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 futures as alter egos: the hermit, the idiot, the Jesuit, the bishop—not the bandit—of Smyrna.