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Flaubert: Transportation, Progression, Progress


Kate Rees

A belief in progress tells us something about the way a society views itself. Progress speaks of confidence, optimism and dynamism. It assures us of pattern and structure. In the nineteenth century, as the Christian model of development is increasingly challenged and as geological findings expand understanding of history, so progress emerges from the Enlightenment as an ever more acute subject for debate. This book addresses the theme of progress and patterns of progression in the work of Flaubert. Through close textual analysis of his works and particular scrutiny of his narrative structures, this book argues that Flaubert’s position in the mid-nineteenth century situates his work at an intriguing historical crossroads, between Romantic faith in progress and assertions of Decadent decline. Flaubert’s response to progress is rich and complicated, offering stimulating views of momentum and perfectibility.
In this study, actual progression is seen as a metaphor for understanding Flaubert’s attitude to historical progress. Each chapter focuses on a particular vehicle or pattern of movement, analysing journeys undertaken by characters in Flaubert’s texts as models of disrupted, non-linear progression which provide a counter-current to contemporary ideologies of progress. A closing chapter examines connections between Flaubert and Huysmans, investigating the response to progress in later nineteenth-century literature.


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Chapter Two - The Locomotive. Salammbô 51


Chapter two The Locomotive. Salammbô In L’Éducation Sentimentale, the painter Pellerin produces an allegorical depiction of progress represented by the steam train: ‘Cela représentait la République, ou le Progrès, ou la Civilisation, sous la figure de Jésus- Christ conduisant une locomotive, laquelle traversait une forêt vierge’ (O II 330). The abstract capitalised ideas represented by the forward motion of the locomotive are made vague by the ‘ou’ which makes them appear interchangeable, while the incongruous image of Christ the train driver, endorsing the age of steam, adds a cartoon-like element to Pellerin’s inter- pretation. Frédéric’s reaction – ‘Quelle turpitude!’ – is laconic but horrified. His dismissal of the painting casts doubt both on the appropriateness of the locomotive as a metaphor for a progress which is itself dubious, and on the legitimacy of such a politicised message in a work of art. L’Éducation Sentimentale, the novel which charts the development of the first industrial generation, contains only a few glimpses of the steam train. For a represen- tation of the machine, and of the vehicle as machine in Flaubert’s work, the reader can turn, surprisingly, to Salammbô, a novel set two thousand years before the innovations of speed and steam. In the world of Ancient Carthage, catapults, a helepolis, an aqueduct and armies of elephants all act as massive moving forces which, like the locomotive in the nineteenth cen- tury, can be read as metaphors for the conf licting dynamics of progress....

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