Why Literature Matters by Glenn C. Arbery

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What do you want to be when you grow up?  We spend our childhood answering the wrong question.

It’s not what, but who.

When graduating high school senior are making final preparations for their journey to college, among the countless things they think about is their course of study and choice of a major.  Now it’s decision time.

Today the litmus test of almost every considered major is now this: What kind of job will it get me and how much money will I make?

All of this isn’t entirely the fault of aspiring bright minds or hopeful parents.  The cost of college education has sky-rocketed and many hearts, young and old are filled with the dread of debt which verily must be paid.  The education process has become less about questions and more about answers.  After all – who needs to think that hard when Google is in the palm of your hand?

It’s easier to let someone else do your thinking for you. We say, “Don’t bother me with the details, just give me the bottom line”, and our age of fast information shortens our already limited attention span.

It is in this spirit I offer you Glenn C. Arbery’s fine book ‘Why Literature Matters.”

Our understanding of liberal arts goes all the way back to the first century BC, when Marcus Terrentius Varro wrote an encyclopedia, Disciplinarum libri IX (Nine Books of Disciplines); seven of the disciplines he discussed in it became our liberal arts: grammar, dialectic (or logic), rhetoric, geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, music, medicine and architecture.  Of these, the so-called hard sciences are certainly in the forefront with literature and art lost in the dust of the stampeding herd.

In our age of technology worship, we gravitate to that which can be arithmetically computed wherein hard and predictable answers prevail.  The problem of course, is that life bears little resemblance to that golden ring.  Science, for all its bluster is a poor tutor for life’s real questions.  As H. L. Mencken said “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

In his speech The American Scholar, Ralph Waldo Emerson said this

 “Of course, there is a portion of reading quite indispensable to a wise man. History and exact science he must learn by laborious reading. Colleges, in like manner, have their indispensable office, – to teach elements. But they can only highly serve us, when they aim not to drill, but to create; when they gather from far every ray of various genius to their hospitable halls, and, by the concentrated fires, set the hearts of their youth on flame. Thought and knowledge are natures in which apparatus and pretension avail nothing. Gowns, and pecuniary foundations, though of towns of gold, can never countervail the least sentence or syllable of wit. Forget this, and our American colleges will recede in their public importance, whilst they grow richer every year.”

In The American Scholar, Emerson calls us out of the fog, and describes what he calls “Man Thinking”. America was only sixty years old when he spoke those words in 1837, and we were still wrapped up in a parochial European mindset. He challenged his hearers to wake up and live their lives with depth and purpose.

That message has never been more relevant.

Literature is by definition immediately relevant, because it speaks of the human condition.  Ironically, we long for depth in our lives but content ourselves in shallow water. Our entertainment is banal and our conversations increasingly require a smaller and smaller vocabulary. We each have the same twenty-four hours available in every day, but many of them are lived half-heartedly – nothing special.

Apart from the simple, trashy books which constantly drill to our lowest carnal elements, true literature calls to us a host of writerly advisors who push and pull us into moral dilemmas, forcing us to, as Socrates said“know thyself.”  Anaïs Nin said “The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.”  Herein lies first the opportunity and ultimately the catalyst of real growth.

Arbery wrote

“Literature matters because nothing can better approach the form, in this sense, of life in its felt reality, as it is most deeply experienced, with an intelligence that increases in power the more it explores the most unbearable dimensions of joy and suffering.  Without being specifically religious itself, it can give an experience of a common glory that intimates something otherwise unsayable about the nature of the Word through whom all things were made.  It can turn the loss of life and meaning not only into the rediscovery of meaning but into an occasion of promissory joy.”

In his essay “What is Art?” Leo Tolstoy tells the story of the Russian painter Karl Bryullov correcting a student’s sketch. “Why, you only changed it a tiny bit,” the student marveled, “but it is quite a different thing.” Bryullov replied: “Art begins where that ‘tiny bit’ begins.” Tolstoy comments: “That saying is strikingly true not only of art but of all life. One may say that true life begins where the ‘tiny bit’ begins, where the infinitesimally small alterations of consciousness take place.” 

To the college students I say – congratulations.  You are standing at the beginning point of self-discovery.  As you embark on this new journey that will commence your development of self-hood, take with you an open, seeking mind.  Fuel it with treasure of the ages and allow literature to inform your journey.

