- Sentimental Education - Gustave Flaubert
- A Cultural Bulletin
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- Sentimental Education; Or, The History of a Young Man. Volume 1 by Gustave Flaubert
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Sentimental Education - Gustave Flaubert
La Tribune, le Pays and l'Opinion nationale on the other hand have highly praised me As for the friends, the persons who received a copy adorned by my hand, they have been afraid of compromising themselves and have talked me of other things. The book is selling very well nevertheless, in spite of politics, and Levy appears satisfied.
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I know that the bourgeois of Rouen are furious with me "because of pere Roque and the cancan at the Tuileries. In short, I have received very few laurels, up to now, and no rose leaf hurts me. All the papers cite as a proof of my depravity, the episode of the Turkish woman, which they misrepresent, naturally; and Sarcey compares me to Marquis de Sade, whom he comfesses he has not read! All that does not upset me at all. By virtue of seeking the form, it makes the substance too cheap!
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But there are no men of letters, properly speaking. Before everything, one is a man. One wants to find man at the basis of every story and every deed. That was the defect of l'Education sentimentale, about which I have so often reflected since, asking myself why there was so general a dislike of a work that was so well done and so solid.
They submitted to the event and never mastered it.
Well, I think that the chief interest in a story is what you did not want to do. If I were you, I would try the opposite; you are feeding on Shakespeare just now, and you are doing well! He is the author who puts men at grips with events; observe that by them, whether for good or for ill, the event is always conquered. In his works, it is crushed underfoot.
L'Education sentimentale has been a misunderstood book, as I have told you repeatedly, but you have not listened to me. There should have been a short preface, or, at a good opportunity, an expression of blame, even if only a happy epithet to condemn the evil, to characterize the defect, to signalize the effort.
All the characters in that book are feeble and come to nothing, except those with bad instincts; that is what you are reproached with, because people did not understand that you wanted precisely to depict a deplorable state of society that encourages these bad instincts and ruins noble efforts; when people do not understand us it is always our fault.
What the reader wants, first of all, is to penetrate into our thought, and that is what you deny him, arrogantly. He thinks that you scorn him and that you want to ridicule him. For my part, I understood you, for I knew you. If anyone had brought me your book without its being signed, I should have thought it beautiful, but strange, and I should have asked myself if you were immoral, skeptical, indifferent or heart-broken.
You say that it ought to be like that, and that M. Flaubert will violate the rules of good taste if he shows his thought and the aim of his literary enterprise. It is false in the highest degree.
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When M. Flaubert writes well and seriously, one attaches oneself to his personality. One wants to sink or swim with him. If he leaves you in doubt, you lose interest in his work, you neglect it, or you give it up. I have already combated your favorite heresy, which is that one writes for twenty intelligent people and does not care a fig for the rest. It is not true, since the lack of success irritates you and troubles you. Besides, there have not been twenty critics favorable to this book which was so well written and so important.
So one must not write for twenty persons any more than for three, or for a hundred thousand. One must write for all those who have a thirst to read and who can profit by good reading. Then one must go straight to the most elevated morality within oneself, and not make a mystery of the moral and profitable meaning of one's book. People found that with Madame Bovary. If one part of the public cried scandal, the healthiest and the broadest part saw in it a severe and striking lesson given to a woman without conscience and without faith, to vanity, to ambition, to irrationality.
They pitied her; art required that, but the lesson was clear, and it would have been more so, it would have been so for everybody, if you had wished it, if you had shown more clearly the opinion that you had, and that the public ought to have had, about the heroine, her husband, and her lovers.
Sentimental Education; Or, The History of a Young Man. Volume 1 by Gustave Flaubert
That desire to depict things as they are, the adventures of life as they present themselves to the eye, is not well thought out, in my opinion. Depict inert things as a realist, as a poet, it's all the same to me, but, when one touches on the emotions of the human heart, it is another thing. You cannot abstract yourself from this contemplation; for man, that is yourself, and men, that is the reader.
Whatever you do, your tale is a conversation between you and the reader. If you show him the evil coldly, without ever showing him the good he is angry. He wonders if it is he that is bad, or if it is you. You work, however, to rouse him and to interest him; you will never succeed if you are not roused yourself, or if you hide it so well that he thinks you indifferent. He is right: supreme impartiality is an anti-human thing, and a novel ought to be human above everything.
If it is not, the public is not pleased in its being well written, well composed and conscientious in every detail. The essential quality is not there: interest. The reader breaks away likewise from a book where all the characters are good without distinctions and without weaknesses; he sees clearly that that is not human either. I believe that art, this special art of narration, is only worth while through the opposition of characters; but, in their struggle, I prefer to see the right prevail.
Let events overwhelm the honest men, I agree to that, but let him not be soiled or belittled by them, and let him go to the stake feeling that he is happier than his executioners.
You must have success after that bad luck which has troubled you deeply. I tell you wherein lie the certain conditions for your success. Keep your cult for form; but pay more attention to the substance. Do not take true virtue for a commonplace in literature. Give it its representative, make honest and strong men pass among the fools and the imbeciles that you love to ridicule.
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Show what is solid at the bottom of these intellectual abortions; in short, abandon the convention of the realist and return to the time reality, which is a mingling of the beautiful and the ugly, the dull and the brilliant, but in which the desire of good finds its place and its occupation all the same. View all 25 comments. The real interest of this classic is in its writing, sought after, stylized, beautiful. It is true that in the face of such prose the story of a long list of mediocre characters, misguided petty bourgeois or decadent aristocrats is of little importance.
Moreover, she remains largely in the embryonic state, not avoiding the lengths caused by the endless procrastination of the hero, madly in love with a married and faithful woman. This novel is considered to be an autobiography of Flaubert, it is The real interest of this classic is in its writing, sought after, stylized, beautiful.
This novel is considered to be an autobiography of Flaubert, it is also proof that genius can do a lot with not much View all 9 comments. Jul 17, notgettingenough rated it it was amazing Shelves: pre20th-century , humour , french. What an achievement. Writing it, not reading it. I marvel that he has written a book with no character for which one could have a shred of sympathy and yet somehow we sit there caring what happens. I mean, really caring, reading through breakfast caring.
You're worth the whole damn bunch put together. But here th Finished. But here there isn't one character to redeem the story and yet, even so, even though they are rotten without exception, still Flaubert gets you to care. And then again, I marvel that the book is a complete shambles - The rest is here View all 11 comments. Feb 23, Geoff rated it really liked it. The buildings he makes out of words hold the world, and I want to call him King of the Paragraph, because his seem so measured, so precise, so carefully wrought.
His emotional sketches are just as profound and rich as his inventories of space; his sketches of those characters void of human emotion are equally as profound. Flaubert is almost that Joycean image of the author pairing his nails, detached, his handiwork submerged in refinement. Because above all Flaubert is a satirist.