Random Thoughts

Details of Flaubert

... music in Flaubert

by Ed Boyd

My vision has made me resort to big print. I use the library some, but I am partial
to the short story. I bought two books from Amazon.com. “Classic American Short
Stories" and “Best-Loved Short Stories'. Both are large print Dover classics.

I became especially attracted to a short story by Gustave Flaubert, “A Simple Heart”
What caught my attention was the exquisite detail Flaubert uses to tell this story. I
had never read Flaubert, I suppose feeling he was too obscure. So I was greatly
surprised to find that the detail in this story might have been written by a Raymond
Carver or Tobias Wolf, to mention a couple of newcomers to the short story. It is not
my intention to review this tale but I do want to set out the details that Flaubert
writes, so that readers might judge for themselves.

First, a little about Flaubert. His dates are 1821-1881. Flaubert was only sixty when he
died, not very old. In the 1800’s life was short, I suppose. His story, “A Simple Heart”
was translated from French to English in 1924. This means it is 92 years before it
comes to my attention.

In the opening sentence of A Simple Heart, Flaubert tells us a lot. “Madame Aubain’s
servant Flelicte was the envy of the ladies Pont-L’Eveque for half a century”. Two
pages later Flaubert tells of Flelicte:

“Her face was thin and her voce was sharp. At twenty-five she looked forty. From fifty
onwards she seemed of no particular age; and with her silence, straight figure, and
precise movements she was like a woman made of wood, and going by clockwork”

And: “She rose at daybreak to be in time for Mass and worked till evening without
stop. Then, when dinner was over, the plates and dishes in order, and the door shut
fast, she thrurst the log under the ashes and went to sleep in front of the hearth
with her rosary in her hand.”

And there was the house where Flelicte came to live:

“Against the panels, which were painted white, was a row of eight mahogany chairs.
On an old piano under the barometer a heap of wooden and cardboard boxes rose like
a pyramid. A stuffed armchair stood on either side of the Louis-Quinze chimney-piece,
which was yellow marble with a clock in the middle of it modeled like a template of
Vesta. The whole room was a little musty…” There is a lot more detail of the house
but this should give an idea.

Let me pull up a few more sentences to further illustrate the great detail used by
Flaubert:

“There is the hum of voices began to fill the town, mingled with the neighboring of
horses, bleating of lambs, grunting of pigs, and the sharp rattle along the street.”
“The moon was in its first quarter, lighting part of the sky; and mist floated like a scarf
over the windings of the Tourques.”

“The path climbed at first through ground with dells in it like the green sward of a
park, and then reached a plateau where grass field and arable lay side by side; and
here and there a great withered tree made a zigzag in the blue air with its branches.”

“When the tide went out sea-urchins, starfish, and jelly-fish were left exposed; and
the children ran in pursuit of the foam-flakes which scudded in the wind.”

“Her strength came back visibly. The autumn glided gently away.”

“Felicity was as grateful as though she had received a favor, and cherished her
mistress from that moment with the devotion of an animal and a religious worship.”

And this single paragraph follows this:

“The kindness of her heart unfolded.”



July 1, 2016


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