Flaubert's Search for an Identity: Some Reflections on Un Cœur Simple Author(s): C. H. Wake Source: The French Review.

Special Issue, No. 2, Studies in Nineteenth-Century French Literature (Winter, 1971), pp. 89-96 Published by: American Association of Teachers of French Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/487606 Accessed: 20/04/2010 14:33
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not from the author. as the Correspondance so eloquently reveals. Flaubert seems to have created a characterendowed with a happy ability to reconcile emotional aspiration with reality. was due to the perpetual intellectual analysis of himself and of others to which he was addicted. The effect of the tale's opening sentence. Winter. In F61icit6." Unfortunately. At the end of the chapter is the sentence: "et. but in fact it is not. is seen as having positive elements of virtue. isolated as it is at the beginning of the chapter. there is the bitise of the majority of the remaining characters in the tale. 89 . 2. To this extent at least it would seem that Flaubert had more than just a sneaking sympathy for his hapless heroine. to some extent at least. Flaubert's Search for an Identity: Some Reflections on Un Ccur simple by C. Vol. H. to the sort of person she is: an uneducated. Flaubert's use of the style indirect libre in the opening chapter of the tale is so over-refined that it is easy to read it the other way round. Nevertheless. He takes great care in his tale to distinguishtwo ratherdifferent kinds of bitise: on the one hand. F61icit6's.on the other hand. 1956. fonctionnant d'une manitre automatique"(p. but from the "bourgeoisesde Pontl'Evique. F6licit6's simplicity of mind is a blissful state which Flaubert. This is largely due. It is important to realize that the first impression we have of F6licit6 comes. longed to attain. mainly because it is a blend of common-senseand human understanding.the heroine of Un Cceursimple. No. toujours silencieuse. Wake MUCH OF FLAUBERT'S MENTAL UNHAPPINESS. itself the product of an oversophisticated mind which was incapable of accepting the facts of life and finding peace in this acceptance.THE FRENCH REVIEW. is to suggest 1 References to the text of Un simple are to E.(elle) semblait une femme en bois. XLIV. since they can influence our attitude to what follows. at certain moments.not particularlyintelligent servant. 6). First impressions are often crucial. who are portrayedas selfish and shortsighted.Flaubert shows up the bitise of this latter group through their own comments on F6licit6's lack of intelligence. which. la taille droite et les gestes mesur&s. Maynial's edition of the Cceur Trois Contes. of course. 1 This may seem to be Flaubert's comment. Garnier. 1971 Printed in Spain. Special Issue.

which like her deafness mainly serves to emphasise her position. she lives in a world which has no place for her. too. all virtues housewives of any age look for in a servant. The whole first chapter is. The "bourgeoises"are.. farm noises. and it recalls the envibrent of the opening sentence. is. and she impresses them with her reliability. completely contrasted throughout the tale with F6licit6. "Loulu. It is essentially the dignity of self-control. imitait Mme Aubain. This is not a dignity prompted by pride. in effect. The parrot becomes her intermediary with the world and it mocks the world: "Comme pour la distraire. not merely because of her class. but also and chiefly because of her sympathetic and emotional insight. it is similar to the way in which the absurdities of society came to Flaubert through his art. la taille droite et les gestes mesur&s". It is significant that the parrot mocks Mme Aubain who. 3). later emphasised symbolically by her deafness. Like Flaubert himself. In a sense. reflects her isolation from an insensitive. which again reminds one of Flaubert himself. the only noise that reaches her is the voice of an exotic bird that seems to mock the pettiness of human society by imitating it. 56).l'appel aigu d'un vendeur de poisson. human speech. la scie du menuisier qui logeait en face. is not what it seems to the "bourgeoises": it is the reflection of her innate dignity. the symbol of the outside world. dans son isolement. The key word in this statement is semblait: this was how she appeared to the friends and neighbours of her employer. les bourgeoisesde Pont-l'Ev~que envibrentL Minme Aubain sa servante F6licit6" (p. with which she cannot really communicate. she is a robot. but more that of someone who does not let life get the better of her. il reproduisait le tic tac du tournebroche. All noise associated with human activity . It is only as the tale unfolds that her true personality reveals itself.'F6licit6! la porte! la porte!'" (p. 57).church bells. unwelcoming world from which she gradually withdraws more and more. There is therefore a double meaning in the phrase: "toujourssilenOn the one hand we have the cieuse. Flaubert's. looking at F6licit6 from the outside. interpretationof the "bourgeoises. in other words.90 FRENCH REVIEW that all that follows is known to and seen by the women of Pont-1'Ev~que: "Pendant un demi-sidcle. as Mme Aubain's is. a prolonged but rather subtly camouflaged reporting by the author of what Aubain's friends and neighbours thought of her servant F6licit6. as it were. as employers of servants. un amoureux"(p. et. &tait presque un fils.is beyond her. Mmine What we are told in this chapter is the kind of thing that people who employ servants always talk about."and on the other. aux coups de la sonnette. Her upright bearing. in his desire not to reveal himself in his . Thus the parrot gradually becomes more and more associated with what is beyond trivial reality by being linked in F6licit6's mind with the Holy Ghost. F6licit6's silence. hard-work and self-effacement.

