Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Gustave Flaubert (author of Madame Bovary)

Since I am about to embark on a Madame Bovary read-along hosted by Nonsuch Book I decided to look briefly at the life of its author Gustave Flaubert. This is something I quite often do when reading classic novels as I find that having an understanding of the author's life and when they wrote it helps put the novel into context.

Flaubert was born in 1821 in France and began writing from a very early age. In 1840 he went to Paris to study Law but decided he didn't like it and dropped out. His first finished work was completed in 1842 and was a novella entitled November which was about a young boy and his relationship with a courtesan

He completed Madame Bovary in 1850 It took him 5 years to write. The government immediately tried to charge Flaubert and the publisher for immortality but was acquitted. Madame Bovary has stood out from among his works due to the realist and more truthful view of life which inspired future writers. The book is set at a time when there was a great rise of power among the bourgeois middle class which Flaubert detested. According to Wikipedia, the reader should therefore view the passages of the book where the country French customs are detailed as social criticism.

Flaubert never married instead seeking long-lasting friendship and travel companions. He certainty didn't have this attitude when it came to his sex life however and enjoyed both male and female prostitutes which he was very open about in some of his travel writings. These exploits resulted in him contracting syphilis in Beirut and for most of his life he suffered from various vernerial diseases. Nice. It's just as well he didn't marry really as a case of the clap does not make a good wedding gift.

Flaubert died in 1880 at the age of 58 from a cerebral haemorrhage.

Well it'll be interesting to read a book which has a style which inspired future writers such as Kafka but it seems that Flaubert could certainly give Madame Bovary a run for her money in the naughty behaviour category.

Posted by Jess


  1. Great post! I know absolutely nothing about Flaubert and Madame Bovary is his only novel I have read.

  2. Yeah I agree, excellent post. The only thing I knew about Flaubert was the Madame Bovary trial.

  3. Ah, you're going to love Madame Bovary! Flaubert was notoriously fussy about his writing. He would write and rewrite passages until there was not one word he was completely satisfied with. Because of this I think it's important to be careful which translation you read! I've been eyeing Lydia Davis' translation ... I've read some previous books that she has translated and they have been phenomenal ... which translation do you plan on reading?

  4. Stephanie - I hope I really enjoy it after all this :)

    Toni - he was quite an extensive travellor going all over the middle east but funny he set Madame Bovery where he was born.

    IngridLola - I wasnt going to read Lydia DAvis's translation but I have now caved and ordered it. No wonder it took him 5 years to write Madame Bovery though eh?

  5. I read Madame Bovary earlier in the year and although I quite enjoyed it, I didn't think it was wonderful. I have no idea which translation I read though.

  6. I could not agree more it does make it somehow more interesting to know something about the author. It is a long time since I read Madame Bovary, but I think you will enjoy it and I shall look forward to your review.
    Thanks also for your recent comments on my review of 'The White Tiger' to which I have now replied.

  7. Well, that is kind of funny. Thanks for all the great background info! I am really looking forward to all of us reading this together. Can't believ how close we are now. Many thanks!

  8. Thank you for the background info! I hope I will receive the book in time to join the readalong. It looks so beautiful that I cannot wait to read it.