Gustave Flaubert, whose Madame Bovary outraged France's right-thinking bourgeoisie when it was first published in 1857, is brought to life in Frederick Brown's new biography in all his singularity and brilliance. Frederick Brown's portrayal is of an artist fraught with contradictions - his wit and bravado coexisting with great vulnerability.
A sedentary man by nature, Flaubert undertook epic voyages through Egypt and the Middle East. He could be flamboyantly uncouth, but was fanatically devoted to a beautifully cadenced prose. While energized by his camaraderie with male friends, such as Turgenev, the Goncourt brothers, Zola and Maupassant, he depended for emotional nurturing upon maternal women, most notably George Sand.
Nineteenth-century France literally put Flaubert on trial for portraying 'lewd behaviour' in Madame Bovary. But it also made him a celebrity and, indirectly, brought about his financial ruin, probably hastening his sudden death at the age of fifty-nine. Although writing was something like torture for him, it preoccupied his mind and dominated his life. He privately dreamed of popular success, which he achieved with Madame Bovary, but adamantly refused to sacrifice to it his ideal of artistic integrity.
Of Flaubert's life, his inner world, his times and his legacy, Frederick Brown's magisterial biography is a revelation. It was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize for biography and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.