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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 Three - Journeys by Boat. L’Éducation Sentimentale (1845 and 1869) 79


Chapter Three Journeys by Boat. L’Éducation Sentimentale (1845 and 1869) In the first, 1845 version of Flaubert’s Éducation Sentimentale, the career of Captain Nicole of the transatlantic crossing ship, the Aimable Constance, is structured by return journeys. When he meets Flaubert’s protagonists, Henry and Mme Renaud, the captain bemoans his career, which sees him steering the Aimable Constance backwards and forwards across the Atlantic: ‘Au bout d’une huitaine de jours, il avait régulièrement mangé la traversée, de sorte qu’il fallait se remettre de suite à la mer, ce qui fait qu’il detestait la mer de tout son cœur, la regardant seulement comme un réservoir à poissons pour les pêcheurs et à pièces de cinq francs pour les caboteurs’ (OJ 974). The captain wearies of this shuttling to and fro, and dreams of a retirement in Normandy, of a house with an apple orchard where he will be able to plant and tend cabbages. The tedious to-ing and fro-ing experienced by the Captain is a ref lection of many of the journeys taken by Flaubert’s characters. A process of va-et-vient is experienced both in physical and metaphorical senses. Flaubert’s characters often travel over the same ground, repeat the same journey – only to end up with the sense that they have not got very far. There are connections between this sense of fruitless journeying and the idea of progress as it appears in Flaubert’s work. Flaubert refutes the concept of progression as a linear path for- wards...

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