Thursday, March 13, 2008

Flaubert's Parrot

Politics is not the whole of life, so I will allow myself another off-topic link to Julian Barnes' diverting review of the last volume of Flaubert's correspondence. Here is the first paragraph:

The instrument case of Eugène Delamare, a health officer based in the Normandy village of Ry in the 1840s, was doubtless of standard issue: so was Delamare himself. An inept if conscientious fellow, he failed his medical exams, and only attained his modest professional status through the benign intervention of the Rouen surgeon under whom he trained. Two things, however, distinguished him, both unfortunate. The first was his wife Delphine. She had dreams above her status: her range of lovers and expensive tastes – yellow-and-black striped curtains were particularly remarked upon – led in 1848 to financial and social catastrophe; her exit strategy was suicide. Delamare himself, imprisoned by grief, killed himself the following year. His second misfortune lay in the name of the surgeon who had trained him: Achille-Cléophas Flaubert, father of a literary son. Thus Delphine Delamare became Emma Bovary, a local fait divers became a great novel, and by the law of unintended consequence Delamare’s instrument case – that is to say, a real item whose only value lay in its theoretical connection to a fictional character – was offered for sale in November 2007 by a Parisian bookseller for ¤6,500. A sum which, had it been available to Mme Delamare, might have saved her from shame and thus obliged Gustave Flaubert to look elsewhere for the subject of his first novel.

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