Benjamin Ivry

An Uncommon Life

Flaubert

By

Belknap Press/Harvard University Press 549pp £25 order from our bookshop

French-language authors still have a problem with the art of biography. With no shining predecessors such as James Boswell, Elizabeth Gaskell or John Forster to guide them, Gallic writers tend to produce hagiographies or demolitions, with scant room left for other approaches. For this reason, it was useful when the historian Michel Winock produced a biography of Gustave Flaubert for Gallimard in 2013. The book has now been translated into English. It is stately and plump, like its subject, as well as thought-provoking. To be sure, Geoffrey Wall and Frederick Brown have in recent decades produced English-language biographies of Flaubert, but Winock has the depth of knowledge and familiarity with Flaubert’s times to add something new. One of the most dramatic moments of Flaubert’s life came during the Paris Commune, and Winock’s first book, published in 1964, was about the communards. Winock has also produced books on Victor Hugo and Madame de Staël, showing special interest in how literature and politics mix. Flaubert once wrote to his friend Jules Duplan, ‘characters from history are more interesting than fictional ones’. Having written previously on history and literature, Winock is well qualified to shed light on Flaubert. And there is surely light to be shed.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • A piece of Literary Review history from way back in 1983: John Haffenden talks to the great Iris Murdoch. ,
    • Britain’s only travelling lit fest, the Garden Museum Literary Festival is heading to Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for a… ,
    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,
    • If you want ideas about what to read next, sign up to our free email newsletter, and get book reviews, archive mate… ,
    • 'The heroic male nude could not, I think, be used today to signify civic pride and glory', as Michelangelo’s 'David… ,
    • 'Munch’s later works show us a man liberated from the torments that gave rise to some of the best-known early works… ,
    • 'We read from left to right and from start to finish. Or do we?' Stuart Hannabus considers the merits of reading i… ,