Gustave Flaubert



Flaubert's Timeline

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Written by Peter Imialek


Quotes taken from Henri Troyat's Flaubert, published in 1988.

1821 (birth) - Gustave Flaubert is born in Rouen, France on December 12th to Docot Achille-Cleophas Flaubert, an anatomy teacher, and Anne-Caroline Fleuriot, an orphan nine years her husband's junior.

1824 (age 3) - Caroline, Flaubert's sister, is born on July 15th. The same year, his father is elected to Academie Royale de Medecine.

1830 (age 9) - Flaubert begins to write. His works consist of comedies based around the inane things his father's friend says, an obscene essay on constipation, and a play titled The Miserly Lover, which he writes and performs.

1831 (age 10) - Flaubert begins to attend a Latin-oriented dayschool. At this young age he already sees himself as superior to his peers. He reads Brantome, Commynes, Dumas, Froissart, Hugo and Michelet and writes romantic, historical plays and stories.

1834 (age 13) - In addition to attempting a novel about Isabeau of Bavaria, Flaubert also publishes a critical journal called Art and Progress. He claims that writing compensates for his disgust with life's "cruel joke" and creates in his fiction 'the Boy,' his alter-ego that rages against mediocrity. By this time he is studying English and ancient history and reading Beaumarchais, Rabelais, Scott and Voltaire.

1835 (age 14) - Flaubert publishes Voyage en enfer.

1836 (age 15) - Described as tall and slim with light brown hair and green eyes, Flaubert falls in love with 26 year old Elisa Schlesinger, the mistress of a music publisher. Flaubert writes about this love in his Byronic Memoires d'un fou. He also writes La Femme du monde, Dream of Hell, Wuidquid Volueris and A Lesson in Natural History.

1837 (age 16) - Flaubert publishes Bibliomanie and writes Passion et Vertu ("To Mazza, virtue was a word, religion an illusion, reputation a deceptive mask..."), the precusor to Madame Bovary.

1838 (age 17) - Flaubert writes the autobiographical Agonies (" abyss behind me, an abyss ahead...") and finishes Memoires d'un fou ("Woe to men, who have made me corrupt and evil, I who was good and pure! ...Woe to the aridity of civilisation...!"). In October he begins his junior year at lycee as a day-student and in his readings favours Rabelais, Byron, Hugo and Montaigne. He says that Rabelais and Byron are "the only two who have written in a spirit of malice toward the human race and with the intention of laughing in its face."

This year, amongst other works, Flaubert also writes The Arts and Commerce, Mademoiselle Rachel, and Rome and the Caesars.

1839 (age 18) - Flaubert writes Smarh, a medieval play and the precursor to The Temptation of St. Anthony. In December he is withdrawn from school to avoid expulsion after a student rebellion, but continues disciplined studies at home.

1840 (age 19) - After graduating in August, Flaubert goes on a Mediterranean tour in October and loses his virginity in Marseilles to a 35 year old Creole named Eulalie Foucaud, an episode which he later fictionalizes in November. Flaubert exposes his sensual nature in the quote below:

"Some day I must buy myself a slave in Constantinople, a Georgian girl--a man who doesn't own a slave is a blockhead; is there anything more stupid than equality? ...I have nothing but immense, insatiable desires, frightful boredom and incessant yawns."

1842 (age 21) - In January, Flaubert begins his law studies in Paris, though he spends more time at his home in Rouen. Flaubert despises law and writes, "I can see nothing stupider than the law... I work at it with extreme repugnance, and it leaves me with no heart or mind for anything else." He is described as being tall, loud and growing fatter. Flaubert writes about himself that he affects "a manner that is preoccupied, gloomy and casual all at once."

Towards the end of the year, Flaubert meets Hugo at a party, passes his first year exams and begins writing November, the "work that was the end of" his youth.

His unapologetic love of brothels grows stronger: "How can one complain of life when there is still a brothel where one can console oneself for love, and a bottle of wine with which to lose one's senses..."

1843 (age 22) - Flaubert meets Maxine du Camp, fails his law exams and begins writing the first Sentimental Education. He is becoming more anti-social and morose: "I am a bear and I want to stay a bear in my den, in my cave, in my skin, in my old bearskin, nice and quiet and far from the bourgeois of both sexes."

1844 (age 23) - Flaubert suffers his first epileptic seizure in January. The seizures persist when he tries to take up his law studies again. Later in the year he moves with his parents to Croisset. Flaubert thinks about "an artist who was truly an artist, working for himself alone..."

1845 (age 24) - Flaubert finishes the first Sentimental Education but doesn't consider publishing it. In March his sister marries Emile Hamard, a wealthy but unstable man.

Flaubert observes: "I feel incapable of living the same life as everyone else, of sharing family pleasures..."

Flaubert begins his research for The Temptation St Anthony in May: "Happiness is in the idea, and nowhere else... For a thing to be interesting, you need only look at it for a long time."

1846 (age 25) - Flaubert's father dies from a tumor in his thigh on January 15th, leaving Flaubert 500k francs (about $3M today). Six days later, on January 21st, Flaubert's niece Caroline is born, while his sister dies of puerperal fever two months later on March 22nd. Flaubert meets poetess Louise Colet in July and a correspodence develops between them.

1847 (age 26) - Flaubert goes on a walking tour of Loire and Brittany. He also writes the first edition of The Temptation of Saint Anthony : "St Antoine did not require a quarter of the concentration which Madame Bovary demands of me. It was an 'outfall'; I experienced only pleasure in writing it, and the eighteen months that I passed writing those 500 pages were the most deeply voluptuous of all my life."

