Flaubert, Gustave (Short Story Criticism)
Gustave Flaubert 1821-1880
French novelist, short story writer, dramatist, and letter writer.
The following entry presents criticism of Flaubert's short fiction works from 1992 to 2001. For criticism of Flaubert's short fiction career published prior to 1992, see SSC, Volume 11.
Among the most influential French writers of the nineteenth century, Flaubert is remembered primarily for the stylistic precision and dispassionate rendering of psychological detail found in his masterpiece Madame Bovary (1857; Madame Bovary). A meticulous craftsman, Flaubert diligently researched his subjects and infused his works with psychological realism with the goal of achieving a prose style “as rhythmical as verse and as precise as the language of science.”
Flaubert was born in Rouen, where his father was chief surgeon at the city hospital and his mother was a respected woman from a provincial bourgeois family. As a child, Flaubert attended school at the Collège Royal de Rouen. During a summer vacation with his family in Trouville, Flaubert met Elisa Schlésinger, a married woman for whom he harbored a lifelong infatuation. Upon receiving his baccalaureate degree, Flaubert honored his parents' wishes and reluctantly registered for law school in Paris, despite his stronger interest in literature. In 1844, however, he experienced an attack of what is now believed to have been epilepsy; he subsequently abandoned his law studies and devoted himself entirely to writing. In 1845, Flaubert completed the first draft of L'éducation sentimentale (1869; Sentimental Education). Following the death of both Flaubert's father and sister in 1846, Flaubert moved to the family home at Croisset, near Rouen, with his mother and infant niece. Flaubert was occupied with the writing of Madame Bovary from 1851 to 1856. After the first publication of the novel in serial form in Revue de Paris, Flaubert was charged with offenses against public and religious morals and an obscenity trial ensued. Flaubert's defense argued successfully that the novel was indeed a moral work, and Flaubert was acquitted. Published in book form two months after the trial, Madame Bovary enjoyed widespread sales and significant critical commentary. Towards the end of his career, Flaubert wrote his short fiction collection Trois contes (1877; Three Tales). With the exception of occasional trips abroad and to Paris, Flaubert lived at his family's home in Croisset until his death in 1880.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Although Flaubert is remembered for his novels, he produced a collection of short fiction, Three Tales, towards the end of his career. This work presents three stories—“Un Coeur simple,” “La légende de Saint Julien l'Hospitalier,” and “Hérodias”—ranging in setting from contemporary France to classical antiquity, each of which explores the concept of sainthood and the Christian idea of the Holy Trinity. The first tale, “Un Coeur simple,” chronicles the story of a French peasant woman, Félicitié, who works for the same employer as a servant for her entire life. A loyal, kind-hearted, devout woman, Félicitié is left or forgotten by her closest family members and friends. However, her life takes a turn when she inherits a parrot that becomes her constant companion. After the bird's death, she cannot bear to part with it and has it stuffed. Associating its image with the Holy Spirit, she begins to pray to the stuffed body of the parrot. In “Saint Julien,” a young man inadvertently fulfills a prophecy that he will one day kill his parents. As a result of this tragedy, he becomes a reclusive hermit. The final tale in the collection, “Hérodias,” is based on the story of the death of John the Baptist. Many of the characters in the tale are based on Roman and biblical history.
While some critics have interpreted the stories in Three Tales as moralistic, others have argued that the volume demonstrates Flaubert's belief that history can be divided into three distinct phases: paganism, Christianity, and muflisme, which refers to Flaubert's conception of the nineteenth century as an era marked by the petty values and lifestyles of the bourgeoisie. The role of religion has been identified as the unifying thematic concern of the three stories of the collection, particularly Flaubert's interest in such issues as transcendence, faith, and redemption. Commentators have consistently praised the technical virtuosity of Flaubert's writing—his use of style, structure, imagery, and symbolism. In recent years, some critics have been concerned with the order of the stories in Three Tales, as they do not appear in the order in which they were written. Another area of critical interest has been the presence, or lack thereof, of satire in his short fiction.
