intense sensations

Cruel and beautiful

Posted on: September 21, 2011

Three Tales (Penguin Classics)Three Tales by Gustave Flaubert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Flaubert is a rather cruel and beautiful writer who fascinates me. In these three stories you can find little morsels of his life’s great preoccupations, which he developed further in his novels.

In Un Coeur Simple (a simple heart), his subject is a selfless and stupid peasant woman. For Flaubert it was a great intellectual and aesthetic challenge to shape something of enduring beauty from the rough material of the everyday and the banal. It was a challenge he was to pursue with obsessive tenacity in Madame Bovary. In this tale he succeeds so brilliantly that it is impossible not to love this woman with a simple heart whose dying vision is of a gigantic stuffed parrot.

The antique sensuality and savage violence of his novel Salammbô is distilled into the two other tales in this collection.

One of the things that fascinates me about Flaubert is his restraint. For such a wild hedonist, who takes obvious pleasure in depicting scenes of barbaric passion, how can he write such controlled sentences, such careful, elegant, perfect paragraphs?

In the midst of his passion, he is as remote and unfeeling as a statue in the desert. That’s why I call him cruel. He can weep and feel sorry for his characters but there is a part of his nature that is forever detached, ironic, superior and disdainful.

He is a very great writer, though. Masterful.

Vanessa Wu is the author of Love Has No Limits

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