You are on page 1of 31

Gustave Flaubert: Eleven Letters

Author(s): Geoffrey Wall


Source: The Cambridge Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 3 (1996), pp. 213-242
Published by: Oxford University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/42967732
Accessed: 06-05-2018 01:31 UTC

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide
range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and
facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at
http://about.jstor.org/terms

Oxford University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access
to The Cambridge Quarterly

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
Gustave Flaubert: Eleven Letters

Newly translated from the French


by Geoffrey Wall *

Translator's Introduction

THIS SELECTION OF ELEVEN LETTERS is taken from my translation of Flauberťs cor-


respondence which will be published by Penguin Books in 1997. They are letters which
have not been translated before in their entirety and I think that they add up to a compel -
lingly improvised portrait of the artist.
At the age of twenty -eight Flaubert extricated himself from the sheltering sorrowful
company of his recently -widowed mother, pocketed his inheritance, about thirty thou-
sand francs, and embarked on an eighteen-month tour of the Orient. It was an immense
escapade. But it cured him of his mere yearning for the exotic, the archaic and the un-
bourgeois. Like a mirage floating above the surface of the hot sand, Flauberťs Orient
existed somewhere just beyond the shabby historical reality of mid-nineteenth century
Egypt. This peculiar Orient comes across in his letters as a special psychic zone, a glor-
iously impossible place where the picturesque, the sentimental and the grandiose, the
grotesque, the erotic, and the banal could flourish, unreconciled and undiminished.
On his return, in a series of letters to Louise Colet, Flaubert confided his ambitions for
Madame Bovary. These letters are often quoted. They seem to explain the novel. But
they make slightly different sense when we remember that they were hammered out, with
a certain antagonistic relish, specially for Louise Colet. They go against the grain of
everything she believed about love and art. More deviously, they conceal just how much
of Louise Colet was going into the making of Madame Bovary.
The final piece I have chosen for the sequence is not a letter but the private record of a
curious and disturbing dream that came to Flaubert in 1856, just as he was putting the
finishing touches to Madame Bovary. This dream links women, in various guises, to
an underlying fear of death. Mother, sister, crone and courtesan: they gather round the
sleeping, dreaming author of Madame Bovary. Unmanned by these visions of the
night, he woke in some disstress, to find himself completely hoarse. " I have lost my voice "

* Copyright © Geoffrey Wall 1995

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
214 THE CAMBRIDGE QUARTERLY

he said plaintively in the letter he wrote that same mor


nal of his dream-Empress. It was a nicely appropriate
upon the man who had trespassed so audaciously into the

Geoffrey Wall

1. Arrival in Egypt
To Louis Bouilhet.1
Cairo, 1st December 1849, Saturday night, 10 o'clock.

Let me begin, my old friend, by kissing your cheeks and blowing onto
this paper every ounce of my inspiration so as to bring your spirit towards
me. Anyway I'm sure that you are thinking a hell of a lot about us, because
we, out here, are thinking a hell of a lot about you, and we miss you a hun-
dred times a day. Yesterday, for example, my dear sir, we were in a bordello.
But let us not anticipate. At this moment the moonlight is shining on the
minarets, all is quiet, dogs bark now and then; outside my window, with
the curtains open, there is the dark mass of trees in the garden, standing
out against the pale shades of the night. I am writing on a square table
covered with a green cloth, lit by two candles and taking my ink from an
ointment pot. Near at hand, about ten millimetres away, repose my minis-
terial instructions, eagerly awaiting the day on which I use them to wipe
my bum. Behind the partition I can hear young Maxime2 mixing his
photography chemicals. The mutes are asleep upstairs, that is to say Sasset-
ti and the dragoman; which dragoman, if the truth were known, is the most
downright pimp, ruffian and old catamite you can imagine. As for his lord-
ship, I am wearing a Nubian shirt, made of white cotton, decorated with
tassels and cut in a fashion it would take too long to describe. My head is
clean shaven, except for a lock of hair at the back (by which Mahomet lifts
you up on the day ofjudgement) and I am equipped with a tarboosh which
is spouting red in colour and had me expiring with heat for the first few
days. We are both looking jolly oriental, Max especially is tremendous
when he smokes his narghile and twiddles his beads. Considerations of
safety thwart our sartorial yearnings; Europeans get more respect in
Egypt, so we won't get ourselves properly muffled up until we reach Syria.
And what about you, you poor old beloved bugger, what are you up to in
that wretched country of ours which disconcertingly figures so tenderly in

1 Louis Bouilhet (1822-69): a school-friend of Flaubert's, Bouilhet was a medical


student and a minor poet, latterly Flaubert's confidant, alter ego and indefatigable
editor.
2 young Maxime : Maxime Du Camp (1822-94), journalist, editor and photogra-
pher, he was a student friend, currently Flaubert's travelling-companion. Du
Camp's photographic record of their journey was published in 1852.

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
GUSTAVE FLAUBERT: ELEVEN LETTERS 215

my daydreams. I keep thinking about o


heard the sound of the wrought-iron gate
notebook and then you . . . When shall we
sations by the fire, slumped in my green a
aenis coming along? And the bits of travel-
further notice write to me in Cairo, Egyp
envelope: chargé de mission en Orient. If you
your letter towards the end of the month.
I am quite sure that as a man of some int
me to send you a narrative of my travels.
notes up to date. So far I have not writte
book, except yesterday I read three of Ho
ment while I was smoking my chibouk
something to amuse you in your lodgings
friend Huart and the stuffed owls. In a wor
ings thus far: not greatly impressed by na
desert (apart from the mirages); immensel
people. Hugo would say: ťI was closer to Go
comes from having done more dreaming, m
of everything to do with horizons, greener
with houses, streets, costumes and faces. It
and a discovery of the rest. But there is a
expected to see which is immense here, I
comedy of the slave being thrashed, the gr
ling merchant, it's all very innocent here,
In the streets, in the houses, for no obvio
right and left with a cheerful largesse. Th
sound like the cries of wild beasts, and la
nous white robes, and ivory teeth chatteri
noses, dusty feet, and necklaces and bracel
pacha held a dinner with ten negroes to se
ets, some had silver bracelets; a little black
with a whisk made from reeds; we ate
brought in, one dish after another on a silv
a long procession. We were in a wooden
open, on divans, with a view of the sea.
One of the most splendid things here is t
ing this strange animal that skips along lik
like a swan. I am quite worn out trying to im
before we leave, but it is difficult because
that quivers somewhere beneath the scr
probably have had more than enough of t

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
216 THE CAMBRIDGE QUARTERLY

from Cairo to Jerusalem across the desert b


take at least 25 days. There will be twelve ca
picture us perched on their backs? Once we ge
expire from fatigue. Anyway if the dromedar
the Mediterranean has done, I shall have the u
know, my dear sir, that I was the most jovial
the sea was atrocious (we were rolling, we wer
through the crossing, eleven days, I was eatin
was so agreeable with my lewd stories, my wi
so on that the crew adored me. I believe I cou
Le Nil. I acquired, while on board, the followi
are expecting, they rarely happen. I was afrai
felt a twinge; Maxime and young Sassetti we
the handrail I used to watch the waves in the
vain) to bring to mind all the historic memo
vouring, while my eyes were quite simply and
like any cow. Several times I thought about Ra
and his seventeenth-century coat, straining
'the liquid field and the wet mountain'3 with
his mind's eye, and what a tranquil hubbub i
The morning of the day we arrived in Egypt
the chief quartermaster and I saw that old Egy
The palace of the old Pacha stood out white on
saw. Approaching the shoreline, from the di
the baths of Cleopatra, we noticed a man wa
On the quay-side there were several Arabs
stones, fishing, with the most tranquil expre
behind a little brig with the name Saint-Malo w
splashed noisily into the water, from the head
dropped anchor. A whole flotilla of canoes fu
was, consuls, all rushed upon us. There was
shrieking people; they got tangled in the long
turbans, they threw the baggage down, over
whole business seasoned with cudgels falling ac
ahin. Scarcely had we set foot on land when t
enced an erection at the sight of a negress dr
He is equally excited by negro boys. By whom
by what?

