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The Family Idiot

Gustave Flaubert, 1821–1857, An Abridged Edition


The Family Idiot

Gustave Flaubert, 1821–1857, An Abridged Edition


An approachable abridgment of Sartre’s important analysis of Flaubert.
From 1981 to 1994, the University of Chicago Press published a five-volume translation of Jean-Paul Sartre’s The Family Idiot: Gustave Flaubert, 1821-1857, a sprawling masterwork by one of the greatest intellects of the twentieth century. This new volume delivers a compact abridgment of the original by renowned Sartre scholar, Joseph Catalano.
Sartre claimed that his existential approach to psychoanalysis required a new Freud, and in his study of Gustave Flaubert, Sartre becomes that Freud. The work summarizes Sartre’s overarching aim to reveal that human life is a meaningful adventure of freedom. In discussing Flaubert’s work, particularly his classic novel Madame Bovary, Sartre unleashes a fierce critique of modernity as nihilistic and demeaning of human dignity.

304 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2023

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory

Philosophy: General Philosophy, History and Classic Works

Psychology: General Psychology


“The nihilism of the imaginary, as it is elaborately anatomized in The Family Idiot, is [not] a mere nineteenth-century curiosity or a local feature of some specifically French middle-class culture; nor is it a private obsession of Jean-Paul Sartre himself. Turning things into images, abolishing the real world, grasping the world as little more than a text or sign-system—this is notoriously the very logic of our own consumer society, the society of the image or the media event . . . [The Family Idiot] may well speak with terrifying immediacy [today].”

Fredric Jameson, on the unabridged edition | New York Times

“A virtuoso performance. . . . For all that this book does to make one reconsider his life, The Family Idiot is less a case study of Flaubert than it is a final installment of Sartre’s mythology.”

New York Review of Books, on the unabridged edition

The Family Idiot, Sartre’s last magnum opus, a penetrating and challenging analysis of Gustave Flaubert, has remained less well known than his earlier works, in large measure because of the inordinate length of the original version. Catalano’s superb, masterful abridgment, together with his introduction and occasional explanatory notes, is destined to stimulate important new scholarly explorations by philosophers, psychologists, students of literature, and so many others.”

William McBride, Purdue University

Table of Contents

Editor’s Introduction
Chapter One
Problem: A Family Idiot Who Became a Genius
Chapter Two
Quidquid volueris
Chapter Three
Gustave at Fifteen
Chapter Four
A Rediscovered Childhood
Chapter Five
To Act or To Write
Chapter Six
Being Seen
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Birth of the Garçon
Chapter Nine
A Review
Chapter Ten
The Last Spiral: The Event
Chapter Eleven
Hysterical Commitment: Neurosis as Response
Chapter Twelve
Approaching Conversion
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
The (Second) Problem
Chapter Fifteen
(The Problem Concluded): The Objective Spirit
Chapter Sixteen
Neurosis: Personal and Objective
Chapter Seventeen
Objective Neurosis and Madame Bovary
Editor’s Conclusion

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