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By David Roe (auth.)

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However all the four earlier projects would reappear more or less distorted in his account of ordinary middleclass Normans facing everyday problems such as incompatibility in marriage, adultery and debt. The whole enterprise seemed to him alien to a literary personality dominated by lyrical or satirical excess. He saw it as a valuable exercise in unfamiliar territory, with his own detachment helping the pursuit of his new literary goal of impersonality. He would give it the slow rhythm of life itself, not the paroxysms of drama.

It is easy to forget, in the welter of precise details and the surrounding provincialities, that Flaubert here slips his readers a Romantic cliche even more elementary than the suicide of despair: the broken heart. However much he castigated cliches, Flaubert did not deny that many of them correspond with reality. The important thing was to see how much more complex that reality was. Charles' death is also that of a pathetically broken mediocrity, not a hero. The successful characters in the novel similarly at once incarnate and parody cliches.

He does not achieve total silence, intervening sometimes openly, as we have seen, more often indirectly, to compensate for the inadequacies of his characters. The narrator who makes us see, feel and understand Emma and the others represents a higher form of humanity than them, even than Lariviere. By refusing to make it easy for his readers, by demanding a level of concentrated attention to the texts which had hitherto been the preserve of the much shorter 'noble' forms of classical literature such as theatre or lyrical poetry, this narrator - honest, discreet, teasing the reader into patience and perspicacity but also into emotional identification - holds out just as much hope for the future of humanity as Flaubert himself, in his correspondence.

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