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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Friday, August 12, 2016

Notes on Flaubert's style: What makes him great?

A few notes toward trying to understand the excellence of Flaubert's style - which if I could explain would be a real feat, as his brilliance is so evident yet so elusive: First, of course, the perfectly crafted sentences, clear and rhythmic with the perfect amount of status detail while never showing off - the style is invisible, we see through it right to the subject matter. I think the term for his sentence construction is "periodic" (I may have that wrong) sentence that become clear and complete only at the final word. Each sentence has a sense of closure, but also a sense of moving forward, pushing us along to the next. Few writers can do this consistently; Jhumpa Lahiri is one of the few contemporary writers to do so (which may explain her language facility as well). Of course he is a prime example of the key points in Elements of Style: write w/ nouns and verbs and avoid the passive tense. Also, Flaubert more than any other writer has the deepest understanding of and sympathy for his characters. He famously said Madame Bovary, c'est moi - but he's also all of his characters in a way that few or no other authors are: I'm reading now, just starting, 3 Tales, and he comprehension of and love for the main character, Felicite, in A Simple Heart, is a great example: a maid working for a self-centered widow, grossly underpaid and taken advantage of, in love with the 2 children in her care, devoted to her church - there are millions of people like this and few ever become the center of a piece of literary fiction, but Flaubert's imagination encompasses her and presents her without a touch of irony or cynicism or condescension - except the irony of the title - nobody is really "simple," each of us has a complex life of emotions, hopes, dreams, fears, suffering, and joy.

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