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FLAUBERT AND EMMA
We cannot help noticing that Flaubert displayed a marked reluctance to give due weight to what was valid and genuine in Emma. She was not, as Henry James alleged, a woman who was "naturally depraved." She possessed a number of solid virtues which were deliberately played down by the novelist. It was after all to her credit that she possessed too much sensibility to fit comfortably into the appalling provincial society of Yonville-l'Abbaye and it was her misfortune that she was not big enough to find a way out of the dilemma. We cannot withhold our approval from her attempts to improve her mind or from the pride that she took in her personal appearance and in the running of her house.
Martin Turnell, from The Novel in France, 1971
In Madame Bovary the crux of the action lies in the contrast between Emma's sentimental illusions and the plain facts of reality. The contrast would seem to be clear enough; but it presented Flaubert with a complicated problem of style. For he did not believe that any spiritual perspective really exists to distinguish significantly between them; emotions and ideas versed, to find man trapped by his own discovery, knowing that his new insight into the real is based on an optical illusion, yet incapable of passing beyond it; and as if Flaubert had then set his art the superhuman task of knowing reality in absolute terms. In a situation where the major dimensions of experience were held to give a false value to things, the burden fell upon style alone of revealing their true aspect and quality. Flaubert made original use of the distinction possible in fiction between what is described and the way of describing it.
Anthony Thorlby, Gustave Flaubert and The Art of Realism, 1957
EMMA BOVARY AND DON QUIXOTE
Like Don Quixote, she has read too many books, and the books she has read are those most likely to inflame her imagination. It is not her intellect, but her capacity to dream and to wish to transform the world to fit her dreams, which sets her apart. The parallel with Don Quixote almost imposes itself. Like Don Quixote's friends who decide to burn his books, Emma's mother-in-law suggests that reading be prohibited and that what she needs in order to be cured are "chores" and above all "manual work." Flaubert's and Cervantes' novels have further in common a certain autocritical tendency which makes of both works outstanding examples of ambiguity, literary subversion and yet latent idealism.
Victor Brombert, The Novels of Flaubert, 1966
FLAUBERT: ROMANTIC OR REALIST?
The question has often been asked whether Flaubert was a Romantic or a Realist. Emile Faguet enunciated the theory of the two warring brothers in him... struggling for ascendancy, sometimes one, sometimes the other, being victorious. The argument is not very profitable, and many books have been written on the Classicism of the Romantics; the Romanticism of the Classicist; the Realism of the Romantics; the Romanticism of the Realists. It generally happens that the richly gifted artists, creatively, tend, by their very nature, to be Romantics, otherwise they would not feel the overwhelming urge to create, for creation is fundamentally a Romantic activity in all forms of life. It depends, however, on the age in which the artist is creating whether the form of the creation will be objective or subjective-that is, Classical or Romantic.
Enid Starkie, Flaubert: The Making of the Master, 1967
FLAUBERT THE SCIENTIST
Flaubert does not say that poetry, art, and literature are indistinguishable from the sciences. The objects of the scientist and of the artist are as different as their intentions, as different as the facts they are concerned with, even though one may borrow the other's methods. Artistic and scientific observation are two quite distinct things, and the experiment conducted by the artist on the basis of the material he has accumulated takes place very largely in his heart and brain. He "imagines" and invents, only occasionally touching ordinary reality for inspiration or the verification of his theories. What he invents must have the same solidity and "truth" as that which comes within the scope of the senses; it acquires them by a "method" comparable to that of the scientist.
Maurice Nadeau, The Greatness of Flaubert, 1972