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.

A Simple Heart

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The orphaned Felicite is treated badly in her youth, first by a cruel master and later by jealous fellow servants. Disappointed in love at age 18, she leaves her neighborhood to become cook and general servant for a widowed mother, Madame Aubain. In that position, she lives a life filled with duty, devotion, and affection. Flaubert tells the story in a simple manner which emphasizes the value of Felicite’s humble life.

At Madame Aubain’s, Felicite enters a routine which makes her life seem orderly. By conscientious work, she makes herself necessary to the family. Most important to her happiness is her increased freedom to love.

She loves Madame Aubain’s two children, Paul and Virginia, courageously saving them from an angry bull. She accidentally discovers a lost sister whose family she helps from her tiny income and whose son, Victor, becomes a favorite. Victor and Virginia both die young. Felicite’s grief at their loss is as great as Madame Aubain’s for her daughter. The two women first express simple affection for each other when they one day go through Virginia’s long-kept clothing.

When the children are gone, leaving only Madame Aubain for Felicite to love, she begins to collect objects which remind her of them, such as Virginia’s felt hat. Her prize possession becomes Loulou, a parrot which reminds her of Victor because it came from America, where he died. The parrot becomes so important to her that, upon its death, she has it stuffed. She eventually becomes deaf and loses Madame Aubain. In her increasing isolation, she clings to the image of the parrot, which becomes for her an image of the Holy Ghost, a symbol of what she has loved and of her power of loving simply.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Unlike the other two tales which make up the collection Three Tales, ''A Simple Heart'' is not a historical reconstruction. It is a...

(The entire section is 518 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Point of View
Critic Victor Brombert has said that Flaubert's great accomplishment in ‘‘A Simple Heart’’ was that he...

(The entire section is 602 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Gustave Flaubert has been called the master of ‘‘Art for Art's Sake.’’ Research the literary school of realism and the idea of...

(The entire section is 192 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

The Awakening is author Kate Chopin's turn-of-the-century masterpiece. Often compared to Madame Bovary, this short novel...

(The entire section is 228 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Brombert, Victor, '‘‘Un Coeur simple': Tenderness and Irony.’’ In The Novels of Flaubert: A Study of Themes...

(The entire section is 83 words.)