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 had been given their choice of parrots. There were fifty in the museum's collection, any one of which might have been the right one.