3 the liquid field and the wet mountain : an allusion to a description of the sea in
Racine's Phèdre.

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
GUSTAVE FLAUBERT: ELEVEN LETTERS 217

In Alexandria, the evening we arrived, w


They were celebrating the circumcision o
the shadowy streets where the motley cr
Here in Cairo we have seen similar droll
saw the faithful singing Allah's praises at
lelogram, they were waddling along and d
them was giving the note and shrieking
perfect and their jokes are in the best tas
dragoman translated for us, more or less,
tor at home in bed, and a knocking on hi
door: - Who's there? - it's so-and-so. - N
so-and-so. - No . . . Who's knocking thi
then!

'festerday in the square we saw a juggler with a boy of 7 or 8 and two


little girls. The boy was an engaging urchin who apostrophised the
crowd thus: 'Give me five farthings to eat honey in honour of the
prophet and I'll bring my mother for you to fuck,' and there was laugh-
ter at this, CI wish you prosperity in everything and may you especially
have a very long cock.'
In one scene where he was talking to a deaf man, after he had tried to
make himself heard by shouting down each ear in turn, he eventually in
desperation began to shriek into his bum.
Tomorrow we are going for a party on the water with several whores
who will play the castanets and dance to the sound of the drabukeh with
gold piastres in their hair. I shall try to make my next letter less incoher-
ent (I've been interrupted twenty times with this one) and send you
something worth while. The day before yesterday we went to see a wo-
man who organised a pair for us to fuck. The dilapidated room, open to
the winds, was dimly lit, a palm-tree visible through the broken windows,
and the two Turkish women were wearing silks embroidered with gold. In
this land they revel in contrasts, things of beauty gleaming in the dust. I
did my fucking on a straw mat, having shooed away a litter of cats. Bi-
zarre coitus, when you gaze at each other without being able to speak.
The gaze is shadowed by curiosity and astonishment. Anyway I had only
a modest orgasm, being so aroused in my head. Those shaven cunts have
a peculiar effect. Anyway their flesh was as firm as bronze and mine had
a wonderful pair of buttocks.
Farewell, you poor old bugger. Think of us, write to me, write to my
mother now and again, it would give her great pleasure, and let her know
as soon as you receive news from me. We send you our embraces. Keep slog-
ging away. We shall have plenty to talk about when we get home.
Farewell, best wishes.

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
218 THE CAMBRIDGE QUARTERLY

2. The Pyramids
To His Mother,
Cairo, 14 December 1849.

[. . . J Eight days ago today (Friday), at four in


at the foot of the hill where the Pyramids are. T
gins. It was too much for me, I spurred my horse
likewise, and I reached the foot of the Sphinx.
scribable, it would take ten pages, and what page
and my companion went as white as this paper t
sun was setting, the Sphinx and the three Py
though they were drenched in the light; the old
with a terrifying immobile expression. I shall n
moment. We slept there for three nights, at the
Pyramids, and frankly it was terrific. The more
ger they seem to be. The stones, which at twenty
bles, are about the size of a man. And when you
get progressively larger, as when you climb a m
before dawn, we began the ascent. The Arabs who
two of them in front pulling you and two pushi
you are swept aloft almost in spite of yourself.
was on my last legs, gasping for breath, when I rea
about a quarter of an hour. Once I got my breat
around the platform I saw a sheet of white paper
what was printed on it? HUMBERT'S FLOOR-
had left before me and, without pausing for a re
mid as fast as he could and set up, unknown to
And when I think that I had deliberately brough
Croisset and that it wasn't me who put it there
advantage of my forgetfulness and filched the
right inside my collapsible hat.
The rest of the day was spent visiting the inter
underground chambers, the tombs where I did no
a dangerous descent indeed, and scarcely worth a
getting down. We entertained some English trav
fered them a pipe and a cup of coffee and all sort
changed. Next day: excursion on horseback
photographs, making notes. The wind in the nigh
a ship's sail. Our lantern was burning, hooked to
ered to stakes, were snorting; Giuseppe, with h
cooking up the supper, and all around their fires
their prayers or listening to someone telling a

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
GUSTAVE FLAUBERT: ELEVEN LETTERS 219

holes that they dig with their hands in th


like corpses in their graves. No getting awa
debris of every description, the earth arou
of human bones. To fix my horse's bridle m
of the horses) used a bone for want of anyt
is furrowed by underground passages that
At Memphis we camped at the edge of th
near the Colossus of Sesostris which lies o
nothing left of Memphis. There are only p
splendid green grass and, here and there, a
top speed when you gallop towards them.
highly respected; our weapons and the me
reasons, it must be said as well that many of
are French and the poor devils never know
morning of the day before yesterday, the
back to Cairo by a different road, riding a
the Nile all the way, going slowly to prolo
we took seven hours over a journey that on
I mentioned greenery. That might sound
two faces, there is Egypt proper, the part
actually greener than Normandy, and right
the desert, so that the two colours side by
landscape, seen from the top of the Pyram
meadows and mosques, then the desert, th
is purple in the dawn, grey at midday and
peculiar. [. . .]

3. Here we are in Egypt


To Drjules Cloquet,4
Cairo, 15 January 1850.

[. . . ] Here we are then, in Egypt, the land


Ptolemies, the kingdom of Cleopatra (as the
are, and here we abide, with our heads sha
ing long pipes and drinking our coffee ly
How can I write to you about it? I have sca
astonishment. It is like being dropped fas
one of Beethoven's symphonies, the brass
bling away and the flutes are sighing. The
tight, squeezes you and the more engrossing

4 Dr Jules Cloquet a colleague of Flaubert


companion on a tour of southern France in the

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
220 THE CAMBRIDGE QUARTERLY

in the ensemble. Then, little by little, it begin


place according to the laws of perspective. But
the devil take me, it's an astounding hubbub
imagination, as if it were at a firework displa
you go walking along with your mouth open
ered in white storks, the terraces of the hous
stretching out in the sun, the sections of wall
through them, the little bells on the dromedar
and great flocks of black goats are making thei
ing at the horses, the donkeys and the mercha
everyone carries their little cloth-covered l
(^footman) run through the streets carrying g
left hands. There is jostling, there is argument, t
ing about, there is swearing of all kinds, there
ent languages. The raucous Semitic syllables clat
of a whiplash. 'bu come across every costume i
all its peoples (I'm talking about here in Cairo
dox priest with his long beard, going along on
embroidered jacket, the Copt in a black turban,
the desert Bedouin with his face the colour o
lemnly swathed in his white robes. . .
In Europe we imagine the Arabs as being ver
very cheerful, very artistic in their gestures an
cisions and marriages seem to be merely pretex
On those days you hear in the streets the shrill g
on their donkeys, all bundled up in their veils,
ing like great black moons rolling along on the
legged creature. The authorities are so remote f
ter enjoy an unlimited (verbal) freedom. The w
the press) would convey only a feeble notion o
lowed in the public streets. The clown, in thi
sublimest form of cynicism. If Boileau, who f
cent, had known Arabic, what would he have s
Arabic scarcely needs a translator to make its
elucidates any difficult words. It's not just ani
mers in various obscene tableaux.
For all who observe with any attention, there are many more rediscoveries
than there are discoveries. A thousand notions that one had only in an em-
bryonic state grow larger and more distinct, like a memory resurrected. For
instance, as soon as we disembarked at Alexandria, I saw before me a living
illustration of the anatomy of Egyptian sculpture, high shoulders, long tor-
so, slender legs, and so on. The dances that we have had performed for us

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
GUSTAVE FLAUBERT: ELEVEN LETTERS 221

are all too hieratic not to be derived from


perpetually young because nothing ever c
the Bible is a portrait of contemporary li
years ago the death penalty was still impo
Exactly as it was in the days of Apis! As y
and offers great opportunities for talking
from that as far as we possibly can. If we
we get back , nothing shall leak out until
articles or extracts from letters for La Re
without, in spite of my promises, it being m
for many years yet, this for several reaso
which I shall explain to you later on, my d
You can guess, from what I have already
here. We spend all day rambling round
tombs. We come back in the evening quite
of humming-tops. Sometimes we pause fo
'bu tear up the meat with your fingers, yo
drink water from bowls, the vermin runs
room belches fortissimo : it is delightful. Y
that we have had some excellent meals there and that the coffee has an ar-

oma that could lure you, I mean you, all the way from Paris to Cairo.

