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Flaubert: A Biography Hardcover – April 6, 2006
This month's Book With Buzz: "The Lying Game" by Ruth Ware
From the instant New York Times bestselling author of blockbuster thrillers "In a Dark, Dark Wood" and "The Woman in Cabin 10" comes Ruth Ware’s chilling new novel, "The Lying Game." See more
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. At last, a biography commensurate with the outsize personality and genius of Gustave Flaubert (1821–1880). Brown, author of an acclaimed biography of Zola, offers a tantalizing, penetrating study that embeds the author of Madame Bovary in his time and place: a tumultuous Paris during the revolution of 1848 and the period of expansion and greed known as the Second Empire.But even more than Paris, for all that he despised the provincial, Flaubert's place was his native Rouen, in Normandy. As Brown writes in a graceful opening paragraph: "It was the province that furnished his imagination.... It was the landscape of his youth and of all his seasons. It was the taste in his mouth and the verdant prison where he dreamed of deserts."Brown achieves a kind of Flaubertian distance in describing his subject and his circle, a dispassionate objectivity that includes a subtle sense of the comic in their often neurotic, self-dramatizing behavior: he sees the bourgeois in a man who professed contempt for everything bourgeois, and he calls Flaubert's mistress Louise Colet his "antimuse." (Refreshingly, Brown takes no sides in the reciprocal torment that was their love affair.)Brown illustrates the torrents of romanticism flowing through Flaubert that he had to dam up in writing Madame Bovary—which now appears as a near-epic feat of artistic self-mastery.Rich, full of passion and tragedy, overflowing with keenly portrayed characters, this superb biography gives us an unforgettable portrait of a literary master: exuberant yet anxious, brilliant yet full of self-doubt, a man who best savored the women he loved in their absence, an artist who claimed to scorn fame but reveled in it once achieved, who couldn't bear loss but whose life was sadly filled with it. 24 pages of b&w photos. (Apr.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine
Geoffrey Wall's 2002 biography, Flaubert: A Life, sought to unwrap the inscrutable author through Freudian analysis, but critics seem to prefer Brown's more straightforward approach. The literary biographersee Brown's Zola: A Life (1995)delivers the earthier elements of Flaubert's story with panache and marshals an impressive array of research on French history to provide rich context for his story. If Brown has a tendency toward an overwhelmingly detailed exegesis of Flaubert's works, it's not detraction enough to halt declaring this the biography of record.<BR>Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
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Top customer reviews
The news is that in FLAUBERT you will find out far, far more than you ever wanted to know, unless you are a French Literature major (or professor) and need to dig deep. This is no doubt one of those masterworks which appear from time to time on great writers or figures in world history. Every detail of Flaubert's 58 years in this vale of tears is here, dug from letters, documents, and no doubt thousands of devoured pages by the indefatigable Brown. Everything is laid out in a vast panorama of 570 pages. In the first forty pages alone you will read about the state of medicine and medical education in France in the 1820s, about Rouen and Flaubert's antecedents, drama and the stage in the 1820s and '30s, and the psychological effects of living in a hospital where dissections were conducted daily. French education in the 19th century and Flaubert's school experiences, the development of railways in France, epilepsy and "cures" of the time , and the political atmosphere surrounding the events of 1848 are all included in a tremendous amount of detail. Indeed, I would say that often Flaubert disappears into this mass of detail. His trips to Corsica and the Middle East involve hardships and a great amount of sexual hijinks.
I don't wish to criticize the book or the author. It is a masterpiece, as I said. However, unless you REALLY need so much detail, this may prove to be a bit too rich for your blood. Do you need to know a lot about his friends? About the only woman he seems to have loved, but never married? Can you wade through all of this, keeping in mind throughout that it went into the writing of "Madame Bovary", "A Sentimental Education" and "Salammbo"? I found it hard and wound up skipping some pages because I cannot be so expert on French culture and society, and wanted to know in a clearer (OK, read: succinct) fashion exactly what the author thought. Just as Flaubert did not like the social pressure and intensity of Paris life, fleeing to a rural home for most of his life, never marrying, decrying "the bourgeois" at the same time as living very well, I would have liked less reality and more summing up, perhaps a shorter and more direct work on the construction and importance of his oeuvre.
And so I began to read; and I dove for my dictionary. I struggled through roughly one-hundred pages of nearly incomprehensible sentences-going-nowhere, as far as I could make out, full of imperspicuous words that only a scholar could love, as he sat looking down with haughty distain upon the ignorant masses of ordinary readers - like me. I seemed to recall having encountered the name of Flaubert, once or twice, in all of those pages; but for the most part, I thought that the author was attempting to paint a picture of that particular part of France where Flaubert was born and grew up - but failing quite miserably: like an artist who was blind in both eyes, whose tubes of paint had dried up, and who was using the wrong end of the brush, to top it all off!
I reached the bottom of page after page feeling that I might have spent my valuable time to much better advantage picking lint from my sweater.
So at last I gave up: turned the frame to the wall. After bravely struggling through one hundred pages of dry, loquacious nonsense, I came to the conclusion that the best thing I could do was to go on-line and see II could scare up some old former Nazi who would be more than willing to set fire to my copy of this insufferable tome, if only for old time's sake.
Having thought better of this delicious idea, I instead flipped ahead fifty pages or so to see what was up further in. And holy smokes! It appeared that our scholarly scribbler had finally run out of breath! and had turned over his pen to somebody else, one who had a much better ability to communicate! I found, to my pleasant surprise, that this new voice was saying something of worth about the life of this writer Flaubert! (I had remembered the name from the title of the book.)
But alas, all things must pass, and I found, reading on, that this was too much like reading a technical report, a mere repetition of historical record (which is, of course, what a biography must be based on), with no life to it, like an autopsy report. I set this book down once again and ordered the bio by Henry Troyat, whose bio of Chekhov I had enjoyed very much.
Sorry to have been so critical: perhaps that fact that my wife had up and left me again might have had something to do with it - the ugly old witch!
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