Saturday, August 13, 2016
Flaubert the naturlist and the fabulist: Could The Legend of Saint Julian be a movie?
Flaubert's story A Simple Heart, a beautiful account of the life of a servant, a poor woman whose life was filled with loss and disappointment and poverty but who never lost her faith or her spirit, is oddly the source for Julian Barnes's fine novel Flaubert's Parrot - it's actually Felicite's parrot, the maidservant in this story - and it becomes for her a symbol, the last vestige, of all she holds dear in her life - all those she's loved have died and she thinks of the parrot, a gift from a departing family and one of the few things of beauty she ever owned, one of the few gifts of any sort bestowed on her, and at her death she imagines the parrot - which somehow in her mind becomes conflated w/ the Holy Ghost (which she cannot envision, as she cannot make sense of a globe as someone tries to explain to her that it represents where her nephew, a mariner, has traveled). Though Felicite bears little in common w/ Mme Bovary, we can see that this story is like Bovary in miniature - a full life encompassed, but in more confined space, a jewel compared w/ a mountain (Flaubert, btw, following on yesterday's notes, rarely uses metaphor - but when he does it therefore strikes us even more forcefully - the famous lines in Bovary for ex. about a mirror held up on the side of a highway or a pounding on a drum for bears to dance to). The 2nd story in his late work 3 Tales, The Legend of Saint Julian the Hospitator, is a fable and a morality tale, about a cruel privileged young man and his journey to salvation and sainthood. Flaubert is never a crude moralist, but this story is strikingly different from most of his other well-known works - the great naturalist telling a fabulist story. But it does have all of F's narrative and literary strengths, passage after beautiful passage, and I kept thinking this story would be powerful and moving if read aloud (at times it also seemed cinematic, but I cannot imagine it as a movie, w/ all of its scenes of animal cruelty).