4. The Dictionary of Received Ideas


To Louis Bouilhet.

Damascus, 4 September 1850.

[. . .] Mediocrity or excellence, what does it matter? Personally I have


renounced all concern for posterity. A prudent decision. My mind is made
up. Unless an excessively literary wind happens to start blowing in a few
years time, I have firmly resolved not to make the press groan with any of the
midnight oozings of my brain. 'bu and my mother, and the others (for it is a
wonderful thing how people are never allowed to get on with living their
own lives) used to rebuke me for the way I lived. Just you wait until I get
back again, and you shall see whether or not I have changed. I shall fling
myself back into my burrow and, even if the world comes to an end, I shall
not venture out. Action - unless it is frenzied - is becoming more and
more antipathetic to me. Without even looking them over, I have just sent
back several silk scarves that were brought for me to choose from. I only
had to look up and make a decision. But the mere prospect of this exertion
so overwhelmed me that I sent the merchants away without buying any-
thing from them. Had I been the sultan I would have flung them through

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
222 THE CAMBRIDGE QUARTERLY

the window. I was full of malice towards anyone


sort of activity. But let us get back to our bottle
Should you think that your bother is going to
you are quite mistaken. I have shared the burden
These days nothing of that sort causes me any an
in the Hotel-Dieu5 which now shelters the youn
tell of all the vexation which, for twelve years,
young men sitting by its fire, I do believe that
upon the bourgeois souls who now live there. Al
amazing, how often I think of him, how many t
him, all still unshed. How we talked to each othe
and we flew so high. . .
Be careful, lest you come to enjoy worrying, it
the matter? I should like to be there, to kiss you
you a swift kick up the arse. What you are feeling
of the great effort you have put into writing Mel
brain of a poet is like a cotton-spinning machine
without fatigue or respite. Gome off it lad! Ho
Look at yourself in the mirror and brush your
of the nation that causes your indisposition? Th
the bourgeois, because it hurts him in his pocke
and then, an adolescent anguish. Novembre1 co
going a Renaissance, or could it be the decrepit
som-time? I have, however, recovered (not
dreadful blow I had with Saint Antoine .8 I am n
still somewhat stunned, but I am no longer feeli
the first four months of my journey. I saw ever
sorrow that this disappointment had cast over m
self the silly phrase you used in your letter: 'Wh
However I am making some progress. (Perhaps
chat about my travels, fresh air, far horizons, b
feel myself becoming more sensitive and more

5 the Hotel-Dieu : the family home of Flaubert's chil


the hospital in which his father was chief surgeon.
6 Alfredy the poor fellow. Alfred Le Poittevin (1816-
Flaubert's boyhood, a fellow-romantic and an elective
dox pursuit of a legal career (with marriage) was a g
bert. His premature death in 1848 was still vividly pre
7 Novembre : the most distinctive of Flauberts yet-u
1842 it commemorates his discovery of sexual love.
8 the dreadful blow I had with Saint Antoine : Flaubert
1849. Having sat through four days of the manuscr
Bouilhet and Du Gamp had advised him to throw it in

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
GUSTAVE FLAUBERT: ELEVEN LETTERS 223

things can bring tears to my eyes. My hea


every opportunity. Insignificant things g
into endless reveries and distractions. I al
too much to drink; as a result, I feel eve
standing what is being explained to me.
more and more. Then great literary frenz
feast when I get back. There.
I'm glad that you're thinking about the Dic
book, done thoroughly, ; with a good pref
thing is to wed the public to tradition, o
with the materials arranged so that the r
we're taking the piss, it might be a rather
ful one, for it would be intensely topical.
If there is no great debacle when the Pr
1852, 10 if the bourgeois eventually triump
be shackled for another hundred years; in
public will perhaps be ready for literary
reaction, away from action and towards
ment. On the other hand if we are hurled into the future who knows what

kind of Poetry will appear? There will be Poetry, so come on, let us not
weep or curse, let us accept everything, let us be accommodating. I have
just been told something astonishing: 'The English are planning a railway
line that will run from Calais to Calcutta.' It will cross the Balkans, the
Taurus, Persia and the Himalayas. Alas! Will we be too old not to lament
perpetually the sound of the wheels of Hector's chariot?
InJerusalem I read a socialist book (Auguste Comte's Essai de philosophie
positive). It was lent to me by a crazy Catholic who desperately wanted me to
read it so that I would realise what a threat. . . etc. I skimmed through a
few pages: it is stunningly stupid. I was not mistaken. It contains an im-
mense wealth of comedy, California-fulls of grotesquerie. Perhaps there is
something else as well. It is possible. One of the first things I shall devote
myself to studying when I return will certainly be 'those deplorable utopias
which are disturbing the social order and threatening to reduce it to rubble.'
Why not make the best of the purposes proposed to us? They are as good as
any other. Looking at things impartially, there have been few more
promising. Ineptitude: a thirst for conclusions. We say to ourselves: 'But where

9 Dictionary of Received Ideas : a compendium of bourgeois cliches, it was published


posthumously without an introduction.
10 when the President comes up for election in 1852. Louis-Napoleon, nephew of the Em-
peror Napoleon, had been elected President of the Second Republic in 1848. He
would in fact seize power and declare himself Emperor Napoleon III in December
1852.

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
224 THE CAMBRIDGE QUARTERLY

do we stand? And who is going to win?' I see a


bud, one is too old and the other is too young,
attitude is not to understand the time of twilig
or midnight. Do we care what tomorrow looks
It has an enormous grin on its face and is ther
Romanticism.

Has the Bourgeois ever been more gigantic than now he is? What is Mo-
lière's in comparison with this? Monsieur Jourdain doesn't come up to the
ankle of the first biznessman you meet in the street. And the envious phizog
of the proletarian? And the young man on the make? And the magistrate?
And everything fermenting away in the brains of fools, everything simmer-
ing in the hearts of scoundrels!
Yes, stupidity is the need for conclusions. We are but one thread and we
want to know the pattern. It comes back to those eternal discussions about
the decadence of art. These days we spend our time telling ourselves: We are
completely finished, this is the last moment, and so on. Since the time of
Homer, what mind of any stature has ever reached a conclusion? Let us be
content with the tableau, this is the way things are, very well then.
Anyway, my poor old friend, is there not the sunshine (even the Rouen
sunshine), the scent of new-mown hay, the shoulders of women of thirty, the
old book by the fireside and the sight of Chinese porcelain? When every-
thing is dead, the imagination will rebuild entire worlds from a few elder-
flower twigs and the shards of a chamber-pot.

5. A Vision of the Parthenon


To Louis Bouilhet.

Patras, 10 February 1851.