*Trois contes [Three Tales] 1877
Oeuvres complètes. 8 vols. 1885
Oeuvres complètes. 23 vols. 1910-33
Oeuvres. 2 vols. 1946-48
Early Writings of Gustave Flaubert (short stories and essays) 1991
Madame Bovary [Madame Bovary] (novel) 1857
Salammbô [Salammbô] (novel) 1863
L'éducation sentimentale: Histoire d'un jeune homme [Sentimental Education: A Young Man's History] (novel) 1869
Lettre à la Municipalité de Rouen (letters) 1872
Le candidat: Comédie en 4 actes [The Candidate: A Humorous Political Drama in Four Acts] (play) 1874
La tentation de Saint Antoine [The Temptation of Saint Anthony] (novel) 1874
Bouvard et Pécuchet [Bouvard et Pécuchet] (unfinished novel) 1881
Novembre [November] (novel) 1885
Par les champs et par les grèves: Voyages en Bretagne [Over Strand and Field: A Record of Travel through Brittany] (travel essay) 1885
Mémoires d'un fou (novel) 1901
*This collection contains the stories “Un Coeur simple,” “La légende de Saint Julien l'Hospitalier,” and “Hérodias.”
(The entire section is 139 words.)
SOURCE: Murphy, Ann L. “The Order of Speech in Flaubert's Trois Contes.” The French Review 65, no. 3 (February 1992): 402-14.
[In the following essay, Murphy identifies speech as a unifying element of the stories in Trois contes.]
In his study of Trois Contes Michael Issacharoff argues that unlike the novelist who requires from his reader at least an initial linear reading of his work, the author of a collection of short stories implicitly grants to his reader the freedom to read the stories in any order he chooses (40). Accordingly, as Issacharoff reasons, the reordering to which Flaubert submitted his three tales prior to their definitive compilation in a single volume—“La Légende de Saint Julien L'Hospitalier,” written first, appears second after “Un Cœur simple”—constitutes an explicit invitation to undertake such a non-linear reading (42). The “problem of non-linearity” mentioned in Issacharoff's title is linked to that of discerning unity in the volume. Since there is no way to guarantee that the stories will be read in order, the unity of the whole must somehow be located independently of the order in which its parts are read. Issacharoff finds this unity in the recurrence in each of the stories of specific symbols, and of the dialectic between inside and outside.
Issacharoff's argument for a unity to Trois Contes seems an...
(The entire section is 6271 words.)
SOURCE: Wing, Nathaniel. “Reading Simplicity: Flaubert's ‘Un Coeur simple.’” Nineteenth-Century French Studies 21, nos. 1-2 (fall-winter 1992-1993): 88-101.
[In the following essay, Wing explores Félicité's metonymic relationship to the world in “Un Coeur simple.”]
Cen'est pas une petite affaire que d'être simple.”
—Flaubert, letter to Louise Colet, 20 Sept, 1851
It has become commonplace in modern readings of Flaubert to observe that the protagonists of his texts are themselves readers, represented as interpreters of the world of the fiction and that the realization of their desires depends upon the ability to understand and manipulate the codes that constitute the intelligible world. From Emma Bovary, whose sensibility and understanding have been formed by the stereotypes of Romantic literature, to the minor characters of L'Education sentimentale, whose intelligence is represented as a Babel of borrowed nineteenth century aesthetic and political theories, to the mythic figures of Salammbô and Mathô, who struggle to interpret an opaque world in terms of only partially intelligible religious systems, the protagonist's consciousness is defined in relation to interpretive discourses brought to bear on the world represented by the text. Since knowledge and desire for Flaubert's protagonists are set forth in...
(The entire section is 6126 words.)
SOURCE: Erickson, Karen L. “Prophetic Utterance and Irony in Trois contes.” In Modernity and Revolution in Late Nineteenth-Century France, edited by Barbara T. Cooper and Mary Donaldson-Evans, pp. 65-73. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1992.
[In the following essay, Erickson examines the role of both prophecy and irony in Trois contes.]
Prophecy is a recurrent voice in Flaubert's collection of tales, and provides a parabolic narrative model for a kind of textual transmission rooted in historical social commentary—the visionary challenge to a community through the voice of a prophet.1 In this [essay], I will examine the role of the prophet in Trois contes, the ways in which prophetic utterances affect narrative structure, and the role of irony in the process of challenging the characters continually to reinterpret the meaning of prophecy and of their very nature. I use the term “irony” here to mean the progressive revelation to a character of a misunderstanding or limitation, often involving a recognition of hubris. Looking at irony this way, we see parallels between prophecy and irony. Prophetic discourse points ahead to a textual “future,” and implies an external authority, the source of the prophecy. Irony also invokes a more complete knowledge, a different narrative perspective, in its disclosure of the dissonance between reality and appearance. The use of...
