In 1848 a revolution toppled the last French monarchy and replaced it with a republic. The French literary world had hoped that a new government would also mean the restoration of civil liberties, but they were disappointed. Louis Napoleon, the new president, wanted power, not constitutional restraints. After two further coups, he had himself declared president for life, then Emperor Napoleon III. Political purges and press censorship followed. Twenty-seven-thousand persons were arrested; dozens of newspapers and literary magazines were closed down.
Among the victims was Victor Hugo, France’s most famous writer, who went into exile, to the dismay of Flaubert, who had begun writing his great realist novel Madame Bovary. Flaubert detested the hypocrisy of the new industrial middle class and laid it bare in his novel. The French middle class, in turn, felt that he treated subjects that should not be discussed in refined society, such as sexuality, adultery, and suicide. Flaubert’s novel might never have been published had it not been for the urging of friends who recognized its merits. It first appeared in a literary magazine in installments, beginning in October, 1856. Although Flaubert had been warned that the imperial police wanted to destroy both him and the magazine, he insisted that nothing in his novel be deleted. He then prepared for a trial.
Fortunate in having both money and powerful family connections, Flaubert was able...
(The entire section is 445 words.)