barnes on flaubert


More than any other writer of his time, Flaubert sought to keep the inquisitive away from his life. “I have no biography”, he once responded magisterially when asked for personal details. He rebuffed journalists, and allowed no photograph of him to be published in his lifetime. “Giving the public details about oneself”, he wrote to a friend six months before he died, “is a bourgeois temptation I have always resisted.” He also sought to deny posterity full access to his secrets. Alarmed by the posthumous publication of two series of Mérimée’s love letters, he had a letter-burning pact in 1877 with Maxime Du Camp which wiped out “our life between 1843 and 1857”. Two years later, in an eight-hour session with his protégé Maupassant, a lifetime’s incoming correspondence was assessed, ordered, packeted, and in some cases – certainly that of Louise Colet, and possibly of the English governess Juliet Herbert – burnt.

Yet posterity is not so easily outfaced.

more from the TLS here.