May 16, 2022 2:23 pm

Madame Bouvary. Famous for its prohibitions and feminist symbol, the novel that marked a break in the way of narrating

Nothing resonates or publicizes, it is known, as much as the scandal. But that consequence or manifestation that contemporaneity adores, and that most of the time transpires in a sudden and fleeting viral explosion or at most an impudent television whitewashing, long ago could represent for artists a preliminary instance in which they put into play his career, if not his life. From this perspective, it would be necessary to observe the irruption of a novel like Madame Bovary, there in the austere and conservative heart of the French Second Empire, whose author Gustave Flaubert, whose birth was commemorated last December 200, had to go through ordeal of justice even though he later emerged victorious and, yes, split the 19th century in two and in some way the history of literature.

By the time Madame Bovary was finally published in book form on April 12, 1857, the novel was already a hit, becoming a natural best-seller. It had come out as a serial in the Revue de Paris, between the months of October and December 1856, arousing all kinds of reactions, and immediately, of course, it had been prosecuted for its character of “facing decent conduct and religious morality” . The terms may seem comical, even grotesque, to us today, but it is clear that the victims of that time did not experience it in such a way: the candid printer Auguste-Alexis Pillet, the director of the magazine León-Laurent Pichat, and the “main offender”, that is, Flaubert himself. Perhaps it is worth adding to the dock of the accused -and current times do nothing more than highlight such nonsense- the female gender in its entirety, since in essence the free will of the sad Flaubertian heroine was judged, whom neither he was not even allowed or pardoned – in the eyes of prosecutor Ernest Pinard – the right to die.

It would be necessary to remember, in order to better understand the facts –although it has become a paradigm and a syndrome–, at least the basic plot of the novel. Charles Bovary is a widowed doctor, a good guy but with little flight, who falls in love with a woman whose greatest sin until then seems to be that of living through books. Then she will commit other less holy ones, already married and even having given birth to a daughter, and thus Emma Bovary will go from one lover to another, from one disappointment to another, from the poison of everyday life to the less metaphorical one who will end up famously and poetically with his life.

Madame Bovary “attacked the moral values” of mid-nineteenth-century France; the author (200 years have just passed since his birth) and his publisher were prosecuted in 1857 for “outrage against public and religious morality and good customs”archive

Although it is probably not the pinnacle of her work –but that says a lot, a lot about the later Sentimental Education and the unfinished Bouvard and Pécuchet–, Madame Bovary is fundamental not only because of the clarity and sharpness with which she strips the hypocrisy and the repressive ideas of his time, but because of the breaking point that it means in formal or theoretical terms: the narrator as a construction, a conscious and absolutely emancipated projection – apart from the multiple links with which one can speculate – of the figure of the writer. This distance, by the way, was key in Flaubert’s defense during his disastrous journey through the courts (hence the title of the small volume that brings together the minutes of the trials of Flaubert and Baudelaire: The Origin of the Narrator), those days when that in reality he never said his most memorable phrase (“Madame Bovary it’s me”), but it was equally so for the evolution of a series of operations related to the point of view, that is, the perspective from which a story is told. “Neither the genius of a Proust, nor that of Joyce, nor that of Virginia Woolf, nor that of Kafka, nor that of Faulkner, would have been possible without Flaubert’s lesson”, points out Mario Vargas Llosa in an article published almost two years ago. decades, doubtless forgetting Henry James, the determining link without whom the 19th and 20th centuries would seem like autonomous universes.

Madame Bovary, who seems to have been inspired by various episodes of real life, demanded of Flaubert five years of intense, almost unhealthy work, in the constant search for the perfect cadence, and beyond that, the illusion that words and what they represent became inevitable with each other, as if they were the same thing. The popular myth wants those five years to be just an anecdote compared to the 30 that The Temptation of San Antonio took, but the reality is that this last novel remained buried – but not forgotten – until its reconstruction a quarter of a century later. , after the disastrous echo that it produced in his intimate but fierce friends Louis Bouilhet and Maxime du Camp after an exhausting reading aloud, in 1848. Strictly speaking, each one of the –few– books that Flaubert wrote implied an absolute dedication, forcing him to to give up almost any worldly distraction, including earning a living. Writing was for him –it should be–, as for James, a full-time occupation, of course favored –in both of them– by a comfortable family situation, which at least he enjoyed for a good part of his life.

Like few others, Flaubert symbolizes the artist fully immersed in his work in a constant, obsessive battle. The anecdote that Turgenev once recounted is well-known, when he asked the author of Salammbo for his opinion regarding choosing between two words for a letter he had to send, and he locked himself up for hours – even causing them to forget him – to consider the infinite nuances that one and another option offered him. Zola also once portrayed his studio: “The room, in its very disorder, with its used carpet, its old armchairs, its wide divan, its white bear skin that was turning yellow, smelled of work, of fierce fights against phrases rebels”.

