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Gustave Flaubert




Reading Books

I even think that a novelist has not the right to express his own opinion on any subject whatever. He may communicate it, but I do not like him to say it. (That is part of my art of poetry.) I limit myself, then, to declaring things as they appear to me, to expressing what seems to be true, and the devil take the consequences; rich or poor, victors or vanquished, I admit none of all that. I want neither love nor hate, nor pity nor anger. Great art is scientific and impersonal.

When you take up a book you must swallow it at one mouthful. That is the only way to know it in its entirety. Accustom yourself to follow out an idea.

I am but a lizard, a literary lizard, warming himself all day long at the full sun of the beautiful.

As for me, the more I feel the difficulties of good writing, the more my boldness grows. It is this preserves me from the pedantry into which I should other-wise fall. I have plans for books, the composition of which would occupy the rest of my life; and if there happen to me, sometimes, cruel moments, which well-nigh make me weep with anger (so great do I feel my weakness to be), there are others also when I can scarce contain myself for joy: something from the depth within me, for which voluptuous is no word, overflows for me in sudden leaps. I feel transported, almost inebriate, with my own thoughts, as if there came to me, at some window within, a puff of warm perfumes. I shall never go very far, and know how much I lack; but the task I undertake will surely be executed by another. I shall have put on the true road some one better endowed, better born, for the purpose, than myself. The determination to give to prose the rhythm of verse, leaving it still veritable prose; to write the story of common life as history or the epic gets written (that is to say, without detriment to the natural truth of the subject) is perhaps impossible. I ask myself the question some-times. Yet it is perhaps a considerable, an original thing, to have tried. I shall have had my permanent value for my obstinacy. And who knows? One day I may find a good motif, and air entirely within the compass of my voice; and at any rate I shall have passed my Iife not ignobly, often with delight. Yet still it is saddening to think how many great men arrive easily at the desired effect, by means beyond the limits of conscious art. What could be worse built than many things in Rabelais, Cervantes, Moliere, Hugo? But, then, what sudden thrusts of power! What power in a single word!

Style, as I conceive it, style as it will be realised some day — in ten years, or ten generations! It would be rhythmical as verse itself, precise as the language of science; and with undulations — a swelling of the violin ! plumage of fire! A style which would enter into the idea like the point of a lancet; when thought would travel over the smooth surfaces like a canoe with fair winds behind it. Prose is but of yesterday, it must be confessed. Verse is par excellence the form of the ancient literatures. All possible prosodic combinations have been already made; those of prose are still to make.

The cause of my going so slowly is just this, that nothing in that book (Madame Bovary) is drawn from myself. Never has my personality been so useless to me. It may be, perhaps, that hereafter I shall do stronger things. I hope so, but I can hardly imagine I shall do anything more skilful. Here everything is of the head. If it has been false in aim, I shall always feel that it has been a good mental exercise. But after all, what is the non-natural to others is the natural to me — the extraordinary, the fantastic, the wild chase, mythologic, or metaphysic. Saint Antoine did not require of me one quarter of the tension of mind Madame Bovary has caused me. Saint Antoine was a discharge; I had nothing but pleasure in writing it; and the eighteen months devoted to the composition of its five hundred pages were the most thoroughly voluptuous of my life, hitherto. Judge then of my condition in writing Madame Bovary. I must needs put myself every minute into a skin not mine, and antipathetic to me. For six months now I have been making love Platonically; and at the present moment my exaltation of mind is that of a good Catholic: I am longing to go to confession.

Posterity will not be slow in cruel desertion of those who have determined to be useful, and have sung for a cause. It cares very little for Chateaubriand, and his resuscitation of mediaeval religion; for Beranger, with his libertine philosophy; will soon care little for Lamar-tine and his religious humanitarianism. Truth is never in the present; and if one attaches oneself to the present, there comes an end of one. At the present moment, I believe that even a thinker (and the artist, surely, is three times a thinker) should have no convictions.

There is no imagination in France. If you want to make real poetry pass, you must be clever enough to disguise it.

In youth one associates the future realization of one's dreams with the existence of the actual people around us. In proportion as those existences disappear, our dreams also depart.

Nothing is more useless than those heroic friendships which require exceptional circumstances to prove them. The great difficulty is to find some one who does not rack your nerves in every one of the various ordinary occurrences of life.

Formerly, people believed that the sugar-cane alone yielded sugar; nowadays it is extracted from almost anything. It is the same with poetry. Let us draw it, no matter whence, for it lies everywhere, and in all things. Let us habituate ourselves to regard the world as a work of art, the processes of which are to be reproduced in our works.

Fresh proofs, fresh corrections. This time is the turn for `weeding.' The dog-grass that has sprung up must be torn out; the `which's,"who's,' and 'whose's,' and 'whereof's.' They give the best style a crick in the neck. Banish too the semicolon, that bastard stop that is neither full stop nor comma. It was perfect for the days of complimentary speeches, long discourses, and funeral orations. It gave repose to the flowing period. But we live in the day of the pneumatic and the telephone. Whenever you can shorten a sentence, do. And one always can. The best sentence? The shortest.

Beware of finely spacious and melodious phrases. First they gently rock you, then send you to sleep. As for transitions, don't give a fig for them. The best way of concealing from the reader your passage from one thing to another is to take it in a quick jump, without boggling.

Verbal repetitions? In a writer worthy of the name — remember this—there are no such things. Doubtless, after the first rush, you will find in my paragraphs a word that comes over and over again. That is the leitmotif of the symphony. Be careful not to delete and replace it by a synonym. Real synonyms do not exist. Why should I stultify myself? When I used the word that you shy at, I had imperative reasons for it. If it seems tedious when it turns up again, that is only because it is badly placed. Respect the word. Cut up the sentence. Bring the scissors into play. The scissors ! Ah, who could rightly celebrate their usefulness to literature? The perfect writer is always represented with a goose-quill between his fingers. That is his weapon, his heraldic arms. Now I should like to be painted wielding my scissors, like a dressmaker.



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