May 8, 2009

Au revoir, Gustave


Gustave Flaubert

Gustave Flaubert

Afflicted for nearly thirty years with syphilis, unmarried, and exhausted by his devotion to “le mot juste,” a phrase and a cult that he established, Gustave Flaubert died on this day, May 8, in 1880.

The French authorities charged his first published book, Madame Bovary, with immorality, and inadvertently created a succès de scandale. This excoriating portrait of a thwarted provincial life established Flaubert’s enduring reputation as the scourge of the bourgeoisie but Flaubert famously confided, “Madame Bovary, c’est moi.”

To commemorate the day Melville House makes available a fresh translation of  Flaubert’s most accessible novella, A Simple Heart, translated by Charlotte Mandell. Mandell has translated fiction, poetry and philosophy from the French, including three other novellas for Melville House: The Lemoine Affair by Marcel Proust, The Girl With the Golden Eyes by Balzac, and The Horla, by Guy de Maupassant.

Of A Simple Heart critic Aimee Israel-Pelletier writes that “Flaubert’s ‘swan song’ is, ironically for a writer who has been so consistently characterized as a cynic and a hater of humanity, the most hopeful and, aesthetically, the most beautifully crafted of all his works.”

“I want to move my readers to pity,” Flaubert wrote of this story.  “I want to make sensitive souls weep, being one myself.”