Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

An omniscient, third-person narrator leads the reader into the world of Félicité and the Aubain family, laying out the vignettes of daily life that finally combine to form a portrait complete in all particulars. Great care is taken to produce an impression of point-to-point congruence with reality, as if one is reading a biography. Thus, many dates are explicit; the reader learns that M. Aubain died in 1809, that Victor Leroux sailed for Havana in 1818, and that Loulou died in 1837. However, although these dates are scattered throughout the story, they serve as points of reference for an orderly narration and do not overpower it. The tone of “A Simple Heart” is always steady, unemotional, even in dealing with the most touching of scenes. Dialogue is the ordinary, simple expression that predominates. The author’s eye is avid for the homely detail; he exhibits Félicité as she eats her meals, slowly and deliberately, picking up the crumbs of her bread with a moist fingertip, Félicité cherishing little Virginie’s moth-eaten hat as a holy relic, Félicité wearing a traditional Norman headdress whose wings mimic those of the parrot Loulou.

Flaubert’s description of Félicité is framed by his evocation of her whole milieu, with pithy descriptions of typical characters such as the family lawyer, an aged veteran of the Terror of 1793, and Mme Aubain’s daughter-in-law. The reader sees the Norman countryside, breathes the sea air with Virginie, attends catechism class in the country church, and joins the procession on the feast of Corpus Christi. Flaubert is known as a great stylist, forever dedicated to the search for le mot juste, the right word. Here, this famous search produced clear and pungent images, compact yet satisfying, which continue to bring readers into the world of Félicité Barette.