(The entire section is 3921 words.)
SOURCE: Wise, Christopher. “The Whatness of Loulou: Allegories of Thomism in Flaubert.” Religion and Literature 25, no. 1 (spring 1993): 35-49.
[In the following essay, Wise investigates how the philosophical thought of Thomas Aquinas infused Flaubert's fiction, especially “Un Coeur simple,” and rejects his classification as a postmodern author.]
It is well known that the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas had a significant impact upon James Joyce, especially in shaping Joyce's earliest published fiction, Dubliners (1914) and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916); and, it is equally well known that Joyce was profoundly influenced by the novels of Gustave Flaubert, especially L'éducation sentimentale (1869), of which Joyce claimed to have memorized entire chapters. However, the corresponding relationship between Aquinas and Flaubert has been passed over in silence by literary scholars, when not prematurely obviated as either theoretically untenable or historically groundless.1 In the essay to follow, while I will not suggest that Aquinas in any way directly “influenced” the writings of Flaubert, it will be my contention that Thomist thought not only permeates the attitudes and notions which shape Flaubert's fictional discourse, especially “Un coeur simple” (1877) and L'éducation sentimentale, but that its presence also testifies to the...
(The entire section is 6163 words.)
SOURCE: Cronk, Nicholas. “Reading ‘Un Coeur Simple’: The Pleasure of the Intertext.” Nineteenth-Century French Studies 24, nos. 1-2 (fall‐winter 1995-96): 154-61.
[In the following essay, Cronk explores the function of the allusions associated with the names of the children, Paul and Virginie, in Flaubert's tale “Un Coeur simple.”]
So, they took the curator to where they kept the reserve collection. You want a parrot? they said. Then we go to the section of the birds. They opened the door, and they saw in front of them … fifty parrots. “Une cinquantaine de perroquets!”
———Julian Barnes, Flaubert's Parrot
Flaubert's use of Paul et Virginie as an element in the structure of “Un Cœur simple” is well known. The names of Mme Aubain's children, Paul and Virginie, are explicit pointers to a wide range of implicit allusions: the families in both works live in isolation and are dominated by two women of different social standing; and both works have significant motifs in common: departure by ship; departure to the convent; separation leading to death; a backdrop of sea and storms; and so forth.1
Before considering the function of these allusions, it is important to recognize that Flaubert's use of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre in “Un Cœur simple” is not confined...
(The entire section is 4394 words.)
SOURCE: Scrogham, Ron E. “The Echo of the Name ‘Iaokanann’ in Flaubert's ‘Hérodias.’” The French Review 71, no. 5 (April 1998): 775-84.
[In the following essay, Scrogham emphasizes the concept of naming in the tale “Hérodias,” citing specifically how it functions as a device of echo, identity, and reciprocity.]
Flaubert's “Hérodias” closely follows the Gospel-record of the events that precede and culminate in the decollation of saint Jean-Baptiste, with the notable exception of the form of the saint's name. While Hérode Antipas surveys Machærous and its environs from the terrace of his palace, a voice rings out, breaking the silence of the early dawn:
—Où est-il? demanda le Tétrarque.
Mannaëi répondit, en indiquant avec son pouce un objet derrière eux:
—J'avais cru l'entendre!
Et Antipas, quand il eut respiré largement, s'informa de Iaokanann, le même que les Latins appellent saint Jean-Baptiste.
Although the narrator of “Hérodias” explicitly identifies this thoroughly familiar figure, who appears in a virtual reproduction of one of...
(The entire section is 4375 words.)
SOURCE: Diamond, Marie Josephine. “Flaubert's ‘Quidquid Volueris’: The Colonial Father and the Poetics of Hysteria.” SubStance 85, no. 1 (1998): 71-88.
[In the following essay, Diamond finds parallels between Flaubert's “Quidquid volueris” and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.]
It is generally admitted that with woman the powers of intuition, of rapid perception, and perhaps of imitation, are more strongly marked than in man; but some, at least of these faculties are characteristic of the lower races, and therefore of a past and lower state of civilization.
We have trained and bred one kind of qualities into one half of the species, and another kind into the other half. And then we wonder at the contradictions of human nature! … We have bred a race of psychic hybrids, and the moral quality of hybrids is well known.
—Charlotte Perkins Gilman
The mechanism of poetry is the same as that of hysterical fantasies.
Written in October 1837 when Flaubert was not yet seventeen, “Quidquid volueris” articulates a peculiarly modern version of the grotesque. During a visit to South America, a French anthropologist, Paul de Monville,...
(The entire section is 7705 words.)
SOURCE: Marsh, Leonard. “Of Walls and the Window: Charting Textual Markers in Flaubert's ‘Légende de Saint Julien l'Hospitalier.’” Modern Language Studies 30, no. 1 (spring 2000): 157-65.
[In the following essay, Marsh offers a stylistic analysis of Flaubert's “La légende de Saint Julien l'Hospitalier.”]
The “Légende de Saint Julien l'Hospitalier” is quite different in origin from its two adjacent tales in Flaubert's Trois Contes. Whereas the story of Félicité in “Un Coeur simple” is a fictional narrative and the subject of John the Baptist in “Hérodias” is already documented in the scriptures, the story of Julien is a hagiographic legend, an accretion of details and events over the centuries. As such, it is an admixture of various strains of stories containing personages with similar names and biographical details, both real and fictive. While recognizing the patchwork development of the legend, one critic posits Flaubert's own imposition of a certain order of stylistic and thematic repetition in the tripartite narrative structure of his tale (Selvin 206). Another critic, while admitting to the radical non-linearity of the legend, does see another order, one beneath the apparent order of the text, a system of interrelations within a symbolic network that extends across all three stories of Flaubert's volume (Issacharoff 29). On the surface the tale can indeed be...
(The entire section is 4263 words.)
SOURCE: Overaker, Lewis J. “Manifestations of the Holy Ghost in Flaubert's ‘Un Coeur simple.’” Renascence 53, no. 2 (winter 2001): 119-48.
[In the following essay, Overaker suggests that in Flaubert's story “Un Coeur simple,” through the character of Félicité and the parrot named Loulou, one is witness “to a serious and triumphant spiritual journey in which the workings of the Holy Ghost are disclosed.”]
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
—1 Corinthians 6.19-201
The variously interpreted character of Félicité continues to inspire—and to frustrate—the many readers of Flaubert's popular story, most of whom remain puzzled by what seems like a jarring incongruity in the fundamental terms and imagery of the narrative. The title figure in her moving unsophistication enjoys a saintly relationship with the third Person of the Holy Trinity, yet the prominent symbol of that relationship is the nearly absurd one of a decaying stuffed parrot named Loulou.2 In the quasi-satirical world of Félicité's spirituality, the pervasive richness and indwelling timelessness of the Paraclete have been comically reduced to the vulgar artifices and none-too-permanent...
(The entire section is 14424 words.)
Cervo, Nathan A. “Flaubert's ‘Un Coeur Simple.’” Explicator 55, no. 2 (winter 1997): 80-1.
Refutes Andrea Greenbaum's argument that “Un Coeur simple” is a satire is incorrect, as it fails to stress Flaubert's theme of “simple love.”
Greenbaum, Andrea. “Flaubert's ‘Un Coeur Simple.’” Explicator 53, no. 4 (summer 1995): 208-11.
States that “Un Coeur simple” is “a monumental satire.”
Reynolds, James M. “Flaubert's ‘Un Coeur Simple.’” Explicator 55, no. 1 (fall 1996): 26-8.
Notes the presence of humor, hyperbolic exaggeration, and satire in “Un Coeur simple.”
Stipa, Ingrid. “Desire, Repetition and the Imaginary in Flaubert's ‘Un Coeur simple.’” Studies in Short Fiction 31, no. 4 (fall 1994): 617-26.
Follows the narrative strategy of irony, repetition, desire, and imaginary reality in “Un Coeur simple.”
Additional coverage of Flaubert's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 119; DISCovering Authors: British Edition; DISCovering Authors: Canadian Edition; DISCovering Authors Modules: Most-studied Authors and Novelists; DISCovering Authors 3.0;...
(The entire section is 209 words.)