Gustave Flaubert’s Truth in Rouen

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“Nature is not seen as it is but through ourselves” (The Talmud).

Rouen, the capital of Normandy, was the birthplace of the likes of Joan of Arc, Pierre Corneille and Gustave Flaubert, the great 19th century novelist to whom the city dedicated a museum.

Eric Mallet, a professor at the Rouen Faculty of Medicine, and his wife Eugène, a Spanish teacher, are hosting a vernissage in the Amboise Hall, a Renaissance jewel located next to the Gothic cathedral, where Claude Monet set up his easel to reflect on 31 canvases the different moments of light and weather in the cathedral. There they told me about Gustave Flaubert.

They direct my steps towards the museum located in the old hospital of the city. Gustave Flaubert was born there when his father Achiles Cléofas Flaubert was chief surgeon at the hospital.

Now it is a museum dedicated to the history of medicine in memory of the father and literature in memory of the son. There is a curious bed where six patients could fit.

Inside the Flaubert museum.

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Doctor Millet points out to me two caduceus with the serpent of Aesculapius and the wings of the helmet of Hermes-Mercury, god of travelers, of merchants, and guardian of the secrets of the occult sciences.

“Flaubert, the son and brother of doctors, felt a special love for medicine. Doctors and diseases are frequent in his literary work. He suffered from a disease classified as epilepsy that socially withdrawn him. Some critics have observed that the medical environment in which he lived allowed him to develop his talent for literary dissection, which does not consist in cutting but in observing human nature layer by layer”.

The room where the writer was born is preserved, as well as the stairs where he ran around in his childhood. The Lulu parrot present in his work is stuffed. There is a romantic air portrait of Maxime de Champ, a friend with whom he toured Brittany and made a trip to the East that would serve as inspiration for his work. Salambo.

The museum has become an international pilgrimage center

In the garden there is a beautiful monument to the writer made by Chapu, with white Carrara marble. It was an initiative of Goncourt and Guy de Maupassant.

The central part represents a young woman. She is the allegorical figure of “the truth”, evoking the realistic nature of Flaubert’s work. She is sitting balanced on a well and is turning the pages of the book of immortality on which she is preparing to write with a duck’s quill the name of Gustave Flaubert.

A laurel unfolds on the right side. Above is a medallion with the effigy of Flaubert sculpted in bas-relief.

It has the inscriptions of his main works: Madame Bovary, The temptation of San Antonio, sentimental education, Bouvard et Pecuchet, the candidate.


Monument in honor of Flaubert.

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Medicinal plants grow in the well-kept garden. Eugène Millet speaks effusively of the life and work of Flaubert:

“He was a person of a melancholic character. He retired to a family estate in Croisset when his father died and his friends Zola, Daudet, Turgueniev, Goncourt and Guy de Maupassant visited him there.”

Regarding his work, he opts for sentimental education.

“It is a parody of political romanticism and revolution. An adolescent love marked his life by meeting Elisa Foucault on the beaches of Trouville. He sublimated this fact literaryally in his novel that marks a milestone in 19th century literature. A Spanish author – Azorín-, wrote that Flaubert is to literature what Pasteur was to the laboratory and research. Flaubert’s prose arouses feelings of generosity, delicacy and self-sacrifice. He knows how to set beautiful and soft poems in everyday prose. In the private correspondence he maintained With Elisa Foucault there are a few words that summarize all his passion-ma vieilli tendresse, ma toujours aimée-“.

He left written that happiness is in the ideal, in the way. Democritus had previously said: “Ideals are like the stars: we do not reach them but they light our way.”

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Gustave Flaubert’s Truth in Rouen