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16 October 2010

The Seven Ages of Gustave: an odd micro-biography of Flaubert

I thought this might be an interesting way to look at someone's life.

Good:  1821.  Gustave born as the second son in a prosperous middle class family.  His father Achille-Cleophas is head surgeon in Rouen and has an international reputation
Bad:  1817-22.  The death of three of the Flaubert children.  Gustave’s father thinks little of his newborn son’s health, and has a grave prepared for the eventuality that doesn’t come.
Flaubert: 1830.  “I love reading most”

Good:  1843-44.  A law student in Paris, he meets eminent writers such as Victor Hugo.
Bad:  1844.  Attacks of violent seizures, leading to his withdrawl from school and prompting his mother to protectively and stiflingly watch over him…for much of the rest of his life.
Flaubert:  1846.  “I showed them the bottom of the bag (himself), and the acrid dust that rose from it made them choke.”

Good:  1846.  Flaubert begins a passionate affair with Louise Colet, “the muse” as his friends refer to her.
Bad:  1846. Flaubert begins a passionate affair with Louise Colet.  His father dies.
Flaubert:  1846.  “Deep within me there is a radical, intimate, bitter and insistent boredom which prevents me from enjoying anything and smothers my soul.”

Good:  1849-51.  Flaubert travels to the orient.
Bad:  1848-49.  His best friend Alfred Le Poittevin suddenly dies.  He throws himself into the writing of The Temptation of Saint Anthony.  He reads it to his friends and they immediately advise him to burn it and never think on it again.
Flaubert:  “To me, friendship is like a camel: once started there is no way of stopping it.”

Good:  1851-57.  Flaubert writes Madame Bovary.
Bad:  1851-57.  Flaubert finds the writing to be one of the most painful and exacting experiences of his life.  He is often miserable as he writes, and he detests the subject matter.  The payment for his efforts is prosecution for indecency by the government.  Flaubert resents the success of the book all his life as it casts him as only a one book author to the public.
Flaubert:  “What an awful thing life is, isn’t it?  It is like a soup with lots of hairs floating on the surface.  You have to eat it nevertheless.”

Good: 1864.  Presented to the emperor.  The height of the social ladder.
Bad:  1872.  The death of his mother and his last good friend, Theophile Gautier.
Flaubert:  1875.  “I feel uprooted, like a mass of dead seaweed tossed about in the waves.”

Good:  1880.  Honored by all of the major writers, Flaubert continues to work on a new book, Bouvard and Pecuchet, which he considers to be his best.
Bad:  1880.  Flaubert dies before he completes the book, tired, lonely, and thanks to his ineptitude with money, at the edge of poverty. 
Flaubert:  1880.  “But when will the new book be done?  That is the question…there are moments when I am so tired that I feel like I’m liquefying like an old Camembert.”

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