1848 (age 27) - Delphine Couturier Delamare, the model for Emma Bovary, dies.

1849 (age 28) - Du Camp and Bouilhet, another of Flaubert's friends, condemn The Temptation of Saint Anthony after a marathon reading by Gustave Flaubert. Flaubert then sails in November with his friends from Marseilles to Alexandria. His mother approves a generous budget and he spends the next two years traveling around the Mediterranean. He frequents brothels where he catches syphilis and suffers from occasional epileptic attacks. On December 8th he watches a sunrise from the top of the Great Pyramid.

1851 (age 30) - In April, Flaubert writes: "Back in Croisset I shall probably bog myself down in India and the great explorations of Asia... I need poetic orgies. What I have seen has made me hard to please."

In September, he begins his masterpiece Madame Bovary. Shortly afterwards, he writes: "My youth steeped me in I know not what drug of apathy for the rest of my days. I detest life..."

1852 (age 31) - Flaubert continues to work on Madame Bovary: "This will be the first time, I think, that a book makes fun of its leading lady and its leading man... The irony does not detract from the pathetic aspect, but rather intensifies it. In my third part, which will be full of farcical things, I want my readers to weep."

By now he is 31 and still a bachelor without any children: "The notion that I might transmit life to another creature makes me roar with infernal rage in the depths of my heart."

Flaubert writes about his way of being: "I am simply a bourgeois living retired in the country, occupying myself with literature and asking nothing of others"

And about love: "As for love, all my life it has been my great subject for reflection... the heart I studied was my own."

1855 (age 34) - Flaubert ends his relationship with Louise Colet.

1856 (age 35) - Flaubert sells the serial rights to Madame Bovary for 2000 francs, which today works out to about $10,000. He begins to rewrite The Temptation of Saint Anthony and says, "it will be increasingly stranger than beautiful...I seek brutal effects." From October to December Madame Bovaryis published serially, and at the end of December Flaubert sells the story to a publisher for a mere 800 francs.

1857 (age 36) - Flaubert is charged with obscenity for writing Madame Bovary but is acquitted shortly after. In April, Madame Bovary is published as a book with 6600 copies printed. Flaubert beings to write Salammbo, all the while keeping away from society: "As for what is called society, I never go into it. I don't know how to dance, or waltz, or play a single card game, or even how to make conversation in a salon, for everything that people say there strikes me as idiotic."

1858 (age 37) - Flaubert takes a trip to North Africa to conduct research for Salammbo: "I have been very chaste on this trip. But very gay, and glowing with health as strong as marble."

Though his income is reasonable, he finds himself "...continually short of money, having..." in his "heart of hearts the most extravagant desires..."

1860 (age 39) - Praising de Sade, Flaubert says: "He is the spirit of the Inquisition, the spirit of torture, the spirit of the medieval Church, the hatred of nature. There is not one tree in de Sade, not one animal." Flaubert also praises Voltaire as a saint.

1863 (age 42) - Flaubert writes the play The Castle of Hearts and develops a friendship with 59 year old George Sand.

1866 (age 45) - Flaubert writes about the history of man: "What is important in history is a little band of men (three or four hundred in each century, perhaps) which has never varied from Plato's time to our own; they are the ones who have done everything and who are the conscience of the world. As for the lower orders of society, you will never lift them up."

George Sand writes to Flaubert: "You are a good, kind boy, for all that you are a grown man, and I love you with all my heart."

And Flaubert returns the favour: "I don't know what to call the feeling I have for you: it's a very particular kind of affection, such as I have never felt for anyone until now."

1867 (age 46) - Turgenev visits Flaubert in Croisset. Influenced by the anti-Bourgeois propaganda voiced all over 19th century Europe, Flaubert writes to George Sand: "Hatred of the Bourgeois is the beginning of virtue... It is we-- the educated-- who are the People, or, to put it better, the tradition of Humanity."

1869 (age 48) - Flaubert visits George Sand in Nohant in December.

1870 (age 49) - Prussian soldiers occupy Flaubert's house during the War of 1870.

1872 (age 51) - Flaubert's mother dies and his financial difficulties begin.

1873 (age 52) - On January 1st Flaubert regains the rights to Madame Bovary and Salammbo only to sell them again in June of the same year. Between July and November he writes The Candidate, a political, comedic play. By now Flaubert is growing old and cynical: "I want only one thing: to die. I don't have the energy to kill myself. I am so outraged over everything that I sometimes have palpitations that almost suffocate me."

1875 (age 54) - It takes Flaubert five months to write The Legend of Saint Julian the Hospitaller. In a letter to George Sand he writes: "I feel old, stale, and disgusted with everything. I expect nothing more from life than sheet upon sheet of paper to be darkened with my scribble."

And he tells her about his neverending quest for beauty: "This concern with external beauty that you reproach me for is a method for me. When I discover a disagreeable assonance or a repetition in one of my sentences, I can be sure that I'm floundering around in something false. By dint of searching, I find the right expression, which was the only one all along, and at the same time the harmonious one. The word is never lacking when one is in possession of the idea."

1876 (age 55) - Flaubert writes A Simple Soul and begins Herodias. In a letter to Emile Zola he writes: "To be truthful does not seem to me to be the first requirement for art. The main thing is to aim for beauty, and to attain it if you can."

1877 (age 56) - Flaubert finishes Herodias.

1880 (age 58) - Flaubert praises the French translation of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace. He dies suddenly of a stroke on May 8th in Croisset. He is buried in his family's burial vault in Rouen.

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