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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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Conclusion 169


Conclusion The introduction to this study quoted a 1990s survey of progress, which suggested that progress at the end of the twentieth century had become an increasingly weakened model of viewing history and posed alternatives: Should we in fact abandon the idea of progress as a view of the past and a guide to the future? If so, how would we redescribe history? Is the alternative a cyclical account or does it entail a return to a presumed state of greater simplicity and harmony? Or can we learn to dispense with all master narratives and inure ourselves to the idea that the course of events is merely random and arbitrary?1 Flaubert is already on the lookout for such substitutes for progress even in the mid- nineteenth century. He does not abandon the idea of progress, but considers progress as a model which moves in a less structured, less directional way than a linear conception which treats past, present and future as easily comprehensible dimensions. The cycles suggested by Marx and Mazlish are present in Flaubert’s texts as arrangements of history and narrative, as is the alternative that events might take place in a haphazard and coincidental fashion. Even when alternatives to progress are considered, they are considered as alternatives to Progress which a capital ‘P’, rather than as structures which would generate complete inertia. The hyperbolic belief in advance demanded by works such as Du Camp’s Les Chants Modernes is disregarded, but a more complicated approach to the question...

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