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Francis Steegmuller’s beautifully executed double portrait of Madame Bovary and her maker is a remarkable and unusual biographical study, a sensitive and detailed account of how an unpromising young man turns himself into one of the world’s greatest novelists. Steegmuller starts with the young Flaubert, prone to mysterious fits, hypochondriacal, at odds with and yet dependent on his bourgeois family. Then, drawing on Flaubert’s voluminous correspondence, Steegmuller tracks his subject through friendships and love affairs, a trip to the Orient, a nervous breakdown and tenuous recovery, and finally into the study, where a mind at once restless and jaded finds a focus in the precisely detailed reality of an imagined woman, utterly ordinary in her unhappiness, whose story was to revolutionize literature. This biographical study is executed with all the precision and vision of a great novel.
We were in class when the head–master came in, followed by a “new fellow,” not wearing the school uniform, and a school servant carrying a large desk. Those who had been asleep woke up, and every one rose as if just surprised at his work.
The head–master made a sign to us to sit down. Then, turning to the class–master, he said to him in a low voice—
“Monsieur Roger, here is a pupil whom I recommend to your care; he’ll be in the second. If his work and conduct are satisfactory, he will go into one of the upper classes, as becomes his age.”