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Reviewed by:
  • Gustave Flaubert by Anne Green
  • Geoffrey Wall
Gustave Flaubert. By Anne Green. (Critical Lives.) London: Reaktion Books, 2017. 189 pp., ill.

This is a brisk, compact, and pleasurably lucid life-and-works narrative addressed to the general reader, traversing the known ground in properly consecutive fashion. Beautifully produced, printed on heavy paper — the kind that does justice to images — the book presents Flaubert in the most favourable terms. As a practitioner of genetic criticism, Anne Green is especially strong on Flaubert's idiosyncratic compositional habits: the loud solitary declaiming, the intense identification, and the perverse, heroic labour of revision. The account of the contemporary reception of Salammbô is expertly detailed. We get a sympathetic account of the grinding distress — physical, financial, and emotional — of Flaubert's final years. There is a nicely eclectic epilogue which catalogues Flaubert's posthumous international influence on the art of the novel. For all its virtues, though, this biography seems constrained, partly because of the relatively short format of the series, but also perhaps because of the author's own partialities. I observed this constraint in four distinct areas. There is little sense of place, of an embodied existence in an insistently material setting. Likewise, Flaubert's early travels, in Corsica, in Brittany, and in 'The Orient', are partially compressed into lists of place names. Flaubert's letters — his other voice, the counterpart to the published work, the splendidly unbuttoned letters — are only sparingly quoted. In keeping with this general disembodiment, a delicate veil has been laid over Flaubert's boisterous, unhygienic, and comically affirmative erotic life. The Rabelaisian Flaubert, the connoisseur of the grotesque and the impure, the inventor of the anarchic adolescent persona of 'Le Garçon' — this noisy insubordinate character deserved a more comprehensive treatment.

Geoffrey Wall
University of York


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