No history of literature could afford to overlook Gustave Flaubert, the meticulous craftsman whose Madame Bovary and Sentimental Education are enduring classics. His finished novels are easily available, but his earliest works have been the private province of professional scholars. Early Writings is the first English translation of Flaubert?s astonishing juvenilia, astonishing not only because of its glimmers of genius but also because of its fantasy. Now readers will be able to see the contours of Flaubert?s career more fully; no note how much effort he took to learn and unlearn, to overcome and suppress.
The eleven essays ad tales in this collection include about half of Flaubert?s early experiments in writing. They reveal the eye of a precocious artist who used everything from routine newspaper accounts to the psychopathology of his everyday life as material for fiction. His transformation of reality is best exemplified by ?Diary of a Madman,? based on a chance encounter of the pubescent Gustave with Elisa Schlesinger at Trouville during the summer of 1836. The range of his youthful imagination is illustrated by pieces in the Byronic mold, by caricature of philistine values, epic scenes, metaphysical themes, the fantastic genre of the ?wild tale,? and psychological studies that anticipate his larger portrayals of character. Early Writings reveals the young writer working toward more complex tableaux, increasingly preoccupied with the tension between language and art, medium and ideal. From the beginning Flaubert was obsessed by the daunting task of making language eternalize fleeting perceptions.