Three Tales

Three Tales

by Gustave Flaubert, Arthur McDowall
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Three Tales 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
wrmjr66RM More than 1 year ago
Flaubert's collection of "Three Tales" brings together a wonderful set of short stories. Working from contemporary to ancient and in various modes of realism, Flaubert delves into the spiritual depths of his characters. The first story, "A Simple Heart" is the best of the group. In this story, Flaubert tells the story Felicite, a loyal servant to an uninteresting patron. Flaubert quickly covers her whole life, from her difficult childhood and through her many attachments to her death. Felicite is a woman who feels love deeply, but Flaubert's presentation is very detached and never maudlin. The last great love of Felicite's life is a parrot (which also inspired Julian Barnes' "Flaubert's Parrot") who comes to symbolize the holy spirit for her. It would have been easy for Flaubert to portray Felicite's simplicity as an object of scorn or irony, but he treats her faithfully and never passes judgment on her actions or thoughts. Her story is beautifully told and stands up well to any short story I know. The second tale, "The Legend of Saint Julian the Hospitaller," is a retelling of the legendary Saint's life. Flaubert is in a completely different mode here; he is comfortable in the quick and magical progression typical of medieval tales. Flaubert's eye for detail makes some of the scenes more horrific and as such more effective. In particular, the scenes of carnage while hunting and the scene with the leper are particularly well drawn. The final tale, "Herodias," is a retelling of the story of John the Baptist's execution. Here, Flaubert delves into the emotions of religious fervor and political intrigue. He focuses not on Herodias or John, but on Herod. He portrays Herod as caught between competing forces: Rome and the tribes outside his kingdom; his wife and the proconsul; pharisees, essenes, and the fledgling movement spawned by Jesus. All of these competing voices make the story a bit disjointed at times, but once again Flaubert's realism lends a detached feel to the entire story. Margaret Drabble's introduction to the volume is useful in how she ties the "Three Tales" into Flaubert's career and surroundings. The cathedral at Rouen, for example, has a series of stained glass windows depicting Saint Julian's story, and it also has a statue of the beheading of John the Baptist. Such details help bring the stories into greater clarity, though I recommend reading the introduction last if you have never read the stories, so as to be able to come to the stories fresh.