Called "the novelist's novelist" by Henry James, French writer Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) was born on this day in Rouen, the son of a country surgeon.
"The human language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out a tune for a dancing bear," he celebrated. "When we hope with our music to move the stars."
As a young man, Flaubert devoured books by Goethe, Voltaire, and Chateaubriand, then studied law before becoming a writer. He is best known for the classic Madame Bovary (1857), a passionate story of love and adultery in mid-19th century France. The novel's notoriety led to Flaubert's prosecution and acquittal for immorality.
"An author in his book must be like God in the universe, present every where and visible nowhere," he said.
A master of the Realism genre, Flaubert wrote slowly. Deliberately. He spent over five years writing Madame Bovary, with painstaking attention to the narrative. "Oh, I'll certainly have known the tortures of art!" he said, choosing the perfect word, the best phrase, the most concise idea.
"Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work," he advised. A great friend of George Sand, Flaubert's work inspired the development of the modern novel.
"It is a great thing to write," he explained. "To be no longer yourself, but to move in an entire universe of your own creation."
Life abounds in poetry.