1848, annus terribilis. O de qué manera se sobrevive a una Revolución. Novedad bibliográfica en Law and Literature

Peter Brooks

Flaubert in the Ruins of Paris

The Story of a Friendship, a Novel, and Terrible Year

New York, Basic Books, 2017, 288 pp.

ISBN: 9780465096022 

From the summer of 1870 through the spring of 1871, France suffered a
humiliating defeat in its war against Prussia and witnessed bloody class
warfare that culminated in the crushing of the Paris Commune. In Flaubert in
the Ruins of Paris
, Peter Brooks examines why Flaubert thought his recently
published novel, Sentimental Education, was prophetic of the upheavals
in France during this “terrible year,” and how Flaubert’s life and that of his
compatriots were changed forever.

Brooks uses letters between Flaubert and his novelist friend and confidante
George Sand to tell the story of Flaubert and his work, exploring his political
commitments and his understanding of war, occupation, insurrection, and bloody
political repression. Interweaving history, art history, and literary
criticism—from Flaubert’s magnificent novel of historical despair, to the
building of the reactionary monument the Sacré-Coeur on Paris’s highest summit,
to the emergence of photography as historical witness—Brooks sheds new light on
the pivotal moment when France redefined herself for the modern world.

Peter Brooks (1938- ) is Sterling Professor Emeritus of Comparative
Literature at Yale University. The author of several award-winning books,
Brooks currently teaches at Princeton University and lives in Alexandria,


 Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880)


The Washington Post

Flaubert in the Ruins of Paris, by Peter Brooks

By Sunil Iyengar

Books. May 3.

In the final chapter of Gustave Flaubert’s Sentimental Education (1869),
Frederic Moreau and his old school chum Deslauriers reminisce by the fireside.
They trade news about mutual acquaintances, many of whom have featured vividly
throughout the previous 400 pages. “And as they exhumed their youth,” Flaubert
writes, “at every sentence they kept saying: ‘Do you remember?’ ” We take leave
of the two as they recall an event predating the novel: a doomed trip to a
brothel. “ ‘Ah, that was our best time!’ said Frederic. ‘Could be? Yes, that
was our best time!’ said Deslauriers.”

As literary historian Peter Brooks describes it in his persuasive new book,
Flaubert in the Ruins of Paris, that scene captures
much of what contemporary critics found so baffling and distasteful in
Flaubert’s novel. The protagonist, somewhat of a rake and a social climber to
begin with, has just withstood a series of personal and political upheavals. He
has seen his romantic hopes dashed, pursued affairs anyhow, taken part in a
duel, run for public office and witnessed mass insurgency and bloodshed — the
Revolution of 1848, which forms the backdrop of Frederic’s vacillations.

And yet, by ending on the brothel episode, Flaubert implies that
“everything we have read in this long novel has been somehow off target, mere
sequel to the important but unrecorded event,” Brooks writes. He argues that
the deflationary tendency so marked in Sentimental Education proceeded from
Flaubert’s scorn for most political movements and the chronic delusions that
enable them. Especially now, when our political rhetoric is so overheated — not
to say overblown — readers can find sanctuary in Flaubert’s oblique humor, his
deadpan narration.

Brooks is a dependable tour guide to the novel and its reverberating
lessons. To perform this function, he relies on Flaubert’s correspondence with
fellow-novelist George Sand, on archival photos of 1870s Paris and on his
estimable gifts of rapportage.

When Flaubert came to write Sentimental Education, he was looking back on
a failed revolution. Although the French king, Louis-Philippe, abdicated in
early 1848 and a provisional government took charge, it was rocked by class
warfare and proved alarmingly fragile. Only three years later, Louis-Napoleon
(a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte) mounted a successful coup and became emperor.
That episode occasioned Karl Marx’s celebrated statement about the way history
repeats itself: “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Frederic
and his hapless entourage register this anticlimactic mood in word and deed.
They “prove inadequate to this moment,” Brooks writes, “a moment at which
history itself, paradoxically, seems to stumble and fall.”

Unlike a character out of, say, Balzac, Frederic drifts with the tide.
Neither swimming to safety nor smashing on the rocks, he’s trapped in an eddy.
“There is a kind of serial unfolding of the plot, one thing leading to another
without a return to any master plot for one’s life,” Brooks notes, conceding
that “Sentimental Education “remains a book that challenges more than it
pleases” (although talents as varied as Émile Zola, Ford Madox Ford and Franz
Kafka swore by it). Henry James, an avowed fan of Flaubert, nevertheless called
Frederic “an abject human specimen” and wrote that the reader is bound to ask:
“Why, why him?”

One answer to this question, Brooks suggests, is that Frederic’s paralysis
amid the overwhelming pace of regime change is a legitimate response for a
character in a new kind of historical novel, one that can treat the conditions
of shock and incredulity that so many political spectators feel in our own time.
Given the daily tumult of 1848 Paris, to presume that Frederic could “offer an
adequate consciousness of the event would be a falsification, or else madness,”
Brooks reasons. Rather than intervene, the sane thing is to “do no harm” — a
stance that Brooks calls Flaubert’s “moral imperative,” noting that the
novelist had a physician-father and thus may have been influenced by the
Hippocratic oath. For the new historical novelist, then, “the past is beyond
redemption. The telling has to offer its own reward.” From this angle, Brooks
offers, it’s entirely appropriate that Frederic and Deslauriers squander the
ending of Sentimental Education on a ribald tale. But the telling — or
Flaubert’s telling — must studiously avoid falsehood, which can be betrayed in
high-mindedness or sloppy diction. To Flaubert, “bad style, especially the
remnants of Romantic illusionism, is lying, and therefore to be censured,”
Brooks explains.

By bringing “style” into it, Brooks nods to Flaubert’s reputation as a
compulsive tweaker, someone who could spend all day reworking a paragraph.
While it’s true that he viewed his calling as monastic in its solitude and
scholarly devotion, “Flaubert was too much the historian to stand aside from
the world,” Brooks claims. In 1870-1871, soon after Sentimental Education saw
print, Paris was gripped by another revolution, leading to another radical
experiment in self-government (the ill-fated Paris Commune), which yet again
provoked a brutal crackdown from reactionary forces. As if that weren’t enough,
the city had starved all winter, under siege by the Prussians. Afterward,
Flaubert toured the city ruins with his friend Maxime du Camp, to whom he
lamented that if only his countrymen had read Sentimental Education, the
Terrible Year might have been averted.

What can Sentimental Education teach us today? According to Brooks, it
reveals “the tragicomic inability of human beings to produce the results they
seek in management of public affairs.”
The antidote, Flaubert believed, is to
understand human motives through what he called “science” — essentially the
social sciences — and through “novels of the analytic exactitude sought by

And not a minute too soon. Next year, France must reckon with the 50th
anniversary of another Parisian revolt: the student strikes of May 1968.
Meanwhile, the nation is conducting an election that carries existential
overtones. What do the French say? La plus ca change?

Sunil Iyengar’s poems and book reviews
appear in various periodicals, and he directs research at the National
Endowment for the Arts.


Fuente: The Washington Post


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