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200 × 130 mm
192 pages
34 illustrations
06 Sep 2017
Critical Lives

Gustave Flaubert Anne Green

Gustave Flaubert (1821–1880) is widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest novelists, whose work continues to influence and inspire writers, artists and musicians to this day. Determined from a young age to become a writer, Flaubert found sudden fame in 1857 when his first published novel, Madame Bovary, resulted in an unsuccessful prosecution for obscenity. In his subsequent work, Flaubert continued to reflect on the human condition and on the rapidly changing society of his time, while constantly striving for new forms of literary and stylistic perfection.

Drawing on Flaubert’s voluminous correspondence and unpublished manuscript material, Anne Green reveals the extent to which his writing was haunted by traumatic early experiences. She weaves discussion of Flaubert’s work into an intimate account of his life and volatile character, as she follows him from his upbringing in a Rouen hospital, through his days in Paris as a reluctant student, his extensive travels in North Africa and the Middle East and his experiences of the 1848 revolution and of the imperial court of Napoleon III. This concise and informative biography is required reading for lovers of literature everywhere.

‘Green’s crisp, readable account offers a concise overview of Flaubert’s travels, friendships and novels, with chapters devoted to each of the three major works, Madame Bovary, Salammbô and Sentimental Edu­cation. Of these, Salammbô in particular – following Green’s influential evaluation of the novel in her earlier Flaubert and the Historical Novel – can be read as a critique of the social divisions and increasing influence of the bourgeois in Second Empire France . . . Citing the critic James Wood – “Flaubert changed literature forever” – Green positions her subject not only as a writer of novels about the past, but as one whose work has altered the course of literary history.’ – TLS

‘Green captures in just 175 pages the essence of one of the most iconoclastic and important figures in literary history. Published in the excellent “Critical Lives” series, this richly researched, compact, even minimalist study offers an intimate portrait of a volatile, melancholy man haunted by traumatic experiences, extravagant tastes, and lifelong self-doubt . . . Green reveals Flaubert’s intellectual and emotional life in short, telling anecdotes about his travels, relationships with family and friends, and the unremitting, often overwhelming struggles he faced when writing. Some three-dozen judiciously selected images complete this magnificently concise portrait of a complicated man who never got his wish “to be forgotten, to be left in peace, never to be talked about” but might just have read this biography with approval. Essential.’ – Choice

This slim book, consistent with the constraints of Reaktion’s “Critical Lives” series, is a remarkable achievement. Acknowledging that her subject has unsurprisingly attracted many biographers, Anne Green modestly adds that “no biography, however, can hope to capture fully Flaubert’s defiantly original imagination or the paradoxes of his iconoclastic, sensitive, irascible, humorous, combative and loyal nature”. Notwithstanding such a caveat, hers goes a considerable way towards accommodating these multiple and often contradictory dimensions of his life and art. The challenges of brevity are all the greater for the specialist (and Green is certainly that) who knows too much. But an intimate familiarity with Flaubert’s voluminous  correspondence allows Green to isolate, within a broadly chronological narrative, the key moments of the writer’s existence . . . “BOOK. Always too long, whatever it is”, Flaubert noted. Not this one.’ – Journal of European Studies

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Anne Green is Emeritus Professor of French at King’s College London, and was President of the Society of Dix-Neuviémistes from 2011–17. Her previous books include Flaubert and the Historical Novel: Salammbô Reassessed (2010).