Geoffrey Wall’s narrative biography of Achille-Cléophas Flaubert, the father of the author of Madame Bovary, follows him from his birth in a French provincial town a few years before the Revolution through to his distinguished career as a physician in an industrial city. Growing up under the corrosive anguish of the Terror, he emerged as a talented schoolboy who read Voltaire and imbibed the radical materialism of the 1790s. As an aspiring medical student in Paris, he embraced the new scientific medicine and climbed the ladder of his profession by avoiding military service. As a young doctor animated by humanitarian ideals, he was appointed to run a large hospital in Rouen where too many factory workers were dying young, the most insidious public health problem of the new age. He was to remain there for thirty years. Drawing on archival sources in Paris, Rouen and Sens, the book includes meticulous period details, such as an account of postoperative care in the age before anaesthetics. The author asks what happened to Enlightenment ideals in the age of industry and examines the conflict between science and religion.
This is not only a biography of an eminent nineteenth-century physician but a collective moral history of the Napoleon generation.