students," were also sometimes his lovers, but that she didn't know that for sure.
They conversed in flowers. He sent her a rose from his garden at Croisset to hold between her legs as she slept. He sent her a flower, plucked from the grave of Châteaubriand while on his three month holiday with Du Camp. She had broken off their affair when he had chosen to part from her for three months to be with Du Camp. She was furious, humiliated by his indifference, but she could not change his mind. He, however, wrote coaxing apologies to her as he tramped about with Du Camp. The rose from Croisset had scratched, and the flower from the grave was sent to her from a point forty kilometers from where Châteaubriand was buried. She sent a flower to him—a convolvulus—from Windsor Park, where she had sought consolation after the famous episode in which she was turned away from Croisset. She had never been allowed to visit him at home, and when she needed to see him to save their affair, he would not come to her in Paris. She went to him and was chased away by a servant.
Gustave had been particularly excited by a prostitute in Egypt. Louise was disgusted that he could be thrilled by a whore with bedbugs. He told her not to be jealous, as it could have meant nothing to the prostitute. Gustave did not understand her heart, that she found no consolation in her rival being a syphilitic, oil smeared, mutilated prostitute.
Louise was perpetually humiliated by...
(The entire section is 585 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
Braithwaite's Dictionary of Accepted Ideas
Playing off Flaubert's Dictionnaire des Idées Reçues, Braithwaite presents his own dictionary of received ideas regarding Flaubert. It is an alphabetical listing of things and people associated with Flaubert, beginning with A for Achille, Gustave's older brother, who was named for their father and inherited the family expectations. Louis Bouilhet was Flaubert's "shadow" with whom he shared a close resemblance; Flaubert referred to him as his "left testicle." Louise Colet was either an untalented encumbrance who plotted to entrap Flaubert and force him to be happy, or a passionate woman cruelly misunderstood and underappreciated by the heartless Flaubert.
Maxime Du Camp wrote with a steel nib pen while Flaubert used a quill. Epilepsy conveniently gave Gustave the excuse he needed to avoid a more conventional career path. Flaubert, the father of Realism, the "pontoon" between Balzac and James Joyce, said "Honors dishonor." Goncourts—as in Jules and Edmond—said of Flaubert that he was never perfectly sincere; but then everyone else said that the brothers were unreliable in their accounts; but then everyone else has proven unreliable in their own accounts. Juliet Herbert requires more research.
There is no I entry, for Irony is Flaubert's dictionnaire. Jean-Paul Sartre was a scholarly pest. Kuchuk Hanem was the bedbug-ridden prostitute Flaubert weighed against the Parisian proto-feminist poet. Letters were Flaubert's masterpiece. Mme Flaubert said to her son, "Your mania for sentences have dried up your heart."
Flaubert was from Normandy. He visited the Orient and came back a Realist. He fumigated Croisset after the Prussian army left. When he said, "Madame Bovary, c'est moi," Flaubert was alluding to Cervantes' reply to the question of where the idea for Don Quixote came from. Flaubert always denied being a Realist.
George Sand was like a second mother to Gustave. T is for Transvestitism, because, though he was not reputed to wear women's clothes, he...
(The entire section is 437 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
Braithwaite is a doctor; he knows the script to recite to the surviving spouse when a patient dies: Take two of these and develop a hobby. Give it time.
When Ellen died, however, he found that mourning is "full of time; nothing but time." He has tried unsuccessfully to alleviate the misery with drinking and working. He has his "dead foreigner" to distract him. He notes that people think he wants to talk about it, but he quotes from Madame Bovary: "Language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity."
Whenever he thinks of Ellen, he thinks of a hail storm that smashed through Rouen, wrecking Croisset's glass melon cloches. Flaubert was delighted and remarked that people think the sun is only there for growing cabbages. After several false starts, Braithwaite gives a short summary of Ellen's life. She was an only child, much loved, easily bruised, and promiscuous. She had had lovers before the children were born and resumed having affairs when they were grown. He was always faithful, and she was always nice. He had no interest in other women. She pursued her interests in other men. He was hurt, but he continued to love her. She lied to him only about her lovers. Unlike Emma Bovary, she did not "coarsen" or overspend. She seemed always the same. Perhaps he loved her more than she could stand to be loved. Braithwaite wonders if he drove her to other men with his doting—maybe he irritated her.
Braithwaite had thought that they were "happy enough" together, but now he is wracked with doubt. Were they happy or unhappy? Is it enough to be happy enough? In middle age, she grew depressed and measured out a proper dosage to killed herself. Her life had been full of all the usual things: husband, children, home, hobbies, plus the lovers. She'd had no thwarted ambitions. She was healthy. He does not believe she suffered from guilt, though he says that her secret life and her secret despair were equally inaccessible to him.
