Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Flaubert is generally recognized as one of the greatest stylists of the nineteenth century. In “The Legend of St. Julian, Hospitaler,” he deliberately adopts the naïve colors and simplistic story line of a twelfth century stained glass window, a tour de force of hidden effort and sophistication. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment lies in his transposition through words of the visual imagery of his supposed model. The tableaux emblematic of the stages of Julian’s life are set within the narrative frame of the story as glass medallions are set within their lead strips. In the opening pages, the reader sees Julian’s parental estate, serene and perfect in its sunny beauty, complete even to the pots of heliotrope and basil on the windowsills. The prophets appear before Julian’s parents in carefully set-off scenes, parallel and balanced, as if two medallions were set side by side. Julian’s hunting days bring careful presentations of emblematic animals, beavers, and stags. His battles are shown with red donkeys and golden Indians, colorful combatants drawn from exotic lands. Even his princess and her fairy-tale castle are drawn with the same brilliant colors and endowed with the same clearly defined static unity. The reader feels the effect of these visually composed scenes long before the final paragraph explains them in its identification of story and church window. It is Flaubert’s triumph to unite the themes of faith and redemption with a narrative technique capable of bringing his scenes clearly before the eye, to enable his reader for a short time to walk with Julian in the sunlit Age of Faith.