Sunday, November 18, 2012

Five best books of notable correspondence by eminent men

Frederic Raphael is the author of more than twenty novels, including The Glittering Prizes, f ive volumes of short stories, biographies of Byron and W. Somerset Maugham, and five volumes of his personal notebooks and journals. His new books include A Jew Among Romans: The Life and Legacy of Flavius Josephus.

For the Wall Street Journal he named a five best list of collections of notable correspondence by eminent men, including:
The Letters of Gustave Flaubert
Trans. by Francis Steegmuller (1980-82)

When Jean-Paul Sartre titled his (unfinished) biography of Gustave Flaubert "The Idiot of the Family," it was the revenge of talent on genius. Sartre reproached Flaubert for lacking the kind of political commitment that led his biographer to endorse Stalin and Mao. Flaubert's crime, according to Sartre, was his failure to rally to the 1870 Commune in Paris or to denounce those who suppressed it. Flaubert's one persistent allegiance was to his art. He spent most of his life in his workroom in gloomy rural Normandy. While writing "Madame Bovary," he did occasionally go to Paris, to see his mistress, Louise Colet, but he preferred to keep her warm through a long, somewhat passionate correspondence. "Love me forever, do," he tells her and sends her "a kiss, a long one, two of them, good and long; a hundred. Next time we'll talk only about you. Meanwhile, work hard, as much as you can. The problem is not to look for happiness, it's to avoid being bored. It can be done, if you stick at it. A toi mon amour." You cannot entirely admire the man who kept poor Louise on the back burner until he had learned from her all that he needed to make Emma Bovary a believable (foolishly romantic) woman. Once the novel was done, so too was Louise. Often literally stuck in the provincial mud, Flaubert kept in touch with all manner of friends, including Baudelaire, the Goncourt brothers, George Sand and Guy de Maupassant. To the critic Sainte-Beuve, who had written scornfully of Flaubert's novel "Salammbô," he addressed a classic letter beginning "Cher Maître," in which he responds with deliciously mordant deference. We should all dare to be Flaubert's kind of idiot.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Also see Frederic Raphael's top 10 talkative novels.

--Marshal Zeringue