Un automne de Flaubert by Alexandre Postel
At 53, Gustave Flaubert finds himself more isolated than ever. His friends are dying one after the other– Louis Bouilhet, Jules de Goncourt, Théophile Gauthier, Ernest Feydeau; and since Ivan Turgenev is always traveling, George Sand’s idealism is exhausting, and Victor Hugo’s fascination for his grandchildren is obnoxiously sentimental, he is left with no one to discuss Shakespeare, Homer, Rabelais, and Goethe.
And on top of everything else, Flaubert is suffering from severe writer’s block: his mind is empty, his hands are useless.
Tormented by the prospect of financial ruin–brought on by his niece’s incapable husband–Flaubert decides to meet the scientist and friend George Pouget in Concarneau, a small harbor town in Brittany. Though “Concarneau is by no means Egypt”, its peaceful and empty setting offers him the calm and solace he didn’t know he needed.
Alexandre Postel delivers some memorable scenes: Flaubert in a bathing suit, loathing his reflection in the mirror; Flaubert swimming; Flaubert spying on his neighbors in the pension’s dining room. His humble and thoughtful portrait of the great man’s despair — as well as his slow recovery — is an exceptional literary feat, his description of Flaubert at work on the Legend of St Julien L’Hospitalier showing the remarkable mastery of one of the world’s greatest writers.
Un Automne de Flaubert, a novel by Alexandre Postel, Gallimard