Flaubert wrote to his mistress, Louise Colet: "An author in his book must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere." In his books, Flaubert sought to observe that principle; but in his many impassioned letters he allowed his feelings to overflow, revealing himself in all of his human complexity. Sensuous, witty, exalted, ironic, grave, analytical, the letters illustrate the artist's life--and they trumpet his artistic opinions--in an outpouring of uninhibited eloquence.
An acknowledged master of translation, Francis Steegmuller has given us by far the most generous and varied selection of Flaubert's letters in English. He presents these with an engrossing narrative that places them in the context of the writer's life and times. We follow Flaubert through his unhappy years at law school, through his tumultuous affair with Louise Colet; we share his days and nights amid the temples and brothels of Egypt, then on to Palestine, Turkey, Greece, and Rome. And the letters chronicle one of the central events in literary history--the conception and composition of what has been called the first modern novel, Madame Bovary. Steegmuller's selection concludes with Flaubert's standing trial for immoral writing, Madame Bovary's immediate popular success, and Baudelaire's celebration of its psychological and literary power.
Throughout this exposition in Flaubert's own words of his views on life, literature, and the passions, readers of his novels will be powerfully reminded of the fertility of his genius, and delighted by his poetic enthusiasm. "Let us sing to Apollo as in ancient days," he wrote to Louise Colet, "and breathe deeply of the fresh cold air of Parnassus; let us strum our guitars and clash our cymbals and whirl like dervishes in the eternal hubbub of forms and ideas!"
Flaubert's letters are documents of life and art; lovers of literature and of the literary adventure can rejoice in this edition.
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Francis Steegmuller is the author of more than twenty books and a recipient of numerous awards and honors. His translation of Madame Bovary is an acknowledged classic. In 1982 the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters awarded him its Gold Medal for Biography.Review:
These letters have the same fascination and compelling narrative drive as those in the first volume...We have, in the guise of letters, what comes close to being a full-fledged biography. (Howard Moss Washington Post Book World)
[Steegmuller's] ear is so keenly attuned to the modulations of this correspondence and his craft is so accomplished that the English text is, as it were, transparent and trans-vocal. It is the voice of Flaubert we hear or, more precisely, the oral qualities of his epistolary style. Steegmuller plays Flaubert for us the way a musician plays the music of a master. (Victor Brombert American Scholar)
Steegmuller's connecting narrative and his annotations make this second volume as rich and attaching as the first. And, for once, Flaubert is seen alive and enacting himself. (V. S. Pritchett The Atlantic)
Steegmuller...is again a deft, witty and indefatigable commentator, stitching Flaubert's correspondence together with all the background information we need in order to appreciate it. Among his many fine asides, Mr. Steegmuller tells us that Proust disliked the style of Flaubert's letters even more than that of his novels; that Gide kept his volumes of them beside his bed like a bible. (Anatole Broyard New York Times)
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