For readers today, as for [Ezra] Pound, Gustave Flaubert is something more than a man, more even than the great novelist who produced "Madame Bovary" and "Sentimental Education." He is the ideal artist, indifferent to money, marriage, even fame, in his obsessive quest for literary perfection.
It is not only the literary style of Madame Bovary that is anti-Romantic, it is its subject as well. The narrative clearly portrays Emma as deluded for trying to model her life after the Romantic fiction she loves. The novel is a sort of anti-Romantic manifesto, and its notoriety spread its message far and wide. It is worth noting, however, that Flaubert returned to Romanticism from time to time in his career, for instance in Salammbo, a colorful historical novel set in ancient Carthage.
The enduring literary fame of Gustave Flaubert was established all at one go, in the course of a famous trial that simultaneously brought him success and scandal. In 1857, when Madame Bovary (translated 1881) was appearing in serial form, the imperial prosecutor accused Flaubert of publishing a novel offensive to public morality and religion.
In addition to his advances in technique, Flaubert's legacy to the modern writer is one of tenacity, of devotion to task. He established the familiar image of the artist-as-priest. Proust thought him a "génie grammatical" (grammatical genius) and paid him homage by including a pastiche of his style in the "Lemoine Affair" section of his Pastiches et mélanges (1919). Franz Kafka admired him excessively. Sartre was totally obsessed, writing thousands of pages about Flaubert.
Flaubert’s intelligence, moreover, was sharpened in a general sense. He conceived a strong dislike of accepted ideas (idées reçues), of which he was to compile a “dictionary” for his amusement. He and Le Poittevin invented a grotesque imaginary character, called “le Garçon” (the Boy), to whom they attributed whatever sort of remark seemed to them most degrading. Flaubert came to detest the “bourgeois,” by which he meant anyone who “has a low way of thinking.”
If Flaubert was a monk of art, he was not, like Kafka (another fervent disciple), a monkish personality, tormented and secretive. If anything, he was more like a medieval friar - worldly, stout, scabrously funny. He had a gift for intimate, joyful friendships, and his wonderful letters have brought many of his friends with him down to posterity: Maxime du Camp, Alfred Le Poittevin, Louis Bouilhet. Whenever he finished a novel, Flaubert couldn't wait to read it to his best friends in marathon, night-long sessions, as though a book's real fulfillment was not to be published but to be shared.
Flaubert had begun his writing career as most young authors in his time did, as a Romantic, laboring on a tale of Medieval mysticism which was eventually published as La Tentation de Saint Antoine (The Temptation of Saint Anthony). When he read an early draft of this work to some friends, they urged him to attempt something more down to earth.
Strongly and personally influenced by the work of the famous French writer Honoré de Balzac, Flaubert would take up some of the same themes and position himself in Balzac’s line of realistic novels: Madame Bovary is clearly inspired by Balzac’s La Femme de trente ans - The Thirty year old woman and L’Éducation sentimentale - Sentimental Education is another version of Balzac’s Lys dans la vallée - Lily of the Valley. Flaubert would also become very concerned with aesthetics, hence the long process of preparation he famously would go through for each work.
Gustave Flaubert was a French leading novelist of the second half of the nineteenth century, largely considered today as having been one of the most important writers of all time. Flaubert would mark French literature and literature in general in several ways. By the depth of his psychological analyses, his concern for realism, his articulate transparent look at the behavior of both individuals and society, and finally by the sheer force of his style in great novels.
Flaubert’s father, Achille Cléophas Flaubert, who was from Champagne, was chief surgeon and clinical professor at the Hôtel-Dieu hospital in Rouen. His mother, a doctor’s daughter from Pont l’Évêque, belonged to a family of distinguished magistrates typical of the great provincial bourgeoisie.