not to allow his emotions to dictate his appearanceto others. does not. This difference of behaviour is only superficially a difference of class. Even before she had become a servant in a middle-class household.FLAUBERT 91 work. in a way that Mme Aubain. When Victor dies. poussa des cris. This could be taken as the obsession of the ignorant mind with the trivial. When F6licit6 is deserted by Theodore. whereas when Virginie dies "le d6sespoir de Mme Aubain fut illimit6" (p. But at a deeper level. 35). even at a moment of great emotional stress. 10). 39). and this is how we are at first tricked into seeing it as well. whereas. as for example when Th6odore leaves her. Thus. F6licit6 struggles to control her emotion from breaking out in the presence of others. It takes Mme Aubain a long time to recover from Virginie's death. nearer home. and it always occurs in private. in Mme Aubain. 45). her emotional reaction to sorrow is as violent as anyone else's. in spite of Fdlicit6's attempts to encourage her to pull herself together. when Victor dies. We have just seen how she controls her emotions until she is alone. appela le bon Dieu. having been reminded to do this by the sight of other women passing by the window on the way to do theirs. when F6licit6 is overcome by emotion it is all the more striking. Similarly when the news of Victor's death is brought to her. then she goes out to finish her washing. There is no waste of gesture in F61icit6 as there is in Emma Bovary or. The contrast is also brought out on the subject of the absence of letters from the beloved children. and after her accident. but it is. rather typical of the emotionally self-indulgent. In private. it is difference of temperament. et g6mit toute seule dans la campagne jusqu'au soleil levant" (my italics) (p. When she hears the news of Victor's death. cathartic: she gets it out of her system by her violence. F6licit6's "gestes mesuris" are not unrelated to this characteristicof dignity. F6licit6 had been accustomed to bearing her griefs in private. largely through that innate sense of dignity and apartness which we have already noted. while F6licit6 has endured the lack of news from Victor in silence for six months: "Et jamais elle ne parlait de ses inqui&tudes" (p. The reader's first reaction to this piece of information is to think of Fdlicit6 as slow. in addition. and we realise that these are the gestures of a woman for whom every gesture is meaningful. Mme Aubain feels no comparison can be made between her suffering and that of her servant. Flaubert uses Mme Aubain to emphasise this aspect of F6licit6's personality by contrastingher behaviour with F6licit6's in similar emotional situations. she forces herself to keep a grip on her feelings. Mmine Aubain marches up and down the room complaining about Virginie's failure to write. "elle se jeta par terre. in fact. Flaubert is here revealing his . This is how the "bourgeoisesde Pont-l'Evique" see it. She sews. "elle retenait sa douleur" (p. At the tale develops the true sense of this phrase becomes clearer.

What Bourais mistakes for lack of intelligence is simply ignorance. it is she who saves them. Flaubert set out to move us to pity . but in the reader's realisation that he has identified himself with the views of the "bourgeoisesde Pont-l'Ev~que"and not with the author's own interpretation of Filiciti's lack of intelligence. She has far more initiative and common-sense than anyone around her. faire pleurer les ames sensibles. Anyone who has taught in parts of the world where education is a novelty will have had this experience with minds more accustomed to the visible world around them. She is not sorry for herself. The short piece of straight narrative which precedes this remark obscures Flaubert's real intention and misleads the hasty reader. The final comment in this passage 2 Correspondance. and reflects what Bourais says. in fact.or over-subtlety. the readers who are sorry for her. 7C s~rie. dated 19 June 1876. as Mme Aubain invariably is when things go wrong. 307. maps are intensely mysterious. especially when others are present. en 6tant une moim~me". completely incomprehensible. For people of this kind. This is. In moments of intense grief. because we mistake her strengths for weaknesses and because we have fallen into the trap set for us by Flaubert through the subtlety. The real irony of the tale is not so much in the revelation of the futility of F6licit6's illusions. In other words. not what the author thinks about F6licit6.92 FRENCH REVIEW usual impeccable insight into human behaviour. as Flaubert clearly did."je veux apitoyer. In her ignorance Fdlicit6 has a simple trust in other people's knowledge. It is we. is not afraid of them and acts accordingly. it would be natural for a reserved person to carry on mechanically with routine tasks so as to escape the scrutiny of others. Another statement which draws the distinction between the two kinds of intelligence is the passage in which Bourais tries to show F6licit6 Havana on the map.because they are so completely abstract. she was just doing the sensible thing. 37). 39).of his style. a piece of style indirect libre. Conard. 1930. and she asks to be shown the very house in which Victor was living: "elle qui s'attendait peut-8tre i voir jusqu'au portrait de son neveu. Significantly. she rejects the suggestion that she was prompted by courage. and not in so far as we condescendingly feel sorry for someone outside ourselves. Letter to Mme Roger des Ge- .2 But we are moved to pity only in so far as we identify ourselves with F6licit6. She knows her limitations. nettes. F~licit6 is essentially a realist. When she and the Aubains are chased by a bull. Fdlicitd's emotion passes into her activity: "les coups qu'elle donnait s'entendaientdans les autres jardins Ac6t6" (p. Flaubert could not have chosen a better example. tant son intelligence 6tait born6e!" (p. F6licit6 has the kind of mind in which the practical sense keeps the emotions in check and in perspective. p.

par un aprbs-midi d'automne. le vent. Letter to Louise Colet dated 23 December 1853. Rodolphe and Le6n became for Emma the expressions of her romantic dream. Compare this with the famous quotation: "c'est une delicieuse chose que d'6crire. It may not be without significancethat Flaubert made this comment to Caroline while he was still writing Un Ccur simple. "Dis lors. 35).3 What Flaubert means is that one must project oneself into people or things that exist objectively outside oneself. This is an identification with something outside herself. Writing to his niece Caroline in July 1876. 1927. Aujourd'huipar exemple. et j'&taisles chevaux. homme et femme tout ensemble. je me suis promen6 g cheval dans une for&t. The essential thing is that she does not wish to possess it or to make it her own. because F6licit6 fits exactly into this definition. 3e s&rie.FLAUBERT 93 comes obviously from Flaubert himself. craignait pour lui la foudre" (p. autrement on tombe dans l'ocdan des tristesses. . as Emma does. 37). destroying Emma's dreams in the process. amant et maitresse a la fois. Les jours de soleil. Crois-en un vieux plein d'expdrience". il ne faut jamais rover qu'g un objet en dehors de nous. F6licit6 pensa exclusivement Ason neveu. que de ne plus 8tre soi. Flaubert cannot resist the temptation to express his contempt for Bourais. Emma Bovary's misery was due to the fact that she did not allow people to exist in their own right. but invested them with all kinds of romantic and unreal attributes. quand il faisait de l'orage. 28). 323. il lui sembla qu'elle 6tait elle-mime cette enfant" (p. and they quite naturallyreacted against her attempts to manipulate them. 70 s&rie. and with Victor when he is abroad. the cuistre. Her imaginative sympathy and her ability to identify herself with others are exactly the same as Flaubert's: "avec l'imagination que nous donnent les vraies tendresses. elle se tourmentait de la soif. p. Flaubert told her: "Autant que possible. les feuilles. mais de circuler dans toute la creation dont on parle. les paroles qu'ils se disaient et le soleil rouge qui faisait s'entrefermerleurs paupibresnoy6es d'amour". p. and puts the situation clearly into perspective: "et (Bourais) avait un beau sourire de cuistre devant I'ahurissement de F6licit6" (p. however much it may be a product of her own imagination. sous des feuilles jaunes. It is an identification which leads to pity or affection for 3 Correspondance. 4 Correspondance. and that one must accept the objectivity of their existence.4 F6licite's imaginative sympathy is such that she completely identifies herself with Virginie at her first communion. 404. As usual when he writes of what he despises.