You will never regret it.  Tonight I’m praying for you, and someday you will join me and Gustave Flaubert who wrote in Madame Bovary

What better occupation, really, than to spend the evening at the fireside with a book, with the wind beating on the windows and the lamp burning bright…Haven’t you ever happened to come across in a book some vague notion that you’ve had, some obscure idea that returns from afar and that seems to express completely your most subtle feelings?


John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

The Fate Of The Romantic: Day 5

Madame Bovary
Gustave Flaubert

“At the bottom of her heart, however, she was waiting for something to happen. Like shipwrecked sailors, she turned despairing eyes upon the solitude of her life, seeking afar off some white sail in the mists of the horizon. She did not know what this chance would be, what wind would bring it her, towards what shore it would drive her, if it would be a shallop or a three-decker, laden with anguish or full of bliss to the portholes. But each morning, as she awoke, she hoped it would come that day; she listened to every sound, sprang up with a start, wondered that it did not come; then at sunset, always more saddened, she longed for the morrow.”


Great literature brings many benefits to attentive readers. One of them is vicarious learning. Masterful works of fiction like Madame Bovary transport us to a sphere of imagination that not only allows but enhances our self-awareness. As we identify with richly drawn characters, we likewise see our lives more clearly.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me Karen Swallow Prior writes:

Emma Bovary’s story is about what happens to a woman who builds a life around false images and undergoes the inevitable disappointments for doing so. My story about Madame Bovary is about what didn’t happen. Madame Bovary prevented me from cheating. I don’t mean I would have taken a lover if I’d not been warned by her story in time. Although, who knows? Maybe I would have…

Is there any book you’ve read that has transformed your thinking and life as Madame Bovary did for the author?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Gustave Flaubert

Writing was not easy for the French novelist Gustave Flaubert. Because of his concern for form and precise detail, he often struggled for days searching for le seul mot juste (“the exactly right word”). He took five years to write Madame Bovary, his best-known work.

Gustave Flaubert was born on Dec. 12, 1821, in Rouen, France, where his father, Achille, was chief surgeon at the Hôtel-Dieu (hospital).  His mother, Caroline Fleuriot, was the daughter of a doctor. Gustave was one of six children, only three of whom survived.

While a student in Rouen, Gustave showed an early interest in literature. He and his friends acted in plays he had written when he was only 11. His first published work, Song of Death, appeared in the review Le Colibri in 1837.

At the insistence of his father, Flaubert went to Paris in 1841 to study law. In 1843, having failed his examinations and suffering from the onset of a nervous disorder, he decided to devote all his time to literature. After the deaths of his father and sister, in 1846, a sizable inheritance enabled him to retire to the family estate at Croisset to write.

Flaubert sought to make literature a pure art. His aim was to write faultless, meticulously chiseled prose. “My head reels and throat aches with chasing after, slogging over, delving into, turning around, groping after, and bellowing, in a hundred thousand different ways, a sentence that I’ve at last finished,” he said while working on Madame Bovary.

Published in serial form in 1856, it tells the story of Emma Bovary, an irresponsible, selfish, extravagant young woman who, involved in debt and intrigue, poisons herself. The novel caused such a sensation in France that its author was put on trial for the alleged immorality of the book.

For Madame Bovary, Flaubert took a commonplace story of adultery and made of it a book that continues to be read because of its profound humanity. The story is that of Emma, a girl in provincial France who eagerly marries her father’s physician, country doctor Charles Bovary, to escape life on the farm. Emma soon comes to discover, though, that Charles is far from the prince that she had hoped for and that married life is quite unbearable. Disgusted and frustrated, Emma begins to act out her romantic fantasies and embarks on an ultimately disastrous love affair.

Madame Bovary cost the author five years of hard work. Believing that there was “no such thing as a synonym,” Flaubert worked and reworked the book, searching for exactly the right word to describe every situation. The novel, with the subtitle Moeurs de province (Provincial Customs), eventually appeared in installments in his friend Maxime du Camp’s journal Revue de Parisfrom Oct. 1 to Dec. 15, 1856. The French government then brought the author to trial on the ground of his novel’s alleged immorality, and he narrowly escaped conviction. With its unrelenting objectivity the novel marked the beginning of a new age of realism in literature.

Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

The Fate Of The Romantic: Day 4

Madame Bovary
Gustave Flaubert

“At the bottom of her heart, however, she was waiting for something to happen. Like shipwrecked sailors, she turned despairing eyes upon the solitude of her life, seeking afar off some white sail in the mists of the horizon. She did not know what this chance would be, what wind would bring it her, towards what shore it would drive her, if it would be a shallop or a three-decker, laden with anguish or full of bliss to the portholes. But each morning, as she awoke, she hoped it would come that day; she listened to every sound, sprang up with a start, wondered that it did not come; then at sunset, always more saddened, she longed for the morrow.”


I was a lucky boy.  My parents had been married for 20 years when I was born and were well settled into a happy life.  That’s not to say their life was problem free, but time had seasoned their relationship into something durable, something that could take a punch.  As remarkable as that was, it was nothing compared to what I witnessed at the end when their devotion of 63 years was stronger than the magic of any fairytale.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me Karen Swallow Prior writes:

A longtime friend who has been married almost as long as I have and who had a lot of tough things to work out in her marriage relationship once told me that the thing she admires most about my marriage is that we accept one another for who we are; we don’t try to change each other. I think that’s owing, at least in part, to Madame Bovary.

How can we do a better job of advancing the idea that real life, even with its disappointments, is better than fantasy?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Gustave Flaubert

Writing was not easy for the French novelist Gustave Flaubert. Because of his concern for form and precise detail, he often struggled for days searching for le seul mot juste (“the exactly right word”). He took five years to write Madame Bovary, his best-known work.

Gustave Flaubert was born on Dec. 12, 1821, in Rouen, France, where his father, Achille, was chief surgeon at the Hôtel-Dieu (hospital).  His mother, Caroline Fleuriot, was the daughter of a doctor. Gustave was one of six children, only three of whom survived.

While a student in Rouen, Gustave showed an early interest in literature. He and his friends acted in plays he had written when he was only 11. His first published work, Song of Death, appeared in the review Le Colibri in 1837.

At the insistence of his father, Flaubert went to Paris in 1841 to study law. In 1843, having failed his examinations and suffering from the onset of a nervous disorder, he decided to devote all his time to literature. After the deaths of his father and sister, in 1846, a sizable inheritance enabled him to retire to the family estate at Croisset to write.

Flaubert sought to make literature a pure art. His aim was to write faultless, meticulously chiseled prose. “My head reels and throat aches with chasing after, slogging over, delving into, turning around, groping after, and bellowing, in a hundred thousand different ways, a sentence that I’ve at last finished,” he said while working on Madame Bovary.

Published in serial form in 1856, it tells the story of Emma Bovary, an irresponsible, selfish, extravagant young woman who, involved in debt and intrigue, poisons herself. The novel caused such a sensation in France that its author was put on trial for the alleged immorality of the book.

For Madame Bovary, Flaubert took a commonplace story of adultery and made of it a book that continues to be read because of its profound humanity. The story is that of Emma, a girl in provincial France who eagerly marries her father’s physician, country doctor Charles Bovary, to escape life on the farm. Emma soon comes to discover, though, that Charles is far from the prince that she had hoped for and that married life is quite unbearable. Disgusted and frustrated, Emma begins to act out her romantic fantasies and embarks on an ultimately disastrous love affair.

Madame Bovary cost the author five years of hard work. Believing that there was “no such thing as a synonym,” Flaubert worked and reworked the book, searching for exactly the right word to describe every situation. The novel, with the subtitle Moeurs de province (Provincial Customs), eventually appeared in installments in his friend Maxime du Camp’s journal Revue de Parisfrom Oct. 1 to Dec. 15, 1856. The French government then brought the author to trial on the ground of his novel’s alleged immorality, and he narrowly escaped conviction. With its unrelenting objectivity the novel marked the beginning of a new age of realism in literature.

Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

The Fate Of The Romantic: Day 3

Madame Bovary
Gustave Flaubert

“At the bottom of her heart, however, she was waiting for something to happen. Like shipwrecked sailors, she turned despairing eyes upon the solitude of her life, seeking afar off some white sail in the mists of the horizon. She did not know what this chance would be, what wind would bring it her, towards what shore it would drive her, if it would be a shallop or a three-decker, laden with anguish or full of bliss to the portholes. But each morning, as she awoke, she hoped it would come that day; she listened to every sound, sprang up with a start, wondered that it did not come; then at sunset, always more saddened, she longed for the morrow.”


The honeymoon is over.  Ever said that?  The cliché means the glow of idealized infatuation has been rudely tarnished by some aspect of harsh reality.  It happens in all relationships that begin with expectations that are humanly unsustainable.  Sooner or later our flaws emerge and reckoning must be done.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me Karen Swallow Prior writes:

If she were able to express her discontentment perhaps she might have overcome it. Indeed she thinks that if Charles could only understand her, even if only in part, her heart might yield “a sudden bounty.” But she does not have the words to express her yearnings and disappointments. Unreleased, they simmer. As the intimacy of married life with her husband deepens, “the greater became the gulf that kept them apart.” For intimacy with Charles reveals that the doctor who successfully treated her father’s bone fracture—the occasion of Emma and Charles’ meeting—is, in fact, a man, and a rather ordinary, dull, and flawed one at that.

The fact that no man is able to satisfy Emma reveals that even if Charles had been a bit less, or even a lot less, dull, it would not have been enough. Emma’s discovery that her husband is a real person, not just an image, is a discovery most of us must undertake. And it’s a discovery that is made not just once and for all, but—particularly within the context of marriage—over and over, sometimes on a daily basis, as I had to learn for myself.

How have “fairy tale” versions of life you might have once believed been challenged and changed by real life?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Gustave Flaubert

Writing was not easy for the French novelist Gustave Flaubert. Because of his concern for form and precise detail, he often struggled for days searching for le seul mot juste (“the exactly right word”). He took five years to write Madame Bovary, his best-known work.

Gustave Flaubert was born on Dec. 12, 1821, in Rouen, France, where his father, Achille, was chief surgeon at the Hôtel-Dieu (hospital).  His mother, Caroline Fleuriot, was the daughter of a doctor. Gustave was one of six children, only three of whom survived.

While a student in Rouen, Gustave showed an early interest in literature. He and his friends acted in plays he had written when he was only 11. His first published work, Song of Death, appeared in the review Le Colibri in 1837.

At the insistence of his father, Flaubert went to Paris in 1841 to study law. In 1843, having failed his examinations and suffering from the onset of a nervous disorder, he decided to devote all his time to literature. After the deaths of his father and sister, in 1846, a sizable inheritance enabled him to retire to the family estate at Croisset to write.

Flaubert sought to make literature a pure art. His aim was to write faultless, meticulously chiseled prose. “My head reels and throat aches with chasing after, slogging over, delving into, turning around, groping after, and bellowing, in a hundred thousand different ways, a sentence that I’ve at last finished,” he said while working on Madame Bovary.

Published in serial form in 1856, it tells the story of Emma Bovary, an irresponsible, selfish, extravagant young woman who, involved in debt and intrigue, poisons herself. The novel caused such a sensation in France that its author was put on trial for the alleged immorality of the book.

For Madame Bovary, Flaubert took a commonplace story of adultery and made of it a book that continues to be read because of its profound humanity. The story is that of Emma, a girl in provincial France who eagerly marries her father’s physician, country doctor Charles Bovary, to escape life on the farm. Emma soon comes to discover, though, that Charles is far from the prince that she had hoped for and that married life is quite unbearable. Disgusted and frustrated, Emma begins to act out her romantic fantasies and embarks on an ultimately disastrous love affair.

Madame Bovary cost the author five years of hard work. Believing that there was “no such thing as a synonym,” Flaubert worked and reworked the book, searching for exactly the right word to describe every situation. The novel, with the subtitle Moeurs de province (Provincial Customs), eventually appeared in installments in his friend Maxime du Camp’s journal Revue de Parisfrom Oct. 1 to Dec. 15, 1856. The French government then brought the author to trial on the ground of his novel’s alleged immorality, and he narrowly escaped conviction. With its unrelenting objectivity the novel marked the beginning of a new age of realism in literature.

Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

The Fate Of The Romantic

Madame Bovary
Gustave Flaubert

“At the bottom of her heart, however, she was waiting for something to happen. Like shipwrecked sailors, she turned despairing eyes upon the solitude of her life, seeking afar off some white sail in the mists of the horizon. She did not know what this chance would be, what wind would bring it her, towards what shore it would drive her, if it would be a shallop or a three-decker, laden with anguish or full of bliss to the portholes. But each morning, as she awoke, she hoped it would come that day; she listened to every sound, sprang up with a start, wondered that it did not come; then at sunset, always more saddened, she longed for the morrow.”


Rick WilcoxGustave Flaubert once said he was “addicted to the disease of Romanticism” in his youth and that he wrote Madame Bovary as a form of “self-exorcism.”

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me Karen Swallow Prior writes:

Such romanticism isn’t limited to silly teenage girls. Romanticism is a form of idealism. Real relationships are grounded in life. Not the kind of idealism that hopes for the best, but rather one that refuses to see and accept reality. Idealism sees the world in terms of extremes: good/bad, black/white, ugly/beautiful. The old cowboy Westerns, a genre of romance, don’t have any cowboys in gray; they all don either black hats or white. The same for that more modern romance, Star Wars. And, of course, in the original romances, centered on the Arthurian legends of the Knights of the Round Table, the men were either gallants or giants, and the women either damsels in distress or crones. Some women were both—not at the same time, but one or the other until some magic revealed their true identity, like the beast in Beauty and the Beast. The most common modern romances are the Harlequin kind. And even more recent versions of these stories—those that add vampires or eroticism of other twists—are simply variations of the same old formula in which a man rescues a woman (if only from herself), and she transforms him in return. A sure recipe for disaster when such expectations are carried over into real life.

What are some other examples of romantic thinking today?  What are the sources of these idealized images?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

D I G  D E E P E R


Gustave Flaubert and Madame Bovary

Gustave Flaubert

Writing was not easy for the French novelist Gustave Flaubert. Because of his concern for form and precise detail, he often struggled for days searching for le seul mot juste (“the exactly right word”). He took five years to write Madame Bovary, his best-known work.

Gustave Flaubert was born on Dec. 12, 1821, in Rouen, France, where his father, Achille, was chief surgeon at the Hôtel-Dieu (hospital).  His mother, Caroline Fleuriot, was the daughter of a doctor. Gustave was one of six children, only three of whom survived.

While a student in Rouen, Gustave showed an early interest in literature. He and his friends acted in plays he had written when he was only 11. His first published work, Song of Death, appeared in the review Le Colibri in 1837.

At the insistence of his father, Flaubert went to Paris in 1841 to study law. In 1843, having failed his examinations and suffering from the onset of a nervous disorder, he decided to devote all his time to literature. After the deaths of his father and sister, in 1846, a sizable inheritance enabled him to retire to the family estate at Croisset to write.

Flaubert sought to make literature a pure art. His aim was to write faultless, meticulously chiseled prose. “My head reels and throat aches with chasing after, slogging over, delving into, turning around, groping after, and bellowing, in a hundred thousand different ways, a sentence that I’ve at last finished,” he said while working on Madame Bovary.

Published in serial form in 1856, it tells the story of Emma Bovary, an irresponsible, selfish, extravagant young woman who, involved in debt and intrigue, poisons herself. The novel caused such a sensation in France that its author was put on trial for the alleged immorality of the book.

For Madame Bovary, Flaubert took a commonplace story of adultery and made of it a book that continues to be read because of its profound humanity. The story is that of Emma, a girl in provincial France who eagerly marries her father’s physician, country doctor Charles Bovary, to escape life on the farm. Emma soon comes to discover, though, that Charles is far from the prince that she had hoped for and that married life is quite unbearable. Disgusted and frustrated, Emma begins to act out her romantic fantasies and embarks on an ultimately disastrous love affair.

Madame Bovary cost the author five years of hard work. Believing that there was “no such thing as a synonym,” Flaubert worked and reworked the book, searching for exactly the right word to describe every situation. The novel, with the subtitle Moeurs de province (Provincial Customs), eventually appeared in installments in his friend Maxime du Camp’s journal Revue de Parisfrom Oct. 1 to Dec. 15, 1856. The French government then brought the author to trial on the ground of his novel’s alleged immorality, and he narrowly escaped conviction. With its unrelenting objectivity the novel marked the beginning of a new age of realism in literature.

Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

The Fate Of The Romantic: Day 1

Madame Bovary
Gustave Flaubert

“At the bottom of her heart, however, she was waiting for something to happen. Like shipwrecked sailors, she turned despairing eyes upon the solitude of her life, seeking afar off some white sail in the mists of the horizon. She did not know what this chance would be, what wind would bring it her, towards what shore it would drive her, if it would be a shallop or a three-decker, laden with anguish or full of bliss to the portholes. But each morning, as she awoke, she hoped it would come that day; she listened to every sound, sprang up with a start, wondered that it did not come; then at sunset, always more saddened, she longed for the morrow.”


This week we turn to Gustave Flaubert and his masterpiece Madame Bovary.  Have you read it?  Though it was written almost 200 years ago, the story is fresh and current.  It tells of a young girl whose romantic dreams entice her to a life that ultimately fails her.  Relationships are built on the hard work of everyday life, and while matches can still seem to be “made in heaven,” they are nonetheless comprised of imperfect people.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me Karen Swallow Prior writes:

For a long time, that’s how I thought it was to be: feelings as the measure of love. Excitement. Pleasure. Approval. Smoothness, not awkwardness. I was no different from other girls in this respect. Conditioned by popular culture, movies, television, and even many lesser books, I had come, like most young girls, to expect love to be something more like balloons in the air than daisies in the ground.

The author’s view of the romantic worldview is negative.  Do you agree or disagree with this assessment?  Does a romantic worldview have positive aspects that are overlooked here?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Gustave Flaubert and Madame Bovary

Gustave Flaubert

Writing was not easy for the French novelist Gustave Flaubert. Because of his concern for form and precise detail, he often struggled for days searching for le seul mot juste (“the exactly right word”). He took five years to write Madame Bovary, his best-known work.

Gustave Flaubert was born on Dec. 12, 1821, in Rouen, France, where his father, Achille, was chief surgeon at the Hôtel-Dieu (hospital).  His mother, Caroline Fleuriot, was the daughter of a doctor. Gustave was one of six children, only three of whom survived.

While a student in Rouen, Gustave showed an early interest in literature. He and his friends acted in plays he had written when he was only 11. His first published work, Song of Death, appeared in the review Le Colibri in 1837.

At the insistence of his father, Flaubert went to Paris in 1841 to study law. In 1843, having failed his examinations and suffering from the onset of a nervous disorder, he decided to devote all his time to literature. After the deaths of his father and sister, in 1846, a sizable inheritance enabled him to retire to the family estate at Croisset to write.

Flaubert sought to make literature a pure art. His aim was to write faultless, meticulously chiseled prose. “My head reels and throat aches with chasing after, slogging over, delving into, turning around, groping after, and bellowing, in a hundred thousand different ways, a sentence that I’ve at last finished,” he said while working on Madame Bovary.

Published in serial form in 1856, it tells the story of Emma Bovary, an irresponsible, selfish, extravagant young woman who, involved in debt and intrigue, poisons herself. The novel caused such a sensation in France that its author was put on trial for the alleged immorality of the book.

For Madame Bovary, Flaubert took a commonplace story of adultery and made of it a book that continues to be read because of its profound humanity. The story is that of Emma, a girl in provincial France who eagerly marries her father’s physician, country doctor Charles Bovary, to escape life on the farm. Emma soon comes to discover, though, that Charles is far from the prince that she had hoped for and that married life is quite unbearable. Disgusted and frustrated, Emma begins to act out her romantic fantasies and embarks on an ultimately disastrous love affair.

Madame Bovary cost the author five years of hard work. Believing that there was “no such thing as a synonym,” Flaubert worked and reworked the book, searching for exactly the right word to describe every situation. The novel, with the subtitle Moeurs de province (Provincial Customs), eventually appeared in installments in his friend Maxime du Camp’s journal Revue de Parisfrom Oct. 1 to Dec. 15, 1856. The French government then brought the author to trial on the ground of his novel’s alleged immorality, and he narrowly escaped conviction. With its unrelenting objectivity the novel marked the beginning of a new age of realism in literature.

Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

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