In the prologue he wrote in 2018 for the reissue of the French’s Memories, Notes and Intimate Thoughts, Matías Battistón – who is also responsible for the translation of the book – portrayed him in a comprehensive and precise way: “Flaubert is both the symbol of determined writer and of the writer in perpetual doubt: he does not know if he will be able to write, but he knows that he will not be able to do anything else. Neither start a family, nor practice a trade, nor resign yourself to serve for something. Subordinated to literature, his life is somehow resolved once and for all in that reclusive, neurotic swing, comfortably financed by the family inheritance, which reduces almost all hesitation to the daily act of crossing the draft of a paper with a goose quill. turn”.

Perhaps the most accurate x-ray of Flaubert’s relationship with writing comes from his own words, particularly those he regularly addressed to his friend and more than circumstantial lover Louise Colet in the correspondence they had for a decade. There you can read, for example: “By dint of searching I find the right word, the only one, and at the same time the harmonious one.” But often the relationship with language becomes more dramatic: “At times I feel like crying. It takes a superhuman will to write, and I’m just a man.”


His passions, too

Born in the French city of Rouen on December 12, 1821, Flaubert was the son of a surgeon and a Norman of ancient stock. He briefly studied law, which he abandoned as a result of some dubious or blessed epilepsy attacks, and then returned to the country house that his family owned in Croisset, where he will live until the end of his days, first with his mother and then with a niece whom he will practically adopt.

Although he generally preferred to keep his distance from her, the city – a symbol of the bourgeoisie he detested and at the same time did nothing but embody – sporadically tempts Flaubert with its charms, and Parisian salons will offer him, among other things, the friendship of George Sand, with whom he will maintain a valuable correspondence, as well as that of Alphonse Daudet, the Goncourt brothers, Iván Turguéniev.

All in all, the natural space of whoever, together with Balzac and Stendhal, was the maximum representative of realism –although some place it in an autonomous space, close to that extreme expression of it that is naturalism–, at least in its French aspect, It was without a doubt the countryside, where he could seclude himself without distractions to engage in his daily battle with language and form. Such predilection did not deprive him of certain friendships, or in fact it fed his epistolary variant: he wrote more than three thousand letters, the last of them to Guy de Maupassant, sent five days before he died. Maupassant had been his inveterate and beloved disciple, to whom he instilled, among other advice, not to publish a text until he had tirelessly polished it. It goes without saying that the teacher preached, in this case, with the methodical, obstinate, sickly forcefulness of example.

Flaubert is usually depicted as exaggerating certain traits, particularly those that make him commune with a kind of merciless asceticism. It is undeniable that he once wrote in his diary that wasting an ounce of sperm could be more tiring than losing three liters of blood, and that it was necessary to reserve those appetites and that energy to deal with the inkwell; it is also true that imagining him as a kind of medieval priest, a scholar dedicated exclusively to his sacred work as a craftsman of the word, is the product of something more than a tempting poetic license.

Although he never married, Flaubert had his passions, which may have been inconstant, timid or inconsequential. It is known that his mentioned and insistent sobriety came in part from the need to protect himself from the attacks of his very dear Louise, whom most underline as the great love of his life, or at least the only deep relationship he could or chose to build. ; but his hagiographers have not reached an agreement regarding the priorities of the Flaubertian heart, capricious as that organ can become. Some risk that this seat corresponds to one or another prostitute from his Parisian or oriental adventures. Others insistently remember, endorsed by specific mentions of Flaubert himself, a certain Elisa Schlesinger, a platonic love that dazzled him at the age of 15 and inspired more than one of his protagonists. There are those who set their sights on Jules Herbert, his niece’s governess, an apparent clandestine relationship that Julian Barnes, in his delicious Flaubert’s Parrot, also recovers. And there are those who choose to put aside the pleasures of the flesh and place their great friend Alfred le Poittevin in that privileged place, listening to the persistent lament of the genius himself after his early death: “I think I have never loved no one – man or woman – like him”.

The proverbial invisibility of the Flaubertian register has been insistently pointed out. However, it should be added that from that base platform he enriched or made more complex his use of the various points of view, with the free indirect style as his main ally, and in a certain way his work could be thought of as a progressive landing in excess. . Madame Bovary as a reaction, a brake on the excesses of romanticism, to later let go of the mystical flow of The Temptation of Saint Anthony and the emotional penetration of the extraordinary The Sentimental Education; and end, in that misguided version of the swan song proposed by Edward Said in his much talked about essay on late style, with an impossible novel, unfinished perhaps not so fatally or coincidentally: Bouvard and Pécuchet, the story full of sarcasm and precipices of two brilliant idiots who turn away from the world to try to embrace it, from knowledge, in its entirety.

Gustave Flaubert died in Croisset, of a cerebral hemorrhage, on May 8, 1880. It is not too arbitrary to imagine him, until the last moment, bent over, sweating, in search of the perfect phrase.

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