Today In History: Gustave Flaubert Born

Today In History |

December 12, 1821

Today in 1812, the writer Gustave Flaubert was born in Rouen, France. Flaubert is today best remembered as the author of the novel Madame Bovary.


Flaubert began writing in his teen years, and it remained a hobby for a time. As a young man, he traveled to Paris as a law student. There, he failed to pass his exams. A string of subsequent stresses led to a nervous breakdown in 1843.

Flaubert moved to a small town outside of Rouen and committed himself to his writing. Between 1849 and 1851, Flaubert traveled with Maxime du Camp, a French writer. At the same time, he was conducting an affair with Louise Colet, a poet. They broke off their relations in 1855.

The New York Review Of Books

Flaubert commenced work on his masterpiece, Madame Bovary, when he returned from travels in Egypt. The book, completed in five years, was published in serial form in the Revue de Paris, beginning in 1856. Although the book is now considered a classic, it outraged the moralists of his time with its depictions of adultery.

Flaubert faced an immorality trial in 1857, brought by the government. Thankfully, he was acquitted. The trial helped to make Bovary a popular novel when it was published in book form. It is still an enduring work, one of the major accomplishments of French realism.

Flaubert also wrote Salammbo, Sentimental Education and Three Tales. Flaubert passed away in 1880.

Unlike his contemporaries Honore de Balzac and Emile Zola, Flaubert was not a prolific writer. Flaubert's method was painstaking, almost tortured. He was known to occasionally spend up to an entire week refining a single page of writing, in search of "le mot juste," or "the right word." In his private letters, he confessed that he did not consider himself a natural talent. Instead, he accomplished his best work through dogged work., usually alone and for long periods of time.

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Matt lives in Southern California. He is interested in politics, history, literature and the natural world.