Gustave Flaubert 

Portrait of Gustave Flaubert

Gustave Flaubert was a French novelist who wove together literary realism and Romanticism. He was born on 12th December 1821 in Rouen, France and died on 8th May 1880 in Croisset, Rouen, France aged 58. 

Major Works

“Memoirs of a Madman” (1838)
“Madame Bovary” (1857)
“Salammbô” (1862)
“The Temptation of Saint Anthony” (1874)

Biography Timeline

Gustave Flaubert was born on 12th December 1821, in Rouen, France. His father, Achille Cléophas Flaubert, was a surgeon and head of the hospital in Rouen. His mother, Anne Justine Caroline (née Fleuriot) was the daughter of a doctor from Pont l’Évêque. Gustave was the fourth child and second son. He was educated at the Lycee Pierre-Corneille secondary school in the town. He formed a friendship with the philosopher Alfred Le Poittevin who shared his pessimistic outlook on life.

1836: He falls in love with Elisa Schlessinger, a married older woman who he meets at Trouville and she becomes the object of his idealised affection.

1837: His first published work appears in the school journal “Le Colibri” and he also completes the manuscript of “Mémoires d’un Fou” (Memoirs of a Mad Man) about his passion for Elisa.

1839: He begins writing “Smarh” which he hopes will be a French version of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust.

1840: Toward the end of the year he travels in the Pyrenees and Corsica.

1841: After leaving school he is sent against his will to Paris to study law in November. However, he made friends with several in the capital’s literary circles including Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, George Sand and Ivan Turgenev.

1842: His first finished work is the novella “November”.

1843: “November” is revised and becomes “L’Education Sentimentale”. Elisa Schlessinger provided the inspiration for the novel’s main character Marie Arnoux.

1844: He suffers his first nervous attack which was then diagnosed as epilepsy.

1846: His father dies in January. After another serious bout of his nervous disease he decides to give up studying law and leaves for his family’s new home in Le Croisset, a suburb of Rouen. There he pledges to devote himself to writing literature. In July he falls in love with the poet Louise Colet whom he sees on a visit to the sculptor James Pradier’s studio. She becomes his mistress although they rarely see each other and mainly write each other letters. 

1847: His sister Caroline dies in March after giving birth to a daughter. He tours the Loire Valley and Brittany with his best friend Maxime Du Camp whom he had met whilst a student in Paris. This journey was published after his death with the tile “Par les Champs et par les Grèves” and includes his description of a visit to Chateaubriand’s home.

1849: In September he completes his first version of “The Temptation of St Anthony” which he reads aloud to Maxime du Camp and Louis Bouilhet. They condemn it as rubbish and urge him to throw the manuscript in the fire. In November he travels to Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Turkey, and Greece with Maxime du Camp.

1850: In Beirut he contracts syphilis and then spends five weeks in Istanbul. After returning home he begins work on his most famous work “Madame Bovary”.

1855: He ends his relationship with Louise.

1856: “Madame Bovary” is serialised in Maxime Du Camp’s periodical Revue de Paris beginning on 1st October.

1857: After the last instalment of the novel is published the French government condemn Flaubert and his publisher to trial due to the work’s alleged immorality and he narrowly misses being convicted. The public buy it eagerly when it is published in book form but it does not make him much money. 

1858: He visits the ancient site of Carthage in North Africa to do some research for his next novel “Salammbo”

1862: The historical novel “Salammbo” about the war between Rome and Carthage is published.

1863: He writes the play “Le Château des Coeurs” (The Castle of Hearts) but it is not printed until 1880.

1869: “L’ Éducation Sentimentale” (A Sentimental Education) is published about the frustrations of middle-class life after seven years in the writing.

1872: His mother dies and Prussian soldiers occupy the family home during the Franco-Prussian War.

1874: His play “The Candidate” fails after only a few performances. After several revisions “La Tentation de Saint Antoine” (The Temptation of St Anthony) is finally published.

1875: Ernest Commanville, the husband of his niece Caroline, gets himself into debt after the failure of his timber business and Flaubert bails him out of bankruptcy. The author consoles himself by meeting friends Emile Zola and Guy de Maupassant. 

1877: He publishes “Three Tales”, which contains the short stories, “A Simple Heart”, “The Legend of St. Julian the Hospitalier” and “Herodias”.

Gustave Flaubert died suddenly on 8th May 1880 of a cerebral hemorrhage at his home in Croisset, France, his last novel “Bouvard and Pechuhet” lying unfinished on his desk. He was buried in the family vault in the cemetery of Rouen, France.