Flaubert, Gustave

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Flaubert, Gustave

Gustave Flaubert (güstäv´ flōbĕr´), 1821–80, French novelist, regarded as one of the supreme masters of the realistic novel. He was a scrupulous, slow writer, intent on the exact word (le mot juste) and complete objectivity. The son of a surgeon, he studied law unsuccessfully in Paris and returned home to devote himself to writing. Because of a severe nervous malady, probably epilepsy, he spent much of his life at Croisset, near Rouen, with his mother and niece. Nonetheless, he also became an established figure in the Parisian social and literary world. In 1856, after five years of work, Flaubert published his masterpiece, Madame Bovary, in a Paris journal. Portraying the frustrations and love affairs of a romantic young woman married to a dull provincial doctor, the novel is written in a superbly controlled style. The book resulted in his being prosecuted on moral grounds, but he won the case. It was followed by Salammbô (1863), a meticulously documented novel of ancient Carthage; a revision of an earlier novel, L'Éducation sentimentale (1870); The Temptation of St. Anthony (1874); and Three Tales (1877), which contained the great short story "A Simple Heart." After his death his unfinished satire Bouvard and Pécuchet was published (1881). His correspondence, including that with George Sand and the letters to his niece Caroline, appeared in nine volumes (1926–33).

See The Selected Letters of Flaubert (ed. and tr. by F. Steegmuller, 1954); biographies by E. Starkie (2 vol., 1967–71), H. Lottman (1989), G. Wall (2002), and F. Brown (2006); study by V. H. Brombert (1966); H. James, Notes on Novelists (1914), and F. Steegmuller, Flaubert and Madame Bovary (rev. ed. 1968).

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