Flaubert: A Biography by Frederick Brown - review by Diana Athill

Diana Athill

Henry + Jules = Gustave

Flaubert: A Biography


William Heinemann 628pp £25

This is a spacious biography, giving the mistaken but agreeable impression that the solid foundations on which it rests are perfectly natural, rather than built by scholarly accumulation of learning. When Frederick Brown's story leads him to a city, a group of subsidiary characters, the state of medicine in the early nineteenth century, or some crisis in French politics, he follows it into and around them as though he had all the time in the world. I feared at first that this would try one's patience, but soon found that if one relaxes and allows him to take one with him without fussing, it becomes very rewarding. I emerged from his book knowing a great deal about many events and individuals unfamiliar to me. And, of course, about Gustave Flaubert.

Not that there is much in the way of new facts to learn about someone as well documented as Flaubert; but if a man is truly extraordinary, what one wants is less the new than simply to be in his company, to marvel at him, laugh at him, disapprove of

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