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Read by Richard Mitchley (Unabridged: 1hr 5mins)
Gustave Flaubert was born on 12th December 1821 in Rouen, in Normandy, France.
A gifted child he began writing as early as eight.
He was educated at the Lycée Pierre-Corneille in Rouen until 1840 and thence to Paris to study law, a city he disliked. He studied little, made few friends and preferred to spend his time writing. His first finished work was ‘November’, a novella, completed in 1842. By 1846 after an attack of epilepsy, he left Paris and abandoned his law studies.
That same year he began a relationship with the poet Louise Colet which lasted eight years. His politics developed in these years of revolutions throughout Europe as stridently against despotism, and as one who celebrated protest against the elite and the establishment.
In September 1849, Flaubert completed ‘The Temptation of Saint Anthony’. After 4 days reading it aloud to two friends, they advised him to destroy it and to focus his writing on day-to-day life rather than the fantastic.
A long journey to the Middle East brought encounters with both female and male prostitutes and a case of syphilis caught in Beirut. On his return he began ‘Madame Bovary’ a work he would take 5 years to complete. When it was serialized in the Revue de Paris in 1856 the government brought an immorality action against both publisher and author, but both were acquitted. This was the birth of French Realism and Flaubert, fastidious with every word, was becoming regarded as a literary genius. He wrote in sullen solitude, sometimes spending a week on a single page, avoiding the inexact, the abstract and the vague.
He visited Carthage in 1858 to conduct research for ‘Salammbô’, which took 4 years to complete. ‘Sentimental Education’ took a further 7 and published only in 1869. The next few years were difficult. Prussian soldiers occupied his house during the War and his mother died pushing him into financial difficulty and this, together with failing health, especially venereal diseases, shortened his life.
He toiled on his unfinished ‘Bouvard et Pécuchet’ but did complete ‘Three Tales’ in 1877 from which ‘The Legend of Saint Julian the Hospitaller’ is taken.
Gustave Flaubert died at Croisset from a cerebral hemorrhage on 8th May 1880. He was 58.