[. . .] How are you? What are you doing? Materially, I mean. Quid de
Venere ? It's been a long time since you've told me about your youthful indiscre-
tions. As for me, my horrible chancres have finally closed up. The indura-
tion, though still hard, seems to be going. But something else is going too,
even more quickly, namely my hair. I shall greet you in a skull-cap. I shall
be bald, like a man who works in an office, like a worn-out notary, the most
effing stupid sort of premature senility. It grieves me. Maxime teases me.
Perhaps he's right. The feeling is feminine, unworthy of a man and a repub-
lican. I know; but I take it as the first symptom of a decay which is humiliat-
ing and keenly felt. I am growing fat, I'm getting a paunch and I look so
vulgar it would make you want to vomit. I am about to join the ranks of
the men that whores wince at, when it comes to shagging. Perhaps I shall
soon be mourning my lost youth, and like the granny in Béranger, bewail-
ing all the years I wasted. Where are you now, O opulent curls of my eight-

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
GUSTAVE FLAUBERT: ELEVEN LETTERS 225

eenth summer, ye that hung down to my


and pride!
Yes, I'm ageing; I feel as if I can't manage anything half decent these days.
I'm afraid of everything when it comes to style. What am I going to write
when I get back? That's what I keep on asking myself. I thought a lot about
my Nuit de Don Juan, while riding along, these last few days. But it seems to
me to be very commonplace and very threadbare, it's just a version of the
same old story of the nun. To do justice to such a theme would require an
immensely powerful style, totally flawless. Add to all this the fact that it's
raining, that we are in a wretched tavern waiting for the steamer to arrive
several days from now, that my travels are over, and that it's making me
sad. I want to go back to Egypt, I can't stop thinking about India - what
fools these mortals be, and this one in particular!
Even after the Orient, Greece is beautiful. I was deeply moved by the
Parthenon. It equals the Gothic, no matter what they say, and above all I
think it's more difficult to understand. [. . .]
The Parthenon is the colour of brick. In certain places there are tints of
bitumen and almost of ink. The sun shines upon it almost constantly, what-
ever the weather. Birds come and perch on the dismantled cornice, hawks
and crows. The wind blows between the columns, goats browse over the
grass in among the broken pieces of white marble that shift about under
your feet. Here and there, in holes, piles of human bones, left over from
the war. Little Turkish ruins in among the great Greek ruin and, in the dis-
tance and forever, the sea!
Among the pieces of sculpture found on the Acropolis, I particularly no-
ticed a little bas-relief depicting a woman fastening her shoe and also a sec-
tion of torso. The two breasts are all that remain, from the throat to just
above the navel. One of the breasts is covered, the other is bare. What a pair
of tits! Good God! What a tit! It is apple-plump, full, abundant, well sepa-
rated from the other, heavy in your hand. It has a maternal fecundity and
an amorous sweetness that are dizzying. Rainwater and sunlight have
turned the white marble a rich yellow. It's a tawny colour that is almost like
flesh. It's so tranquil and so noble. You'd think it was about to swell up as the
lungs draw in the air and begin to breathe. How well it carried its delicately
pleated drapery. How I would have wallowed upon it with tears in my eyes,
how I would have fallen on my knees before it, my hands joined! Standing
in front of it, I felt the beauty of the expression stupetaeris. A little longer and
I would have prayed.
Because, my dear sir, there are so many different kinds of boobs. There is
the apple boob, the pear boob, the lewd boob, the bashful boob, and God
knows what besides. There is the kind created for the coach driver, the big
plump down-to-earth boob that you pull out from under a grey cardigan,

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
226 THE CAMBRIDGE QUARTERLY

where it sits cosy, warm, cheerful and firm. The


weary, flabby and lukewarm, bouncing up and
boob that is displayed by candlight, that peeps o
the kind you rub your cock over, the kind that
the significant segment of boob which is lit up b
from theatre balconies, white boobs of seeming
like the desire which they spark. They smell goo
cheek and they make the heart beat faster. Prid
ous surfaces, they are rich and they seem to be t
and wank yourself, you wretched thing. Wank a
is the uddery boob, pointed, orgiastic, proletaria
shaped containers that gardeners use to store see
elongated, and wide at the end. The sort of wom
fashion, completely naked, in front of an old m
glass. There is the withered boob of the negres
pouch. It is as dry and empty as the desert. Th
who has just left her village, neither an apple n
decent, made to excite our desires, everything
also the matronly boob, considered simply as a se
gets elbowed in a scuffle, that gets bashed, righ
being carried along the street. Its unique funct
lishment and as evidence of the gender of the be
There is the good boob that belongs to the we
baby's fingers sink into as they snuggle down, s
bly. It has a network of blue veins. Families pay
Finally there is the pumpkin boob, a formidab
boob that makes you want to crap over it. That
mind when he says to the pimp: 'Bring me a wo
the one that appeals to a lewd beast like me, and
And for each of these different varieties, ther
ornaments and phrases. Ermine enhances the w
the women of the north. Batiste was invented
fluttering lace was made for quivering breasts.
land enfolds the honest hearts of the Flemish w
wives, their foreheads adorned with silver,
husbands, on slow boats, all the way out of Chi
skinned women, the silkworm, in the sunshine,
ry leaf. Without her little black velvet jacke
woman who plays the guitar in the street? Eve
its trinket; the gold crucifix on a black ribbon
river of diamonds for the duchess, the necklac
the women of the Nile.

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
GUSTAVE FLAUBERT: ELEVEN LETTERS 227

And we lust after them in a hundred way


styles, we call them all kinds of names.
Gazing at his mother's breasts, the young
experiences a precocious erection. Through
the maid changing her chemise. Soon, com
evening, he will walk along notorious s
breasted women resplendent in pink dresse
be craving for the tight-bodiced plumpness
out in tight folds of flesh. Escaping from
clerk heads for the boozer, belching on his
all over a trollop's tits. The old man with
clamps his tough gums onto a young straw
cid, he ejaculates too soon, inside his trous
And, according to the occasion, the setti
with various intonations, gestures, glances
May I . . . er . . .just touch it gently, do yo
tits! Just show me your tits, will you! !' to
chance, drop dead.' Or 'Is that nice? You can
[• • •]

6. Ancient and Modern

To Camille Rogier.11
from Naples, 11 March 1851.

Ahah! 'bu've been laughing, you old scoundrel, you traitor, about the
state of my ill-fated weapon. Know you then that for the moment it is re-
stor-ed quite. Apart from one small induration, which is merely the scar
worn by the brave. It lends the thing a certain poetry. 'bu can tell that it
has seen the world, and tasted adversity. It gives it a fatal, afflicted look
which is bound to please the connoisseur. By dint of friction the thing has
been alleviated, and will soon be completely gone. To wash myself out prop-
erly, I ingurgitate tons of sarsparilla. In short I may now present myself
favourably in society. And present myself I do, my dear Rogier. Here in
mellow Parthenopeia I am perpetually tumescent. I fuck like a donkey on
the loose. Even the pressure of my trousers provokes an erection. One of
these days I shall even condescend to impale the washerwoman who thinks
that I am 'molto gentile'. It is perhaps the proximity of Vesuvius which is
overheating my loins. One thing is certain, I am in a ferocious state which

11 Camille Rogier. a recent acquaintance, a Parisian living in Beirut, a great con-


noisseur of organised lechery.

