Friday, 10 June 2011

Flaubert and the rolling-mill

I was thinking that this summer I would read Madame Bovary again, properly, thinking about how Flaubert uses the words he uses. Just then I happened upon this, from the Paul J. Griffiths blog. This person happens to be my brother, and is of course Much Cleverer Than I Am. All families have these categories into which their members are placed, or fall. The Clever ratings we had were rather unfair to our sister, who is also Much Cleverer Than I Am, but no-one ever said anything about her Clever status when we were growing up. I am the firstborn (first grandchild on both sides, too), and thus exhibit all the firstborn behaviours, but that is another story. I imagine my mother was quite impressed with me when I was born, but when my golden-boy brother arrived, unplanned and too soon afterwards, she would cheerfully have exposed me on a mountainside if she had thought she could get away with it. It followed that my brother and I were brought up together like twins, and that has always suited me just fine. That link never leaves you: even though my brother and I have not lived on the same continent for more than 30 years, it is still there between us.

The younger generation of our family, now aged from early twenties to mid-thirties, have been assigned their categories too, though I am less clear about them as I have been partly responsible I suppose for the assigning. It is clear though that my mother assigned categories to each of her six grandchildren at or soon after their births. One can do no wrong; one is eternally treated as a servant; she continually forgets (not through dementia) the very existence of a third; and if something is done wrong it is, generally speaking, the fault of a fourth. The cousins and siblings don't seem to mind this much: their attitude to it is one of amused tolerance. The following generation has begun to appear: so far there are three of them, aged one, two and three. I do not believe I have put them into categories, at least not yet (it's not something anyone sets out to do), but my own granddaughter, the eldest, is not someone who can do no wrong. She is, at times gloriously, insufferable. She is also a left-handed redhead.

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, Flaubert. The passage quoted is about what words do to the past, and they play, in Flaubert's words, the role of a "laminoir", a kind of milling machine that smoothes things out and gives them the shape you want. So thanks Paul for the words. If you read the short piece he (my brother not Flaubert) wrote, you will notice that he calls Flaubert a "pagan".  By this he does not mean what most speakers of British English would mean, namely a practiser of pagan rites, midsummer and Beltane and garlandings (you can see a lot of this stuff in the present-day Baltics and Scandinavia) but apparently it is standard North American English for someone who is not a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or Sikh.

My brother is a professor at a US university, and like all such has published quite a number of books - he says himself too many for what he has wanted to say, but such is the reality of US academia. I own that I have never read any of them, as I am neither a theologian nor a philosopher. But his next one I have on pre-order, not quite sure why.

One of the many good things about an iPad is that when you are lying on your back, the only position in which I am anywhere near comfortable at present, you can still write and go on line.

I am not accustomed to being at home weekday daytimes. It is unnaturally quiet. Today sig other has also been at home for part of the day. When he went out the sales calls started coming in, most of them silent, some of them cutting out in the time it took me to hobble across to the landline phone. Chiz. They stopped of course as soon as he got home again.


Anonymous said...

Well, yes - Emma Bovary.
Loads of sympathy with her. Cahrles is an oaf - obvious why she went off with Rodolphe and obvious why it didn't work and as for Leon -- very often the guys who make sheeps eyes and are the most adoring are the biggest shits in the end.

The death from poison is horrible. Oh -- you have just brought it all back to me, actually.

I last read it ( I do from time to time) quite a long time ago. Also in France. In a Routier - with first husband on a summer holiday and 4 year old daughter and 1 year old baby son. In a makeshift cot in our 'family room'. Son. At the Routier. Which wasn't very nice.We were just there overnight - on the way back from a gite in Brittany. You did that then. Gites. Everybody with young kids did. They don't now. Anybody. Don't blame them. This gite had mice, actually. I was wearing black satin drainpipe trousers. We had just had steak frites and salad. Came back to room upstairs and baby needed changing. Room felt clausrophobic.It was a box. Not right. Looking back it was actually the first time I really knew that something not right was going on with the marriage. And I re read Madam Bovary while hubby went downstairs to the bar to drink more booze and show off his French to the locals. He did a term in a Jesuit school in Paris as a child -- so prided himself on speaking like a local. He could always carry on a conversation and did - and I never could. So I read about Emma. That night, I had got to the spot where Charles does the operation ( on feet) and it all goes horribly wrong. Emma has thought that he might make something of himself. At last. And he didn't. I just knew then that it wasn't right. I looked as good as I ever have done before or since. And it still wasn't right. It took a further eleven years for it to implode but it was always certain that it would.

Ah - Emma. Yes.

Jane Griffiths said...

This is a short story, wonderfully atmospheric

Anonymous said...

It just came back and hit me.

Anonymous said...

I have just read some of your brother's posts.

I much prefer your direct writing style to his verbose prose with very subtle meanings. Perhaps that is why theology drives people away.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the commentary about theology puts people off. I can see that it might. But theology itself - if you take the bible forexample - is also wonderfully direct.

To him that hath shalt be given. To him that hath not shall be taken even that which he hath.

Can't get more direct than that.

And Eloi Eloi lama sabacthani ( I think) and
mene mene tekel peres etc