Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Gustave Flaubert

French Writer, Western Novelist known for his first novel, Madame Bovary

"We were in class when the head-master came in, followed by a "new fellow," not wearing the school uniform, and a school servant carrying a large desk. Those who had been asleep woke up, and every one rose as if just surprised at his work."

"We were Red Romantics, perfectly ridiculous to be sure, but in full bloom. The little good which remains to me comes from that epoch."

"We shouldn't maltreat our idols: the gilt comes off on our hands."

"We think of women at every age: while still children, we fondle with a na‹ve sensuality the breasts of those grown-up girls kissing us and cuddling us in their arms; at the age of ten, we dream of love; at fifteen, love comes along; at sixty, it is still with us, and if dead men in their tombs have any thought in their heads, it is how to make their way underground to the nearby grave, lift the shroud of the dear departed women, and mingle with her in her sleep"

"What a horrible invention, the bourgeois, don't you think?"

"What a scholar one might be if one knew well only some half a dozen books."

"What an elder sees sitting; the young can't see standing."

"What an awful thing life is, isn?t it? It?s like soup with lots of hairs floating on the surface. You have to eat it nevertheless."

"What an unutterable catastrophe! The apothecary always had the proper expression ready, whatever the occasion."

"What baffled him was that there should be all this fuss about something so simple as love."

"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?"

"What could be better, really, than to sit by the fire in the evening with a book, while the wind beats against the windowpanes, and the lamp burns?... You forget everything ... and hours go by. Without moving, you walk through lands you imagine you can see, and your thoughts, weaving in and out of the story, delight in the details or follow the outlines of the adventures. You merge with the character; you think you're the one whose heart is beating so hard within the clothes he's wearing."

"What exasperated her was Charles's total unawareness of her ordeal. His conviction that he was making her happy she took as a stupid insult: such self-righteousness could only mean that he didn't appreciate her."

"What is beautiful is moral, that is all there is to it."

"What stops me from taking myself seriously, even though I am essentially a serious person, is that I find myself extremely ridiculous, not in the sense of the small-scale ridiculousness of slap-stick comedy, but rather in the sense of ridiculousness that seems intrinsic to human life and that manifests itself in the simplest actions and the most extraordinary gestures."

"What kept her back was doubtless indolence or fear, and, to some extent, a sense of modesty. Next she imagined she had overdone her coolness, that the psychological moment had gone by, and that the whole thing was over. Then the pride, the joy of saying, 'I am a virtuous woman,' of looking at herself in the glass in an attitude of resignation, consoled her a little for the sacrifice she supposed she was making."

"What wretched poverty of language! To compare stars to diamonds!"

"What vast funds of indifference society possesses."

"What seems to me the highest and the most difficult achievement of Art is not to make us laugh or cry, or to rouse our lust or our anger, but to do as nature does?that is, fill us with wonderment."

"What's improper about it? retorted the clerk. Everybody does it in Paris!"

"What is the beautiful, if not the impossible."

"What's more delightful than an evening beside the fire with a nice bright lamp and a book, listening to the wind beating against the windows? How true! she said, her great dark eyes fixed widely on him. I'm absolutely removed from the world at such times, he said. The hours go by without my knowing it. Sitting there I'm wandering in countries I can see every detail of -- I'm playing a role in the story I'm reading. I actually feel I'm the characters -- I live and breathe with them."

"When all was over at the cemetery Charles returned to the house. There was no one downstairs. He went up into the bedroom and saw her dress hanging up at the foot of the bed. Then, leaning against the secretaire, he remained there till it was dark, lost in sorrowful meditation. After all, she had loved him."

"When one does something, one must do it wholly and well. Those bastard existences where you sell suet all day and write poetry at night are made for mediocre minds ? like those horses that are equally good for saddle and carriage, the worst kind, that can neither jump a ditch nor pull a plow."

"When our eyes see our hands doing the work of our hearts, the circle of a thing derided is a thing dead; a laughing man is stronger than a suffering man"

"When she went to confession, she invented little sins in order that she might stay there longer, kneeling in the shadow, her hands joined, her face against the grating beneath the whispering of the priest. The comparisons of betrothed, husband, celestial lover, and eternal marriage, that recur in sermons, stirred within her soul depths of unexpected sweetness."

