I finished Flaubert’s A Sentimental Education (1869) last week, and boy is it good. I found it hard going at the start, mostly because the author seemed to treating his protagonist with such derision, but after a few hours with the book there was no turning back. For the oceans of ink that have already been spilled over this book, I need add nothing but another hearty endorsement. What a wicked wit was Gustave Flaubert… I can’t recall ever having such a shock in reading a novel as the marriage proposal that materializes in part III, and Frédéric Moreau’s hilarious response. Were one to judge from this classic, one might well believe Robert Burton’s claim in The Anatomy of Melancholy that, “in France, upon small acquaintance, it is usual to court other men’s wives, to come to their houses, and accompany them arm in arm in the streets, without imputation.” Pair this one with Henry James’s “The Beast in the Jungle” (1888).
To live in the world of creation — to get into it and stay in it — to frequent it and haunt it — to think intently and fruitfully — to woo combinations and inspirations into being by a depth and continuity of attention and meditation — this is the only thing — and I neglect it, far and away too much; from indolence, from vagueness, from inattention, and from a strange nervous fear of letting myself go. If I vanquish that nervousness, the world is mine. X X X X X
– The Notebooks of Henry James, Oxford University Press, 1947. P. 112.