Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Flaubert exploits a seemingly naïve tale to explore his own concerns of meticulous artistry and individual faith. The great lines of the story are determined for the writer even as Julian’s life is prescribed for him in the prophecies of his youth. It is how the individual moves within the preordained limits of his fate that determines his final triumph. Julian is not a man of doubts, and in all of his actions he is shown as the perfect type of whatever role he fills: the perfect son, the consummate huntsman, a general and soldier without peer. His fault is imposed from without, yet it is wholly his own, and he both recognizes it, under the fear of the stag’s prophecy, and agonizes under his inability to completely control it. However, he does not question the right of God to impose such suffering on him. He combats his fate by what means he can command; abandoning hunting for warfare, yet obeying the strictest rules of chivalry, giving up both warfare and hunting as a kind of penance to avoid killing his parents. However, when the actual deed is done, Julian’s sorrow and repentance drive him into penitence, not rebellion. The omniscient narrator of “The Legend of St. Julian, Hospitaler” tells the state of Julian’s mind, his agonies and angers, and it is through the narrator’s posing of Julian’s story that the reader himself may question the justice of a divine predestination that forces the individual to such glory through such suffering. Although Julian is given a name by the narrator, the other characters remain at the level of their narrative function: mother, father, wife, old monk. The only other named character is Jesus, in his apotheosis at the culmination of the story. Thus, each mark of individuality, each change in Julian’s motivations is set in relief by the nameless, static quality of his companions. The continuity of the name is needed to preserve the continuity of this individual who is in turn a model child, enraged huntsman, warrior, fairy-tale prince, murderer, penitent, and saint.