"When you reduce a woman to writing, she makes you think of a thousand other women"

"Whereas the truth is that fullness of soul can sometimes overflow in utter vapidity of language, for none of us can ever express the exact measure of his needs or his thoughts or his sorrows; and human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars."

"When she knelt at the gothic prie-dieu she addressed the Lord with the same ardent words she had formerly murmured to her lover in the ecstasies of adultery. It was her way of praying for faith; but heaven showered no joy upon her, and she would rise, her limbs aching, with a vague feeling that it was all a vast fraud."

"When we entered a classroom we always tossed our caps on the floor, to free our hands; as soon as we crossed the threshold we would throw them under the bench so hard that they struck the wall and raised a cloud of dust; this was the way it should be done. But the new boy either failed to notice this maneuver or was too shy to perform it himself, for he was still holding his cap on his lap at the end of the prayer. It was a head-gear of composite nature, combining elements of the busby, the lancer cap, the round hat, the otter-skin cap and the cotton nightcap--one of those wretched things whose mute ugliness has great depths of expression, like an idiot's face. Egg-shaped and stiffened by whalebone, it began with three rounded bands, followed by alternating diamond-shaped patches of velvet and rabbit fur separated by a red stripe, and finally there was a kind of bag terminating in a cardboard-lined polygon covered with complicated braid. A network of gold wire was attached to the top of this polygon by a long, extremely thin cord, forming a kind of tassel. The cap was new; its visor was shiny. Stand up, said the teacher. He stood up; his cap fell. The whole class began to laugh. He bent down and picked it up. A boy beside him knocked it down again with his elbow; he picked it up once again. Will you please put your helmet away? said the teacher, a witty man."

"Woman is a vulgar animal from whom man has created an excessively beautiful ideal."

"Write about daily life as you would write history."

"Writing history is like drinking an ocean and pissing a cupful."

"Writing is a dog?s life, but the only one worth living."

"Years passed; and he endured the idleness of his intelligence and the inertia of his heart."

"With a little more time, patience, and hard work, and above all with a more sensitive taste for the formal aspects of arts, he would have managed to write mediocre poetry, good enough for a lady?s album ? and this is always a gallant thing to do, whatever you may say."

"Why was life so unsatisfactory? Why did everything she leaned on crumble instantly to dust?"

"Why, it was the romances she had read in her youth! It was Walter Scott back again! She seemed to catch, through the mist, the sound of the Scottish bagpipes skirling among the heather. And the memory of the book helping her to understand the libretto, she followed each successive stage in the plot, while all the time a host of vague, indefinable thoughts came thronging in upon her, only to take flight at every 'crescendo' of the music."

"Why was it? Who drove you to it?' She replied, 'It had to be, my dear!' 'Weren't you happy? Is it my fault? I did all I could!' 'Yes, that is true ? you are good ? you."

"You are alone and sad down there, I am the same here. Whence come these attacks of melancholy that overwhelm one at times? They rise like a tide, one feels drowned, one has to flee. I lie prostrate. I do nothing and the tide passes."

"You ask me whether the Orient is up to what I imagined it to be. Yes, it is; and more than that, it extends far beyond the narrow idea I had of it. I have found, clearly delineated, everything that was hazy in my mind. Facts have taken the place of suppositions - so excellently so that it is often as though I were suddenly coming upon old forgotten dreams."

"You don't make art out of good intentions."

"You forget everything. The hours slip by. You travel in your chair through centuries you seem seem to see before you, your thoughts are caught up in the story, dallying with the details or following the course of the plot, you enter into characters, so that it seems as if it were your own heart beating beneath their costumes."

"You must - do you hear me, young man? - You must work more than you are doing!"

"You must not think that feeling is everything? Art is nothing without form."

"You must write for yourself, above all. That is your only hope of creating something beautiful."

"You need a high degree of corruption or a very big heart to love absolutely everything."

"Without ideality, there is no grandeur; without grandeur there is no beauty. Olympus is a mountain. The most swagger monument will always be the Pyramids. Exuberance is better than taste; the desert is better than a street-pavement, and a savage is better than a hairdresser!"