First. This inner fullness is the secret of F6llicit6'ssuccess as a person. when Bourais absconds with the money that has enabled her to live according to her class. which we only see towards the end of her life. suivant son mot. But the significant thing is that she does not harp on her failure beyond an initial feeling of disappointment. Mais une occupation vint la distraire" (p. her whole world. both spiritual and material. finally. elle n'entendait ~ rien. however. The important thing is. as it were. and Paul turns out totally unlike his namesake. and she does fail occasionally. it is full of prized relics from the past. Emma failed because she longed for the people who inhabited her dreams to respond. worthless in a material sense. She is not a dreamer in the same way that Emma was.but because of her capacity for replacing it by a new preoccupation. that she retains her fullness of personality. her emotions are never idle.. she always transfers her need to love to a new object. Flaubert did once say that only the past . 25). who lives in a world of dreams built around her past and her children. Regret for a lost affection never lasts long in F6licit6. She is very human in her need to give affection. "F6licit6 regrettait son tapage.94 FRENCH REVIEW another. elle demanda la permission de recevoir son neveu Victor" (p. it is Virginie. when in any case she is on the whole more concerned with finding some new outlet than with her sense of loss.The day after Virginie's first communion she goes to communionherself and is disappointed when she does not experience the same exaltation as the day before.This is perhaps symbolized by her room. F6licit6 is also left with very little. it is Victor.). F6licit6 is not perfect. collapses.. This particular incident serves to give additional relief to F6licit6's normal behaviour and it also more effectively contrasts her with Mme Aubain. except in the interim period. Ses doigts trop lourds casd6sceuvrement saient les fils. not to any kind of self-pity. Virginie's death is anything but romantic. Dans son t elle essaya de faire de la dentelle. FdlicitC is deeply distressed by the loss of the person she loves--"la perspective d'une telle absence d6sola F6licit6" (p. "elle s'ennuyait de n'avoir plus peigner ses cheveux (. In the material sense. 32) . Gradually Mme Aubain's dreams collapse around her and. When Paul left home. avait perdu le sommeil. // Pour 'se dissiper'. instead her lovers fled from her. of course. to the extent of giving the latter names from romantic literature. After Virginie's death. &tait 'minde'. Everything is fine again once she has found something that will absorb her emotional energy. and when she no longer has Virginie. 30). It derives partly from her imaginative sympathy and partly from the fact that she lives in the present. but she never expects to receive it in return.

It is possible that Flaubert intended us to see a parallel with the widow's mite of the Gospel: "A poor widow came and put in two small coins.. p.FLAUBERT 95 and the future were real.. It is a symbolism which." Correspondance. Then he called his disciples and said to them. This does not mean denying the past. In a sense he embodies the author's insight and final comment on F6licitd. it gives it. 7e sbrie. but the parish priest silences them and. p. 363. l1re sbrie. vv. Letter dated 4 December 1876. But in Un Cceur simple he shows that it is only by living in the present. 6 But is this the case here? Taken purely and simply in its context.Her neighboursmake fun of this offer. 41-44. in the reality of an existing emotion. the symbol is perhaps less ironical than it seems. cela m'amuse et quand enfin j'ai d~couvert la corruption dans quelque chose qu'on croit pur. quoted from the 7erusalem Bible. all she had to live on. or. but she from the little she had has put in everything she possessed. nor is it merely a trick of her failing senses. in fact. Flaubert's joy at unearthing the corruption in things men love runs through his work." Correspondance. je lIve la tite et je ris. the equivalent of a penny. rather.more objective and sympathetic point of view. Darton. Longman & Todd. an important symbol. transcendsits immediate context 5 "Le Present est tout ce qu'il y a de moins important. 1910. . as every critic has noted. His gesture invites us to cease thinking of F6licit6 with the "bourgeoisesde Pont l'Evique" and to look at her from another. 6 ". Le vrai. After all. The parrot is. la gangrene aux beaux endroits. insaisissable. in spite of its decay. c'est le Passe et 1'Avenir. F6licit6 keeps her past with her---hence all the relics in her room.et je m'analyse davantage. like Flaubert's devotion to an art he knew to be fundamentally futile. he accepts her offer. 7 Mark 12. worm-eaten parrot. like all symbolism.' "7 The priest of Un Cceur simple is not like Emma's Bournisien. It is tempting to see it as ironical: the absurd attachment of the blind and deaf old lady to a stuffed. 5 and his work is created out of a meditation on this. Je dissique sans cesse. she keeps what remains of it with her in the present and renews her emotional life. as the essence of her whole life and love. His gesture gives the parrot an absolute value. for they have all put in money they had over. 'I tell you solemnly this poor widow has put more in than all who have contributed to the treasury. moi et les autres. F6licit6's identification of the parrot with the Holy Ghost is not merely due to her stupidity or simplicity of mind. But she does not spend her time in vain regrets for what has been lost. 38. that one can know true fulfilment and true happiness. the full value that it has for F6licit6. We are prepared for the tale's ending when F6licit6 offers her 'seul tr6sor' as an ornament for the street altar during the Corpus Christi procession. understanding what this means to her. car il est tris court. 1967.

but the Holy Ghost who assumes the parrot unto himself. UNIVERSITY OF KENT 8 Correspondance. It is not the parrot that assumes the appearance of the Holy Ghost. It is a form of apotheosis exactly parallel to the transformationof the leprous body of Christ at the end of Saint ?ulien. . In a letter to Ernest Chevallier in 1839. l1re s~rie. p. mais enfin quelque chose de complet et entier. for it is the story of a woman who has an identity." 8 This longing seems to me to be at the root of Un Ceur simple. une identit6. athde ou mystique.96 FRENCH REVIEW and suggests the final sanctification of F6licit6's life by God. Flaubert wrote: "O que je donnerais bien de l'argent pour etre ou plus bate ou plus spirituel. 59. quelque chose en un mot. Letter dated 19 November 1839.

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