Ahh Flaubert. Sometimes I think that we really are brothers from another mother. Except that I am female. And you are French. And born over 250 years before me. And that if we were indeed siblings I would probably try and kill you in your sleep as your mastery of language outshone my own…
My love affair with Flaubert (inadvertent rhyming) began a few years ago but came to a heady climax when I did my dissertation on Madame Bovary, a piece of work that soon developed from a (hopefully) insightful exploration of Flaubert’s proto-cinematic techniques compared to James Joyce’s post-cinematic techniques in Ulysses, to a full blown fan girl ode to the joys Flaubert could weave with his pen.
Pretentious? Yes. Sorry? No. People don’t say proto-cinematic enough in my opinion, or ‘weave with his pen’ for what matter. And after spending most of my waking (and at times sleeping) life in the National Library of Scotland last year I feel that I can be excused a little pretention.
Yet, as with any relationship that runs on passion and absolute adoration, one can find themselves saturated, spent, if you will. Sadly this is what happened with me and Flaubert. Defeated amidst a pile of frantically scrawled quotations that filled the Pukka pads on my bedroom floor, discarded as if casualties in the aftermath of some debauched book club, I left him behind…
However, a few months ago, obscured by bargain copies of Twilight adding to the heartbreaking scene that was the demise of Borders book shop, I noticed that once so familiar majestic moustache lying in the 99p pile…Gustave Flaubert’s Sentimental Education. The stomach flip usually reserved for fleeting glances of past lovers reappeared. I couldn’t see him like that, cast aside by frantic Twihards buying their twelfth copy of New Moon. So I bought it and once more fell for Flaubert. Only I didn’t. He stayed on my shelves for another few months until I was ready to read him again.
Now, the conditions in which I read the novel, mainly in short bursts on my lunch break or while being stradled by men in suits on overcrowded transportation (not as exciting as it sounds), were less than ideal and by no means allowed me the same mindless entrance into Flaubert’s expertly created world as lying on Edinburgh’s Meadows did during the highs of my Madame Bovary affair.
Nonetheless, while for me the story was comparatively lacking and saw Flaubert deviate from his beautiful devotion to painting the world with his pen in favour of political commentary and the French Revolution, I still couldn’t help but sigh and aspire to see the world as Flaubert saw it.
Alas I cannot. And this is why Sentimental Education, while a wonderful revisit of that past relationship left me craving nothing more than to read Madame Bovary again.
They say you never do forget the first time…
Also: Orwell on the Beach– join my wee sister as she finally reads for pleasure.