Sunday, November 13, 2011

Le Mot Juste

"Before she married, she thought she was in love; but the happiness that should have resulted from that love, somehow had not come. It seemed to her that she must have made a mistake, have misunderstood in some way or another. And Emma tried hard to discover what, precisely, it was in life that was denoted by the words 'joy, passion, intoxication', which had always looked so fine to her in books."  - Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary, Ch. 5

Gustave Flaubert famously declared "No lyricism, no digressions, personality of the author absent", when commenting to his friend and literary confidant Louis Bouilhet about his tone of writing Madame Bovary. That is the hallmark of Flaubert's style and the aim of his hard work writing slowly to make sure he had just the right words. He became his characters, entered into their lives and dreamt their dreams. This resulted in the masterpiece that has become a classic of French literature.
The story is one of a doctor's wife, Emma Bovary, who has adulterous affairs and lives beyond her means in order to escape the banalities and emptiness of provincial life. Though the basic plot is rather simple, even archetypal, the novel's true art lies in its details and hidden patterns. And in the psychological details portrayed by the author, for example in chapter seven:  "for her, life was as cold as an attic with a window looking to the north, and ennui, like a spider, was silently spinning its shadowy web in every cranny of her heart."  This, only one of many instances of the psychology of Madame Bovary and Flaubert's continuing search for le mot juste (the right word).  
Demonstrating the truth of Keats's dictum about truth and beauty, Flaubert achieves a mood of 'aesthetic mysticism' that has seldom been reached by others. The result is one that we as readers can enjoy and marvel at the power of his words. 

No comments: