Have finished the Douglas Parmée translation of A Sentimental Education. A lot to assimilate, the contribution of this book to what we think of as "realism." With a few qualifications, I think I was not so far off in my post on Madame Bovery.
Frédéric and Emma pursue impossible romantic dreams. It would be an inexcusable romantic gesture
to elevate their characters, to hoist them on a pedestal beside Werther. But what happens to that driving passion, brought down from the clouds and injected into Flaubert's flawed, middlebrow characters? Is the fault in the education? In the escapist novels Emma mistook for reality? Or in the characters he choose, like a Greek god who takes it into his head to experiment--to grant a gift to mortals too great for them to bear? In how many ways can they fail the gift?
If the object and goal is "love" --the answer would be: as many ways as there are people on earth. Had fate granted Moreau an early death for Arnoux, and he and Madame Arnoux had married... there would have come the time when, letting down her white hair, he would have been repelled, as he was in the end... but probably a lot sooner, and without the "Platonic" distance to shield him from the realization.
Which leaves me with an impression of Flaubert, not strictly as a realist--but an idealist, a conflicted idealist whose realism sees through the romantic delusions, but clings to, and drives his idealism to an even higher level, incapable of realization... but one that nonetheless, persists. Unattainable, at least, when tied to animal passions: love, politics. But left open for other possibilities? Other outlets... writing great novels, perhaps?
I normally resist reading the author into the work, but hard not to think of Flaubert's hopelessly romantic mother and practical, scientifically minded father fighting for his allegiance. If he wrote as though channeling his father's mind, it may only have been to hush the beating of his mother's heart.
‘Human language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we are wishing to move the stars to pity.’
— Flaubert, Madame Bovary
Have begun Musil's The Man Without Qualities. This may take the better part of the summer!
Fifty pages and I'm enthralled. What a wonderful complement and contrast to the other two great prolix modernists--Joyce and Proust.
Someday, someone will come along equal to the task--to compare the three. In generations to come, I have no doubt they will be read as a co-equal trinity of early 20th Century fiction.