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
228 THE CAMBRIDGE QUARTERLY

I will venture to describe as venereal and possibl


a pun, I am in a state of longing.
And the number of pimps in this town is a del
little girls of ten years old, yes indeed my dear s
whose nursemaids were no doubt doubling as
have even been offered little girls. But I refused
because I have always suspected something b
No-one would keep such an insolent servant unle
ful secret reason. There is the fear that he migh
piece of indiscretion. So I stick to ladies, matur
frequent an establishment that offers the mat
painted plaster statue of the emperor in a glass c
exciting.
Cousin Max is fairly quiet, he is content to ravage the heart of the girl in
the hotel where we're staying. He misuses his talents so as to unsettle that
young creature who gazes upon him with flames in her eyes and, in the
night, probably pisses red for him into her virginal chamber-pot.
We also do other things, old chap. Almost three weeks since we arrived in
Naples, and we have scarcely stepped outside the Museum of Antiquities.
We've been gorging ourselves in there: relishing the marbles and the
bronzes. And savouring with every nostril of our imaginations the multi-
coloured skirts of the dancing-girls of Herculaneum. There is one, stark
naked, lying on a leopard and offering him a drink from a golden vessel,
pouring the liquid from a tall silver jug with a slender neck! . . . Oh Rogier,
how I wish I could be that leopard. On which subject, my friend, a philo-
sophical thought occurs to me, of which I shall deprive you, thinking about
the large number of things I've wanted to be since I've been me. My earliest
wish was to be a horse, then a great man, and today I want to be that leo-
pard in the painting. When I was fifteen, I wanted to be a certain New-
foundland dog that a lady of my acquaintance used to kiss upon its
forehead. I have no idea in which bone-yard the skull of this bow-wow pre-
sently lies rotting. But I bestowed upon it, once, a profound concupiscence,
probably more ardent in its way than anything ever inspired by an emper-
or's diadem.

Today we saw two or three quite decent Salvator Rosa's, and a Rem-
brandt self-portrait, very swaggering, in the Prince of Salerno's gallery.
There was a man indeed, that Rembrandt. It was good for my health, look-
ing at that portrait. Walking back to the hotel, I felt as though my thighs
were made of steel and I was as light as a bird. 'fes, painting is a splendid
thing, and sculpture, and poetry and sunlight. 'bu're going to Palmyra my
friend. Think of us when you're out there, won't you? If you knew how much
I already miss the Orient, and how I sense that I'm going to miss it. I often

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
GUSTAVE FLAUBERT: ELEVEN LETTERS 229

think of Beyrouth, I can tell you. A few da


who seems to be dying of boredom in Par
bourgeois, as he puts it. Talking of bourg
no tarboosh, no beard. I'm wearing a hat
sieur. Ah, it all annoys me considerably, a
sure! My Normandy, the land where I wa
dia, and through Persia. I'm feeling the n
women riding astride their donkeys. If I
song. [. . . ]

1. A Book about Nothing


To Louise Colet.13
Croisse t, 16 January 1852

[. . .] I am surprised, dear friend, at the excessive enthusiasm you show


for certain parts of my Education .14 I think they are good, but not as out-
standingly superior as you say they are. In any event I do not approve at
all of your idea of lifting out all thejules section and letting it stand alone.
You have to bear in mind the way that the book was conceived. The char-
acter ofjules is only clear because of the contrast with Henry. Either of the
two characters on their own would be feeble. At first I only had the Henry
one. The need for a contrast gave me the idea ofjules.
The pages that impressed you (on Art, etc) don't feel at all difficult to
write. I would not rewrite them but I do think I could do them better. They
are ardent, but they could be more synthetic. Since then I have made some
progress in aesthetics, or at least I am more firmly seated up on the horse I
chose long ago. I do know what is required. Dear God! If I wrote in the style
I have a notion of, what a writer I would be. There is a chapter in my novel
which I think is rather good but you didn't mention, the one about their trip
to America and all their self-disgusted lethargy which is set out in great
detail. You came to the same conclusion as I did over the Voyage ďltalie. I
admit it is a high price to pay for a piece of vanity that I found flattering. I
had guessed how it would be, that's all. Not quite as dreamy as people
think, I can see things and I see them as the myopic do, down into the very
pores, because our noses are thrust right up against them. There are in me,
when it comes to literature, two distinct creatures: one who is very taken

12 Theo : Theophile Gautier (1811-72), poet, novelist and critic, a representative


figure from amongst the older generation of French romantic writers.
Louise Colet Louise Colet (1808-76) a prolific feminist-socialist writer in prose
and verse, her relationship with Flaubert had cooled considerably since their first
ardent encounter in 1846.
14 Education : Flaubert had completed a first version of L'Éducation sentimentale in
1845.

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
230 THE CAMBRIDGE QUARTERLY

with being a loud-mouth , with lyricism, with so


sonorities of phrase and loftinesses of idea; the
into the truth as far as he can, who loves to re
powerfully as the other kind, who would like to
rially the objects he reproduces; this one likes
animality. L'Éducation sentimentale was, unconsc
these two tendencies of mine (it would have be
side in one book and the lyricism in another). I
little improvements are made to such a work (p
it will always be flawed; there are too many thi
an absence that weakens a book. A virtue is never
But if this virtue spoils another is it still a virtu
have to rewrite the whole of L'Éducation or at
three chapters over again, and, what feels most di
ing chapter which would show how inevitably th
in other words why for this character a certain
than any other result. The causes are portrayed,
the link between cause and effect is missing. Th
book, and the reason why it belies its title.
I said to you that the Éducation had been an ex
another. Taking a subject which allowed me total
cism, sensation and excess - I felt completely in
to get on with it. Never again will I experience s
induced in myself with that book over those e
exquisitely I arranged all the precious stones
thing did I forget, the thread. Second attempt
Now I am on my third. It is time either to succ
of the window.
What I find beautiful, what I'd like to do, is a b
with no external attachment, which would hold
strength of its style, as the earth floats in the a
would have almost no subject at all or at leas
would be almost invisible, if that were possible.
are those with the least matter, the more expres
the closer the word adheres to it and vanishes in
is. I believe that the future of Art lies in this
developed, etherealising itself as far as it can, fr
Egyptians down to the lancet windows of the Go
line poems of the Hindus down to Byron's lyric
more adroit, is progressively attenuated; it relin
measure; it abandons the epic for the novel, ve
acknowledges any form of orthodoxy, it is free,

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
GUSTAVE FLAUBERT: ELEVEN LETTERS 231

creator's will. This emancipation from ma


sphere and governments have gone along w
all the way to the socialisms of the future.
It is for this reason that there are no beau
could almost establish it as an axiom that,
Art, there is no such thing as a subject, styl
way of seeing things.
Fd need an entire book to elaborate what I mean. I shall write it all down

in my old age when I have nothing better to do. Meanwhile I am working


all out on my novel. The great days of Saint Antoine , will they ever return?
May the result be different, Lord God! I'm going slowly: in four days I've
done five pages, but so far I'm enjoying it. Here in Croisset I have recovered
my peace of mind. The weather is dreadful, the river looks more like an
ocean, not even a cat passes by my window. I keep a big fire going.
Bouilheťs mother and the entire village of Cany are angry with him for
having written an immoral book. It has created a scandal. He is regarded
as a man of wit, but he is doomed; he's a pariah. If I had had any doubts
about the value of the work and the man they would now be resolvfed. This
consecration was all he needed. What could be more splendid: to be dis-
owned by your family and your birthplace! (I am quite serious in what
I'm saying.) There are certain insults which are a revenge for all the tri-
umphs one has witnessed, cat-calls which sound sweeter to one's pride than
any applause. So there he is, for his future biography, ranked among the
great men according to all the rules of history.
In your letter you remind me that I have promised you one full of en-
dearments. I am going to send you the truth or, if you prefer, I am going to
put my relationship with you into sentimental liquidation though not for
reasons of insolvency. (Ah what a pleasant fellow he is!) In the highest sense
of the word, in that marvellous dream-sense which sets hearts avidly yearn-
ing after that impossible celestial food, well, no, it is not love in that sense. I
sounded those waters so deeply in my youth that it has made me light-
headed for the rest of my days. My feeling for you is a combination of
friendship, attraction and esteem, a tenderness of heart and a sensual
fascination that form a complex whole for which I have no name but it
seems to me to be solid. In my soul there are, for you, tearful benedictions.
'bu are in there, in a special little place set aside for you. If I love other
women, you will remain there nevertheless (it seems to me); you will be like
the spouse, the favourite, the one you return to; and anyway is it not simply
a fallacy to deny the contrary. Look into your own heart: all the feelings
you have known, have any of them ever disappeared? No, everything re-
mains, does it not? Everything. The mummies that dwell in the heart never
crumble into dust, and when you look in through the slit in the wall you can

