[ilds] Flaubert

James Gifford james.d.gifford at gmail.com
Thu May 19 12:20:10 PDT 2016

Hi Bruce,

For the two quotations, "On ne saura jamais ce qu'il a fallu être triste 
pour entreprendre de ressusciter Carthage" is from Flaubert's 29-30 Nov. 
1859 letter to Ernest Feydeau according to Frederick Brown's biography 
(p. 360).  Of course, he gives no citation, though the passage in French 
seems to be frequently quoted in scholarly works (again, generally 
without citation).  It shows up in a slight variation in the new edition 
of /Correspondance/ (Arvensa editions, 2014) as "Quand on lira 
/Salammbô/, on ne pensera pas, j'espère, à l'auteur! Peu de gens 
devineront combien il a fallu être triste pour entreprendre de 
ressusciter Carthage" (940).  Whether Durrell had a different source, 
muddle the transcription, or changed it deliberately I can't say.

Brown gives the translation as "Few people will guess what sadness 
provoked the attempt to resuscitate Carthage,"  which is a bit loose 
(it's Flaubert's sadness and attempt in /Salammbô/).  However, the rest 
of the passage might be what Durrell's really pointing to (think of how 
"Now for bisexuality, I am sure you are right!" is cut from the opening 
epigram from Freud in /Justine/ yet is so crucial to the book).  The 
sentence continues "C'est là une thebaïde où le dégoût de la vie moderne 
m'a poussé", or in Brown's rendering, "how I've lost myself in it out of 
disgust with modern life."  (again, loose, and I'd give "That's Thebaid 
in which I've lost myself from disgust with modern life." and I'm sure 
you know the region).

The second quotation is also from his letters (to the novelist 
Marie-Sophie Leroyer de Chantepie in 1857): "Vous êtes lié fatalement 
aux meilleurs souvenirs de ma jeunesse. Savez-vous qu'il y a plus de 
vingt ans que nous nous connaissons? Tout cela me plonge dans les abîmes 
de rêverie qui sentent le vieillard. On dit que le présent est trop 
rapide. Je trouve moi, que c'est le passé qui nous dévore." (839). 
Durrell's "aging Flaubert" would have been 36, I think...

This would have been in the first year of their correspondence, his 
second letter to her, so depending on which edition Durrell was reading, 
right near to the beginning of the book.  Anthony Zielonka has a good 
article on the correspondence:

"Flaubert and the Centrality of Literature: An Analysis of the 
Correspondence with Mademoiselle Leroyer de Chantepie." /Romance 
Quarterly/ 59.3 (2012): 177-188.

The letter is, like the previous passage, about writing /Salammbô/ and 
again emphasizes his disgust with modernity: "Je vais écrire un roman 
dont l’action se passera trois siècles avant Jésus-Christ, car
j’éprouve le besoin de sortir du monde moderne, où ma plume s’est trop 
trempée et qui d’ailleurs me fatigue autant à reproduire qu’il me 
dégoûte à voir."  He also outlines his emphasis on impersonality in his 

It might also be because that Mlle Leroyer de Chantepie identified 
herself with Madame Bovary, and Durrell could be thinking of readers who 
could identify with Justine (I don't think that's nearly as possible in 
/Tunc/!) or else a way of characterizing Iolanthe in her dying moments. 
That's pretty speculative though.

Alas, we can only guess at the edition/source.  Durrell's library 
holdings in Carbondale have Flaubert's /Correspondence/ but in a 1973 
edition, which means it's not what he used for /Tunc/.

I'd personally tend to look at the recurrence of modernity as disgusting 
-- that strikes me as the common thread in both and also as the point of 
connection with /Tunc/.  That Flaubert is reflecting on his own work as 
a product of his disgust with modernity speaks, I should think, to 
Durrell's implicit reflections on writing /The Revolt of Aphrodite/.

I hope that's a help!


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