Braithwaite recalls the horrible deaths of Flaubert and others unfortunate enough to die in the nineteenth century. Death, he says, has improved. Ellen, on life support, had not wished to live, and he, as husband and doctor, switched her off. Books come with explanations for why people do what they do. Life comes without explanations.
(The entire section is 417 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
Braithwaite administers an examination probing the reader's understanding of Flaubert, life, and the role of literature. The test is in two sections, and the reader is allowed three hours to answer both questions in the first section and two questions (from a choice of ten) in the second section. Presentation and handwriting do not count. Marks are based on correctness, with deductions for silly answers.
Section A is labeled Literary Criticism. The first part is prefaced by the observation, based on recent examinations, that "candidates" are losing the ability to distinguish between life and art. The candidate is to consider the relationship between art and life suggested by two of the six quotations or situations given. The second part asks the candidate to trace the softening of Flaubert's attitude regarding literary criticism; eight quotations are provided, more or less chronologically, though there is no apparent mellowing over the years.
The ten questions in Section B are labeled Economics, Geography, Logic (with Medicine), Biography (with Ethics), Psychology, Psychoanalysis, Philately, Phonetics, Theatrical History, and History (with Astrology). Each question presents a quotation and/or situation to be considered:
- Economics—Bouilhet and Flaubert were similar in many ways, except that Bouilhet had to earn his living. What if their financial situations had been reversed?
- Geography—Discuss Andre Gide's proposal that Flaubert's struggle with words was really the result of Rouen's climate.
- Flaubert's father asked Gustave what purpose literature served; the son replied by asking his doctor father what a spleen was for. At the time, the spleen was little understood but considered indispensable. Modern medicine now knows all about the spleen, including that it is not an essential organ. What does the candidate conclude from that?
- Biography—Du Camp published a reputation-damning epitaph of Colet. Whose reputation suffers greater from the remark?
- Psychology—Two women are born the same year, have similar upbringings, temperaments, socially unacceptable sexual proclivities, and financial stressors, and commit suicide by poison. One is Emma Bovary; the other is Eleanor Marx, the English translator of Madame Bovary. Discuss.
- Psychoanalysis—What does the candidate think is the...
(The entire section is 592 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
And the Parrot . . .
Braithwaite has solved the mystery of the stuffed parrots. Which parrot was the real Loulou? He had written to a number of academics, the French embassy, and the Michelin Guidebook—even to David Hockney, who had painted a scene from Un Cœur Simple—asking whether the provenance of either bird could be established. Some of them never responded, and those that did were condescending. "Anyone would have thought I was a crank," he complains. The young, he says, are the cranky ones. If a twenty-something commits suicide, it's an act of moral courage; if a person of fifty-four kills herself, it's a selfish indulgence, a byproduct of post-menopausal depression. Flaubert, contrary to a bizarre and unsubstantiated rumor, did not kill himself.
An unqualified biographer named Edmond Ledoux claimed that Flaubert hanged himself while taking a hot bath, hid the rope somewhere, retired to the couch, and faked a heart attack for his attending physician. Braithwaite states that the bath and the heart attack were real, but the hanging was pure invention. Flaubert subscribed to a "religion of despair" wherein one looked into the abyss and became calm. Ellen could only squint at the black pit over and over until it became an obsession. She was careful to ensure the adequacy of her overdose. Ledoux's absurd assertion, meanwhile, continues to require dismissal in all accounts of Flaubert's life.
Finally receiving a break in his quest, Braithwaite has at last been referred to Lucien Andrieu, the oldest member of the Société des Amis de Flaubert. Before paying his visit to Andrieu, Braithwaite revisits the Hôtel-Dieu. Flaubert had borrowed the bird from the Museum of Rouen (now the Museum of Natural History). The docent points out the museum sticker on the perch and shows him a photocopy of the museum records showing that Flaubert had borrowed and returned a parrot. Braithwaite photographs the bird and goes next to Croisset museum. That bird too has a museum sticker. He photographs that bird as well and then compares both with Flaubert's description of the parrot in Un Cœur Simple. The Hôtel-Dieu bird appeared to be a closer match. Nevertheless, Braithwaite calls on Andrieu and asks him if he knows which is the real Loulou. Andrieu explains that both museums had requested Flaubert's parrot from the Museum of Natural History for their own exhibits and...
(The entire section is 421 words.)