Sunday, October 21, 2007

Flaubert's parrot

I guess that'd be me, 'cause I just finished reading his novel Sentimental Education and can't resist quoting a couple of passages. (I read the book in French but am borrowing from the Penguin Classics translation—who has time to translate Flaubert for fun?)

The scene takes place at a party, with guests whipping themselves up in a frenzy of fun. Suddenly, Flaubert opens up to an abyss with suggestive economy:

"The Sphinx was drinking brandy, shouting at the top of her voice, and throwing herself around like a madwoman. Suddenly her cheeks puffed out, and, unable to hold back a mouthful of blood, she put her napkin to her lips, then threw it under the table.
Frédéric had noticed.
'It's nothing!'
And when he urged her to go home and take care of herself, she answered slowly:
'Oh, what's the use? It it wasn't this, it would be something else. Life isn't much fun.'
He shivered, in the grip of a glacial melancholy, as if he had just caught sight of whole worlds of misery and despair, a charcoal stove beside a trestle-bed, corpses in the morgue, in their leather wrappings, cold water from the tap running through their hair."

And here's a description of the blah-blah during the at-home day of a wealthy woman:

"The luxury of the setting underlined the triviality of the conversation; although the subject-matter was not as stupid as the manner of its delivery, which was aimless, lifeless, and inconsequential. Here were men with experience of the world—a former minister, the curé of a large parish, two or three high government officials—yet they confined themselves to the most threadbare commonplaces. Some looked like tired old dowagers, some like crafty horse-dealers; and old men displayed wives who might have been their granddaughters."

Plus ça change…


Denise Vultee said...

You've been tagged with the Pharyngula Mutating Genre Meme.

Anonymous said...

Hi Elizabeth,
I liked the quotes from Education Sentimentale. It is a book I have not read but intend to. Did it take you long read it in French? I am tempted to read it in French as well.

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

French is my native language and it certainly helps with this kind of book. It's very dense and there's quite a few references to French political history, as well as some antiquated expressions. So it really depends on your knowledge of the language. The English translations I looked at do seem perfectly fine.