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
232 THE CAMBRIDGE QUARTERLY

see them all down there, gazing up at you with


that will never move again.
The senses, one day, may draw you elsewhere;
in love with some glittering novelty. What does i
in the old days as you then wanted me to, I woul
do now. The affections that ooze drop by drop f
form stalactites there. They are better than th
sweep everything away. This is the truth and I h
Yes, I do love you, my poor Louise, I wish for you
adorned and bordered with flowers, with gladn
kind, sincere face, the touch of your hand, the
my lips. If I am harsh with you, tell yourself that
sorrows, the corrosive nervous afflictions and t
harass and overwhelm me. Somewhere here insi
the medieval melancholia of my birth-place. It sm
brought back from the Orient, and it is all of a
windows and the leaded gable ends, like the old
built of wood. That is the recess in which you liv
fleas, and you will need to do some scratching.
One more kiss upon your pink lips.
Yours,

8. An Age of Mediocrity
To Louise Colet.

Croisset, 15-16 May 1852, Saturday-Sunday, 1 a.m.

The small hours of Sunday morning find me in the middle of a page that
has taken me all day and is still far from finished. I am putting it aside to
write to you, and in fact it may perhaps take me into tomorrow evening,
since I often spend several hours looking for a word, and since I have sev-
eral to find, it is quite likely that you would still be waiting all next week if I
were to wait until I had finished. However it has not been going too badly
over the past few days, except for today which has caused me great pro-
blems. If you knew what I throw away, what a hotchpotch my manuscripts
are. There's 120 pages finished; I have written at least 500. Do you know
how I spent my entire afternoon the day before yesterday? Looking at the
landscape through pieces of coloured glass. I needed it for a page of my
Bovary ' one which I believe will be rather good.
You are longing to meet again, dear Louise. So am I. I am yearning to
kiss you and to hold you in my arms. By the end of next week, or there-
abouts, I hope to be able to tell you exactly when we shall be able to see each
other.

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
GUSTAVE FLAUBERT: ELEVEN LETTERS 233

I am going to be interrupted this week b


tions (never met them before) a pretty
one of them. They are family from Cham
sort of tax-director in Dieppe. Mother we
the day before, leaving me alone with the gov
tue did not waver, did not even conside
month, my niece, my brother's daughter,
nion. I have been invited to two dinners a
with food. It will entertain me. When you
these occasions, what is there to do? Ther
outward life.

As for the inner one, nothing new. This week I've been reading
Rodogune and Theodore. How utterly disgusting are Voltaire's commentaries
on Corneille! What stupidity! And yet he was a man of wit. But wit is of
little use in the arts. To inhibit enthusiasm and to discredit genius, that is
about all it is good for. What a paltry occupation, being a critic, since a
man of his stature cuts such a poor figure. But it is so sweet to play the
pedagogue, to find fault, to teach people their business! The urge to
cheapen everything, the moral leprosy of our age, has favoured this ten-
dency among the writing tribe. Mediocrity gluts itself on this little daily
snack, the sort of thing that hides its emptiness beneath an appearance of
being serious. It is much easier to debate than to understand, easier to
chatter about art, about the idea of beauty, about the ideal, and so on,
easier than to write even an inferior sonnet or the simplest sentence. I
have often wanted to have a go at it myself and dash off a book on the
subject. It will be something to do in my old age, when my inkwell has
dried up. What a daring and original work could be written with the title:
'On the Interpretation of Antiquity'. It would take a whole lifetime to
write and then what would be the point? Music, music is what we want!
Moving with the rhythm, moving with the syntax, let us go down deep
into the cellars of the human heart.
This urge to cheapen everything is profoundly French, the land of equal-
ity and anti-liberty. For liberty is detested in this dear country of ours. The
ideal form of the state, according to the socialists, is it not a kind of huge
monster absorbing into itself all individual action, all personality, all
thought, managing everything, doing everything. A priestly tyranny
dwells deep inside those strict little hearts: 'Everything must be organised,
must be reconstructed, reconstituted along different lines' and so on. Every
kind of foolishness and vice does very well out of these daydreams. I believe

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
234 THE CAMBRIDGE QUARTERLY

that man, nowadays, is more fanatical than ever


He sings of nothing else, and in the action of t
the stars, devouring space and gazing upon infi
say,15 he finds nothing more exalted than that
which the mind is constantly trying to escape. A
1830, France has been in the grip of an idiot re
universal suffrage is about to become a dogma w
papal infallibility. Brute force, weight of numb
have taken the place of the authority of the name
macy of the Spirit. In antiquity the human con
The victory was sacred, the gift of the gods, it
went into slavery despised himself just as much
Middle Ages, humanity was humbled, subject
(which I basically believe in), for 15 centuries r
perpetual Christ, repositioned on his cross for
here is humanity now, overwhelmed with wear
into a sensual stupor, like a whore coming out
in her carriage, so tipsy that the cushions feel sof
the gendarmes on the street with their sabres, pro
ins who might hoot insults at her.
Republic or monarchy, we won't get beyond all
It's the outcome of protracted endeavours in w
part from de Maistre down to père Enfantin.16
done more than most. What is equality then if i
liberty, all forms of superiority, of Nature itself
is why I love art. There, at least, all is liberty in t
wish is granted, you can do anything, simultane
active and passive, victim and priest. No limits th
humanity is a puppet with little bells on its costu
prod of the pen, just like the street-corner pupp
with his foot. (I have often taken my revenge
have granted myself endless pleasures with my
money, adventures.) How the cringing soul spr
that stretches to the very bounds of Truth itself.
ing, then the Idea is no more. To seek the one is to
inseparable as substance and colour, and that is t

15 as Montaigne would say. 'Those who reproach hum


ward the future touch upon the most common of hum
16 from de Maistre down to père Enfantin: Joseph de M
Christian philosopher, was an eloquent pamphleteeri
of Catholicism and monarchy. Barthelemy-Prosper
of the leaders of the Saint-Si monians, a Utopian socialis

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
GUSTAVE FLAUBERT: ELEVEN LETTERS 235

itself. All of this, padded out into twenty


would set me up for several weeks as a gre
the younger generation, many stout gentl
In my opinion one of the things that
forgotten is the quantity of artists there
choristers there are in a church, the mor
parishioners themselves are not real bel
about praying to the Good Lord, nor are
their gardens, as Candide puts it. They
splendid vestments. Instead of towing t
you. - There is more pure bourgeoisdom
there is in the grocery business. What are
vouring by every possible device to diddle
ing themselves honest! (artists in other wo
of bourgeoisdom. To please them, the cus
songs about their casual love-affairs, Lam
tal migraines of their wives, and even Hug
tirades about humanity, progress, the mar
sense in which he does not believe. Various
like Eugène Sue,17 have written novels for
ionable world, or else written thug-novels
of Paris, such as Les Mystères de Paris, 'bun
is set to win forever the heart of every st
his Dame aux camélias. I challenge any dra
put on the stage of a popular theatre a w
you, the worker has to be an honest fellow
scoundrel. Just as at the Théâtre França
pure, because the mummies take their dau
in the truth of this axiom: people love fa
the day and dreams all through the night,
It has just struck three. It is nearly light
cold and I'm going to bed. How many tim
the grey morning light appear in my wind
my little room in the Hotel-Dieu, through
rue de l'Est over the Luxembourg palace,
carriage or on a boat, and so on.
Farewell, my dear friend, my dear mistre

17 Eugene Sue : the prolific and immensely suc


sational novels about Parisian low-life. His wo
guely progressive. His reputation was at its pea
18 thejockey Club : an exclusive social club foun
for the faubourg Saint -Antoine: the proletarian

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
236 THE CAMBRIDGE QUARTERLY

9. Lechery and Sentimentality


To Louise Golet.
Croisset, 3 July 1852, Saturday night.

