French writer Gustave Flaubert was born on December 12, 1821. He is counted among France’s most important novelists. Born in Rouen, Normandie, the son of a surgeon, his family determined that he should pursue a career in law, although he had no interest in being anything other than a writer. When Flaubert developed epilepsy, he abandoned his law studies.
Flaubert devoted five years to his masterpiece, Madame Bovary, because he was an excruciating perfectionist. He used many elements from his own life in it; one character was a physician and another was a law student. When it was published in a newspaper in serial form, it resulted in a lawsuit for indecency, due the fact that the subject matter is a married woman who destroys her life through multiple affairs. Women were NOT supposed to be having all sorts of sex, but Flaubert was basing that on his personal life as well. After the lawsuit, which Flaubert and the paper defended successfully, the novel was warmly received. Nothing like a scandal to spark interest! He died on May 8, 1880 of a cerebral hemorrhage as a complication of syphilis. Virtually every major novelist since then has given a tip of the hat to Flaubert as a stylistic inspiration.
Today’s expression, faire quelque chose à la sueur de son front (fair kelkuh shows ah lah swer duh sohn frohn) means “to do something by the sweat of his (or her) brow,” in other words good old-fashioned hard work. Compared to other authors of the period, Flaubert’s literary output was small, but the quality was exceptionally high.
- April’s Book: Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Translated by Lydia Davis (wnyc.org)
- Madame Bovary (cgfewston.wordpress.com)
- Book Review: Madam Bovary (readbetweenthewhines.com)
- “Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert (goddessbnl.com)
- Flaubert – The Despair of Everyday Life (halsmith.wordpress.com)