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Flaubert: Transportation, Progression, Progress

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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 Four - Pedestrian Practice. Bouvard et Pécuchet 107

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Chapter Four Pedestrian Practice. Bouvard et Pécuchet One of the last characters created by Flaubert was at one stage intended to be one of the first trainspotters in literature. Plans for the first chapter of Bouvard et Pécuchet indicate that in his retirement, Bouvard was to occupy himself with observing the newly emerging railway network: ‘ce fut B. qui fit faire des >promenades des à Versailles en regardant les roues du vagon [sic] tourner ‘ce que c’est que le genie de l’homme’ enfin.1 The Paris to Versailles line was opened in 1840, allowing Bouvard time for his journeys along the new railway in the two years spent in Paris between receiving his inheritance and waiting for Pécuchet to retire.2 He makes the connection between the movement of this brand new method of transportation and the human capacity for progress and genius. Yet Flaubert chose to drop this scene from the later manuscripts. The erasure means that Bouvard and Pécuchet may dream about speed – as illustrated by Bouvard’s meditations on submarines and spacecraft, referred to in the introduction – but for the most part, they remain humble walkers. Their pedestrian journeys see them confronting obstacle after obstacle, as their actual journeys simulate their halting schol- arly progress. They get bogged down in mud and philosophy alike. Con- nections can be found between walking and progression, both historical and narrative, in Flaubert’s last novel. 1 Fo 7, numbered 1 bis by Flaubert in Bouvard et Pécuchet, ed. A. Cento...

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