[. . .] I have been thinking a great deal about Musset.20 And I think that
in the end it is all just Affectation. Everything feeds into Affectation: one-
self, other people, sunlight, graveyards and so on. Men sentimentalise over
everything, and most of the time the poor women are taken in by it. It was
only to make a good impression on you that he said: 'Try me. I have left Italian
women gasping' (an idea of Italian women that is connected with the idea
of a volcano; you always find Mount Vesuvius between their legs. Nonsense!
Italian women are like Eastern women: drowsy, languid voluptuous things;
but never mind, it is a received idea) whereas in fact the poor lad may sim-
ply be having trouble satisfying his washer-woman. It was so as to look like a
man of passion that he said: 'I am one of the jealous kind, I would kill a
woman, and so on.' He hasn't killed George Sand. It was to look like a bit of
a rogue that he said: ''festerday I almost slaughtered a journalist.' 'fes, al-
most, because someone held him back. The journalist might have slaugh-
tered him. It was to sound like a scholar that he said: 'I read Homer as

easily as I read Racine.' In the whole of Paris there are not even twenty peo-
ple who are that fluent, and some of them do it for a living. But when you are
dealing with people who have never studied the aforementioned Greek they
will believe you. It reminds me of our friend Gautier saying to me: 4 1 can
read Latin as well they used to in the middle ages', and the next day I found
a translation of Spinoza on his table. 'Why aren't you reading it in the origi-
nal? - Oh! it's too difficult.' What lies people do tell. What lies they tell in
this vile world! In short, the performance with the arms reaching out to-
wards the trees and the dithyrambic yearnings for his lost youth, it's all part
of the same thing: she will be moved, she will yearn (she says to herself) to
rescue me, to resurrect me, she will put all her pride into it. Righteous wo-
men are taken in by such sophistries, and the swindler plies his trade, with
tears in his eyes. Finally, as the crowning touch to the fireworks, bedazzle-
ment of debauchery, fire crackers (strumpets in other words) etc., etc. But
I've indulged in all that sort of thing too! When I was eighteen! I likewise
believed that alcohol and harlotry were an inspiration! Just like the great
man, I used to spend a small fortune on lascivious mythological proces-
sions, but I found it all as silly and as empty as anything else. Only the shab-
biest wretch could be satisfied with that sort of thing; it very soon turns stale.
If I am, venereally, so well-behaved, it is because early in my youth I passed
through a phase of somewhat precocious debauchery, quite deliberately, so

20 thinking a great deal about Musset Louise had just begun an affair with Alfred de
Musset.

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
GUSTAVE FLAUBERT: ELEVEN LETTERS 237

as to find out. There are very few women wh


least, stripped off, right down to the heels. I
artist, and I know all that it has to teach. I m
books that will heat the loins of even the most cold-blooded reader. As for

love, it has been the lifelong subject of my meditations. Whatever I have not
given to pure art, to my trade, has gone into that; and the heart that I have
studied has been my own. How many times have I felt at my best moments
the cold of the scalpel sliding into my flesh! Bovary (to a certain extent, as far
as the bourgeois is concerned, as far as I have been able, so that it can be
more general and more human) will be in this respect the very sum of my
psychological knowledge and it will have no original value except in this
respect. Will it have any at all? God grant that it may!
At least you tell me about things in your letters. But what is there for me
to tell you about, other than entertaining you with the eternal preoccupa-
tions of my little self which must eventually become irksome? The problem
is that that is all I know anything about. Once I have told you that I am
working and that I love you, I have said it all. Farewell then, dear beloved
Louise, I kiss you tenderly.
Yours, G.

10. Poetry and Passion


To Louise Golet.

Croisse t, 6 July 1852.

[. . .] I have read it through again, at leisure, alone in my room, your


most recent long letter, your account of the walk in the moonlight. I pre-
ferred the first one in any case, both as figure and as background. Is it not
the case that something troubling has been happening to you? Futile for
you to show your scorn for this outburst, it has nevertheless set your heart
spinning. You would be misunderstanding me, dear Louise, if you were to
take this as a criticism. - We can decide what to do, but we can never decide
what we are going to feel. I merely think that you were in the wrong to go for
a walk with him a second time.'bu did it in all innocence, I'm sure. But, in
his position, I would be feeling aggrieved. He could take you for a coquette.
Everyone knows that you don't go for a walk with a man in the moonlight
merely for the sake of admiring the moon. And the said de Musset is alto-
gether a man of received ideas. - His vanity has a bourgeois pedigree.
I do not believe, as you do, that what he has felt most intensely is works of
art. - His own passions are what he has felt most intensely. Musset is more
of a poet than an artist, and nowadays he is much more of a man than a
poet - a shabby man at that.
Musset has never separated poetry from the sensations that are its raw
material. Music, to his mind, was made for serenading, painting was made

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
238 THE CAMBRIDGE QUARTERLY

for portraits, and poetry was made for consoling t


stuff the sun down your trousers, you singe you
over the sun. That is what has happened to him.
The nerves, magnetism, that is what poetry is.'
foundation. If sensitive nerves were all you nee
would be better than Shakespeare and Homer, w
been a robust fellow. Such confusion is an impie
nerves, I who have heard, through closed doors,
whispering things about me, I whose guts can b
the skin of his belly, I who have sometimes felt
million thoughts, images, combinations of all k
in my skull like the rockets in a firework displa
and exciting topics of conversation.
Poetry is certainly not a kind of mental debilit
ceptibility is exactly that. - It's a weakness, thi
feeling. I shall explain.
If I had had a more solid brain I would certainly
the vexation of doing law. Instead of taking hurt
my advantage. My grief, instead of sitting in m
my limbs and twisted them with convulsions. It
find children who are injured by music. - They
member tunes after hearing them once, they b
they play the piano; their hearts flutter, they lose
fall ill. And their poor nerves, like a dog's, are
sound of the notes. They are certainly not the M
vocation has been displaced. The idea has slipped
lies barren, and the body is wrecked in the proce
health can come of it.
Same thing in art. Lines of poetry are not made from the passions. -
And the more personal you are, the weaker you will be. I have always
transgressed in that way; because I have always put myself into everything
that I have done. - For instance, it was me who was in the place of Saint
Antony. The temptation was mine rather than the reader's. - The less you
feel something, the more you are qualified to express it as it is (as it is perpetually , in
itself, in its general aspect, extricated from its ephemeral contingencies).
But you have to have the capacity to make yourself feel it. This capacity is
nothing other than genius. To see. - To have the model there before you,
posing.
That is why I detest spoken poetry, poetry that comes out in phrases.
When it comes to things for which there are no words, the eye is enough. -
The exhalations of the soul, lyricism, descriptions, I want it all to be done
with style. Otherwise it is a prostitution, of art, and even of feeling.

