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.