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Flaubert: A Biographyby Frederick Brown
"Frederick Brown has received deserved praise in the past for his biographies of Jean Cocteau and Émile Zola....Even higher praise is now due for his Flaubert. Written with literary flair and restraint, graced by many a happy turn, this biography is sustained by patient build-ups. It covers considerable ground and takes the reader into many side alleys, but never loses its sense of focus and continuity." Victor Brombert, The Times Literary Supplement (read the entire TLS review)
Synopses & Reviews
Gustave Flaubert (18211880), whose Madame Bovary outraged the right-thinking bourgeoisie, is now brought to life as the singular person and artist he was.
As Frederick Brown reveals, Flaubert was fraught with contradiction — a sedentary man who took epic voyages through Egypt and the Middle East; a man of genius who could be flamboyantly uncouth, but was fanatically devoted to beautifully cadenced prose. While making much of his camaraderie with male friends, Flaubert depended upon the emotional nurture of maternal women, notably George Sand, with whom he engaged in a justly celebrated correspondence. His assorted mistresses — French, Egyptian, and English — fed both his richly erotic imagination and his fictional characters, and his letters provide a record of them. Flaubert's time and place literally put him on trial for portraying lewd behavior in Madame Bovary. His milieu also made him a celebrity and, indirectly, brought about his financial ruin. Flaubert died suddenly at the age of fifty-nine, and soon afterward, his beloved retreat near Rouen was torn down and converted into a distillery to cover his niece's debts. He privately dreamed of popular success, which he in fact achieved with Madame Bovary, but never sacrificed to it his ideal of artistic integrity.
Frederick Brown's magisterial biography honors his subject's life, times, and legacy.
"At last, a biography commensurate with the outsize personality and genius of Gustave Flaubert (1821—1880). Brown, author of an acclaimed biography of Zola, offers a tantalizing, penetrating study that embeds the author of Madame Bovary in his time and place: a tumultuous Paris during the revolution of 1848 and the period of expansion and greed known as the Second Empire. But even more than Paris, for all that he despised the provincial, Flaubert's place was his native Rouen, in Normandy. As Brown writes in a graceful opening paragraph: 'It was the province that furnished his imagination.... It was the landscape of his youth and of all his seasons. It was the taste in his mouth and the verdant prison where he dreamed of deserts.' Brown achieves a kind of Flaubertian distance in describing his subject and his circle, a dispassionate objectivity that includes a subtle sense of the comic in their often neurotic, self-dramatizing behavior: he sees the bourgeois in a man who professed contempt for everything bourgeois, and he calls Flaubert's mistress Louise Colet his 'antimuse.' (Refreshingly, Brown takes no sides in the reciprocal torment that was their love affair.) Brown illustrates the torrents of romanticism flowing through Flaubert that he had to dam up in writing Madame Bovary — which now appears as a near-epic feat of artistic self-mastery. Rich, full of passion and tragedy, overflowing with keenly portrayed characters, this superb biography gives us an unforgettable portrait of a literary master: exuberant yet anxious, brilliant yet full of self-doubt, a man who best savored the women he loved in their absence, an artist who claimed to scorn fame but reveled in it once achieved, who couldn't bear loss but whose life was sadly filled with it. 24 pages of b&w photos. Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Brown recognizes Flaubert's enduring legacy, providing a model of artistic integrity for Kafka and a sense of the usable past for Cather. A landmark biography." Booklist (Starred Review)
"A profound look at an important French literary era, told with verve and wisdom." Kirkus Reviews
"The 24 chapters not only offer a vivid, detailed, and accurate account of Flaubert's life, they also provide relevant historical background for Europe, France, and Rouen, Flaubert's birthplace....Highly recommended." Library Journal
"[Brown's] magnificent new book is at once a history of 19th-century France and a brilliant exercise in character animation." James Wood, The New York Times Book Review
From the highly acclaimed author of Zola: A Life comes the definitive biography of Gustave Flaubert on the 150th anniversary of Madame Bovary's publication.
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