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
GUSTAVE FLAUBERT: ELEVEN LETTERS 239

It is this bashfulness which has always h


man. - Uttering the so po-ettic-all phrases
ried that she would be saying to herself:
being precisely that would stop me in m
dame Cloquet who, to show me how much
worries she had been through during the fi
up her head-band so that I could see two o
and she said to me: 'I spent three sleeples
over him.' It was indeed a formidable gest
They are all essentially the same, all the
lost love, their mother's grave, their fath
who kiss medallions, who weep in the m
when they see children, swoon at the th
stand by the Ocean. Fakers! fakers! tripl
as trampolines in order to reach up to som
I too have had my nervous phase, my se
ley-slave I still carry the marks on my n
have the right to pen sentences on the nat
part of my life had just come to its end, w
hood. - But previously, in former times,
poetry in our lives, in the plastic beauty
varieties of rowdiness, I admired them e
could discriminate amongst them.
In those days I could have loved you in
joyed more. - I'd have stuck to your surf
what happened though. I went down d
you had on display, what everyone could
public. I went beyond that and I discover
more susceptible to your seductions, a m
have explored with such lingering care e
heart, not as I have done.
What I feel for you is not like one of the
that fall from the tree at the least little br
the grass. Mine clings to the trunk, with
adorned with spikes, like the prickly pea
there's milk inside it.

11. A Dream: The Old Woman and the Empress


3 March 1856.

I was lying in a large Louis XIV bed with a little gold balustrade, deco-
rated with ostrich feathers at its four corners. Though the air was still, the
feathers were waving about.

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
240 THE CAMBRIDGE QUARTERLY

These trappings disappeared and I was left l


Right next to me, I don't know how, there was
red eyelids and no eyelashes or eyebrows. A veil
ing eyes, the veil moving up and down like a pie
of springs. By the force of her will, she was h
nailed to the bed.

At my feet, not on the bed and lying crossways, the way dogs are shown
on tombs, there was (or rather I sensed her) my mother, whose presence
was protecting me. I could not see her, but I knew that she was there.
And the old woman was looking at me. I was stopping myself from fall-
ing asleep, I was exhausted and I knew that if I succumbed then I would be
finished; the old woman would pounce on me. To avoid touching her
(though the bed was very big), I was curled up on my side with my knees
at my chin. Nevertheless I could feel the end of her toenail, the pointed nail
on her big toe, and the hard skin on her other heel. It was dreadful! And
those terrible red eyes still gazing at me, utterly lubricious.
She was muttering the line from Saint-Amant21 that Gautier had recited
the day before (in the piece about cheese): Cadenas , Cambouis , Coufignon.
I felt myself being vaguely carried along, as you do when you are dozing
on a train or in a carriage; going very swiftly with a smooth, gentle motion,
and there was no perceptible vehicle , nor anything in the world apart from
the old woman and the sheets in which I was lying and which were indeter-
minate, which were never-ending.
I fell asleep, then I woke up, and the old woman, (bare-breasted!) said to
me: 'While you were asleep I saw your left breast, your left nipple, your
little nipple', and she pointed at me and she poked me with her finger which
was pointed like a needle, repeating the phrase: Cadenas , Cambouis , Cou-
fignon.
I was dying! and never in my life have I felt such fear. Then she stuck out
her huge tongue, stuck it out at me, the tongue curving like a serpent: it was
green and covered in scales.
That old woman by my side had an effect upon me like being near the
grating over a damp cellar. From her whole body there flowed a great icy
draught and I was shivering as much from the cold as from terror.
What followed on from this? We were in the Empress's22 salon, in our
respective places, the same as we had been yesterday evening, March 2nd.

21 the line from Saint-Amant Marc -Antoine de Gerard, Sieur de Saint-Amant


(1594-1661), a poet, born in Rouen, the author of tavern-songs and burlesques. The
line quoted is a mock-portentous piece of nonsense-verse, reminiscent of Edward
Lear.
22 the Empress : translates the mock-title la Présidente bestowed upon the courtesan
Aglae Sabatier. La Vatnaz in Sentimental Education plays the same role.

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
GUSTAVE FLAUBERT: ELEVEN LETTERS 241

Nobody was speaking, we were sad, we we


someone said.
And the lights of the salon were lifted into the air, outside, without any
hand touching them and yet the room was still lit up even though nobody
had brought in any other lights. The gleams from those disappearing can-
delabra hung in the darkness like little stars in the tops of the trees. Because
down below beneath the open windows there was a very large garden full of
deep shadows.
But the heat was becoming overpowering, like a Turkish bath. Everyone
was panting. We could smell syringa and orange-blossom, then a series of
different odours, unfamiliar to me, which reached us in great soft gusts.
And everyone was feeling increasingly sad, especially the Empress.
She was wearing the same violet dress as yesterday evening, bowing her
head dejectedly and gazing at the empty fireplace.
'What is the matter with her, the poor Empress?'
Here something confused which was, I believe, the same even in the
dream. It was inbetween 'She is going to be married' and 'She is going on a
very long journey, we shall never see her again,' and then gradually, imper-
ceptibly, her violet dress turned black (a mourning dress); this seemed odd
to us, because she had not moved from her seat. Then we gazed at each
other, we were all wearing mourning clothes which had grown on us - lit-
erally grown - because the velvet of the garments was vegetating on our
sleeves.

The odour of orange-blossom had grown so strong that we all nearly


died from it. Big drops of sweat were running down the walls; the gilding
on the candelabra was falling to the floor like snowflakes.
The Empress was looking at us with a strange, sentimental, intense ex-
pression. Du Camp began to laugh. She asked him to explain himself, but
he gave a scream because one of the nails in the floor had pierced his foot,
through the sole of his boot.
I wanted to leave and I went to get my hat, sitting on the second of the
little console tables which are between the two doors; but I could not find it,
and I took someone else's.

I was about to put it on when I realised that it had no lining left in it and
that it had been chewed inside at the back, as if rats had been eating it.

* * *

Next moment, grent comm


Everyone's hat was discovered
of us there, at that point, than
ning. In the end 1 found my ow

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
242 THE CAMBRIDGE QUARTERLY

fact, yesterday evening), but on top of it there w


straw - which we use when we play charades. I p
the little table so as to have my own more conve
But I found it quite impossible to move, to unstic
own. I didn't have the strength, it weighed a ton
Then everyone tried, everyone had a go. Impo
all tried, there was dismay, great dismay and co
silence.

The double doors into the dining-room opened and in came La Rounat23
dressed in mourning, a black band on his arm, saying: 'I have brought
someone to see you'. It was his father. I don't remember him. And then there
came in, one after the other and in chronological order, all the relations
(dead parents) of everyone who had been trying in vain to detach the straw
hat. Once the room was full, the shades all crowded together and merged
into one another, like a pack of cards being shuffled.
Then there followed something I can't remember, but I woke up in a
funereal frame of mind, feeling very sick.
Eight years ago, at this time, April 3rd rather than March 3rd, I had a
similar dream, (otherwise why would I remember it?) in Groisset, lying on
my bearskin, when they came to tell me that Alfred had died,24 or rather it
was coming back from his funeral.
I am somewhat uneasy about this day coming.
Monday morning, March 3rd, 8.30, 1856.
PS Tuesday.
It was the anniversary of my sister's wedding.25
Tonight, Hamard.26

GUSTAVE FLAUBERT.

translation copyright © Geoffrey Wall 1995

23 in came La Rounat : Charles Rouvenat de La Rounat (1818- 1884) a Parisian


deville writer, soon to be appointed director of theThéâtre de l'Odeon.
24 when they came to tell me that Alfred had died : Alfred Le Poittevin had died in A
1848.
2<i the anniversary of my sister's wedding : Caroline Flaubert had been marrie
March 3rd 1845. She died of puerperal fever, five weeks after giving birth, in F
ary 1846.
2b Hamard : Caroline Flaubert's widowed husband.

This content downloaded from 206.253.207.235 on Sun, 06 May 2018 01:31:01 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms