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Gustave Flaubert

Gustave Flaubert (1821–1880) is widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest novelists, and his work continues to influence and inspire contemporary writers, artists, and musicians. Flaubert was determined from a young age to become a writer and achieved sudden fame in 1857 when his first published novel, Madame Bovary, resulted in an unsuccessful prosecution for obscenity. In his subsequent work—including the carefully researched Carthaginian novel, Salammbô, the contemporary Parisian novel Sentimental Education, the obsessively reworked Temptation of St. Anthony, and the unfinished comic masterpiece, Bouvard and Pécuchet—Flaubert continued to reflect on the human condition and on the rapidly changing society of his time, while constantly striving for new forms of literary and stylistic perfection.

In this new critical biography, Anne Green draws on Flaubert’s voluminous correspondence and unpublished manuscripts to reveal the extent to which his writing was haunted by traumatic early experiences. She weaves discussion of his work into an intimate account of Flaubert’s life and volatile character, following him from his childhood in Rouen to his student days in Paris, from his extensive travels through North Africa to the imperial court of Napoleon III. Green pays special attention to Flaubert’s close family relationships, love-affairs, and friendships with literary figures, including Turgenev, Sand, Zola, Maupassant, and the Goncourt brothers. This concise and informative biography is a must-read for lovers of literature everywhere.

208 pages | 34 halftones | 5 x 7 3/4

Critical Lives

Biography and Letters

Literature and Literary Criticism:

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"Green’s crisp, readable account offers a concise overview of Flaubert’s travels, friendships, and novels, with chapters devoted to each of the three major works, Madame Bovary, Salammbô and Sentimental Education. Of these, Salammbô in particular—following Green’s influential evaluation of the novel in her earlier Flaubert and the Historical Novel—can be read as a critique of the social divisions and increasing influence of the bourgeois in Second Empire France. . . . Citing the critic James Wood—‘Flaubert changed literature forever'—Green positions her subject not only as a writer of novels about the past, but as one whose work has altered the course of literary history."

Times Literary Supplement

"Having famously stated, 'I would like to drown humanity in my vomit,' Flaubert would have despised the many ways his work has been absorbed into popular culture. His legacy, however, goes far beyond such easy commercial exploitation as Bovary beauty products, sci-fi adaptations, and interactive computer games. Flaubert changed the course of literature; thus, his outsize personality, life, and genius matter. . . . Green captures in just 175 pages the essence of one of the most iconoclastic and important figures in literary history. Published in the excellent Critical Lives series, this richly researched, compact, even minimalist study offers an intimate portrait of a volatile, melancholy man haunted by traumatic experiences, extravagant tastes, and lifelong self-doubt. Using published and unpublished sources, Green reveals Flaubert’s intellectual and emotional life in short, telling anecdotes about his travels, relationships with family and friends, and the unremitting, often overwhelming struggles he faced when writing. Some three-dozen judiciously selected images complete this magnificently concise portrait of a complicated man who never got his wish 'to be forgotten, to be left in peace, never to be talked about' but might just have read this biography with approval. . . . Essential."


"This slim book, consistent with the constraints of Reaktion’s Critical Lives series, is a remarkable achievement. Acknowledging that her subject has unsurprisingly attracted many biographers, Green modestly adds that 'no biography, however, can hope to capture fully Flaubert’s defiantly original imagination or the paradoxes of his iconoclastic, sensitive, irascible, humorous, combative and loyal nature.' Notwithstanding such a caveat, hers goes a considerable way towards accommodating these multiple and often contradictory dimensions of his life and art. The challenges of brevity are all the greater for the specialist (and Green is certainly that) who knows too much. But an intimate familiarity with Flaubert’s voluminous correspondence allows Green to isolate, within a broadly chronological narrative, the key moments of the writer’s existence. . . . 'BOOK. Always too long, whatever it is,' Flaubert noted. Not this one."

Journal of European Studies

“This is a brisk, compact, and pleasurably lucid life-and-works narrative addressed to the general reader, traversing the known ground in properly consecutive fashion. Beautifully produced, printed on heavy paper—the kind that does justice to images—the book presents Flaubert in the most favorable terms. The account of the contemporary reception of Salammbô is expertly detailed. We get a sympathetic account of the grinding distress—physical, financial, and emotional—of Flaubert’s final years. There is a nicely eclectic epilogue which catalogues Flaubert’s posthumous international influence on the art of the novel.”

French Studies

Table of Contents

1 The Early Years, 1821-40
2 Coming of Age, 1840-44
3 Deaths and Desires, 1844-8
4 The Orient, 1848-51
5 The Madame Bovary Years, 1851-7
6 The Salammbô Years, 1857-62
7 The Sentimental Education Years, 1862-9
8 Struggles and Defeats, 1869-74
9 The Final Years, 1874-80
10 Flaubert’s Legacy
Select Bibliography
Photo Acknowledgements

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