Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Flaubert is said to have done extensive historical research before writing the opening words of “Hérodias.” His arid painting of a geometric and empty world, where a great fortress stares across the desert to Jerusalem, expresses the spiritual vacuum behind the power of Herod’s house. As the story progresses, the author continues to make every word count. His descriptions pile up, proliferating details on the fortress itself and the people who pass through its gates on this fateful day. Tribes are named and individuals listed and described in all their exotic and sometimes grotesque detail. In Herod’s subterranean storerooms are a confusion of numbers and an exhaustive listing of armaments, such as the hundred blue-maned war-horses, gentle as sheep yet trained to eviscerate the enemy and fight all day.

Against this world of proliferating detail is set Iaokanann, little more than a shadow with a voice, but this voice speaks in biblical phrases and rocks the foundations of the worldly power of the captors. During the banquet, Flaubert again heaps up details of food, arguments, personalities, adding to the masculine political world the raw sensuality of Salome and her dancing. This dance is the climax of all that has gone before. The execution of Iaokanann is anticlimactic; his head is presented to the reader in the flattest and simplest of terms. Absent are the lavish descriptions and listings, absent the lyric sensuality of Salome’s dance....

(The entire section is 407 words.)