Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Gustave Flaubert

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

"I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within."

"I am not at all surprised that you don?t understand my literary agonies. I don?t understand them myself. But they exist nevertheless, and violent ones."

"I believe in Supreme Being, a Creator, whoever he may be, it's of no importance to me, who put us here on earth to do our duty as citizens and fathers; but I don't need to go to church and kiss silver platters and dig into my pocket to fatten up a lot of humbugs who eat better than you or I do! Because he can be worshiped just as well in a wood, a field, or even just gazing at the ethereal vault, like the ancients."

"I believe that if one always looked at the skies, one would end up with wings."

"I can't admit of an old boy of a God who takes walks in his garden with a cane in his hand, who lodges his friends in the belly of whales, dies uttering a cry, and rises again at the end of three days; things absurd in themselves, and completely opposed, moreover, to all physical laws, which prove to us, by the way, that priests have always wallowed in turpid ignorance, in which they would fain engulf the people with them."

"I can't believe that our body, composed as it is of mud and shit and equipped with instincts lower than those of the pig or the crab-louse, contains anything pure and immaterial"

"I detest common heroes and moderate feelings, the sort that exist in real life."

"I detest my fellow-beings and do not feel that I am their fellow at all"

"I don?t experience, as you do, this feeling of a life which is beginning, the stupefaction of a newly commenced existence. It seems to me, on the contrary, that I have always lived!"

"I don?t in the least know how to set to work to write, and I begin by expressing only the hundredth part of my ideas after infinite groping. Not one who seizes the first impulse, your friend, no! not at all! Thus for entire days I have polished and re-polished a paragraph without accomplishing anything. I feel like weeping at times. You ought to pity me!"

"I don't believe that happiness is possible, but I think tranquility is."

"I envision a style: a style That Would Be beautiful, that 'Will someone invent someday, ten years or ten centuries from now, One That Would Be as rhythmic verse, as the precise language of the sciences, undulant, deep-voiced as a cello, tipped with flame: a style That Would pierce your idea like a dagger, and your All which we thought Would Easily sail ahead over a smooth surface like a skiff before a good tail wind."

"I go dreaming into the future, where I see nothing, nothing. I have no plans, no idea, no project, and, what is worse, no ambition. Something ? the eternal ?what?s the use?? ? sets its bronze barrier across every avenue that I open up in the realm of hypothesis."

"I go from exasperation to a state of collapse, then I recover and go from prostration to Fury, so that my average state is one of being annoyed."

"I grew up in a hospital and as a child I played in the dissecting room."

"I hate that which we have decided to call realism, even though I have been made one of its high priests."

"I have always tried to live in an ivory tower, but a tide of shit is beating at its walls, threatening to undermine it."

"I have dreamed much and have done very little. What deceives the superficial observer is the lack of harmony between my sentiments and my ideas."

"I have no use for the kind of God who goes walking in his garden with a stick, sends his friends to live in the bellies of whales, gives up the ghost with a groan and then comes back to life three days later!"

"I lead a bitter life, devoid of all external joy and in which I have nothing to keep me going but a sort of permanent rage, which weeps at times from impotence, but which is constant."

"I love good sense above all, perhaps because I have none."

"I maintain that ideas are events. It is more difficult to make them interesting, I know, but if you fail the style is at fault."

"I have the handicap of being born with a special language to which I alone have the key."

"I have patience in all things ? as far as the antechamber."

"I invite all brats to throw their cookies at the baker?s head if they?re not sweet, winos to chuck their wine if it?s bad, the dying to shuck their souls when they croak, and men to throw their existence in God?s face when it?s bitter"

"I love my work with a frenetic and perverse love, as an ascetic loves the hair shirt which scratches his belly."

"I spent an hour yesterday watching the ladies bathe. What a sight! What a hideous sight! The two sexes used to bathe together here. But now they are kept separate by means of signposts, preventive nets, and a uniformed inspector ? nothing more depressingly grotesque can be imagined. However, yesterday, from the place where I was standing in the sun, with my spectacles on my nose, I could contemplate the bathing beauties at my leisure. The human race must indeed have become absolutely moronic to have lost its sense of elegance to this degree. Nothing is more pitiful than these bags in which women encase their bodies, and these oilcloth caps! What faces! What figures! And what feet! Red, scrawny, covered with corns and bunions, deformed by shoes, long as shuttles or wide as washerwomen?s paddles. And in the midst of everything, scrofulous brats screaming and crying. Further off, grandmas knitting and respectable old gentlemen with gold-rimmed spectacles reading newspapers, looking up from time to time between lines to savor the vastness of the horizon with an air of approval. The whole thing made me long all afternoon to escape from Europe and go live in the Sandwich Islands or the forests of Brazil. There, at least, the beaches are not polluted by such ugly feet, by such foul-looking specimens of humanity."

"I refuse to consider Art a drain-pipe for passion, a kind of chamberpot, a slightly more elegant substitute for gossip and confidences. No, no! Genuine poetry is not the scum of the heart."

"I sometimes feel a great ennui, profound emptiness, doubts which sneer in my face in the midst of the most spontaneous satisfactions. Well, I would not exchange all that for anything, because it seems to me, in my conscience, that I am doing my duty, that I am obeying a superior fatality, that I am following the Good and that I am in the Right."

"I spent the morning putting in a comma and the afternoon removing it."

"I tried to discover, in the rumor of forests and waves, words that other men could not hear, and I pricked up my ears to listen to the revelation of their harmony."

"I suffered a great deal."

"I was born with the desire to die."

"I will cover you with love when next I see you, with caresses, with ecstasy. I want to gorge you with all the joys of the flesh, so that you faint and die. I want you to be amazed by me, and to confess to yourself that you had never even dreamed of such transports... When you are old, I want you to recall those few hours, I want your dry bones to quiver with joy when you think of them."

"I'm no more modern than ancient, no more French than Chinese, and the idea of a native country, that is to say, the imperative to live on one bit of ground marked red or blue on the map and to hate the other bits in green or black, has always seemed to me narrow-minded, blinkered and profoundly stupid. I am a soul brother to everything that lives, to the giraffe and to the crocodile as much as to man."

"in accordance with theories she considered sound, she tried to physic herself with love. By moonlight, in the garden, she recited all the love poetry she knew and sighed and sang of love's sweet melancholy. But afterwards she found herself not a whit less calm and Charles not a whit more amorous or emotional."

"I well understand your doing this, said the notary. A man of science can't be expected to burden himself with the practical details of existence. Charles felt soothed by these oily words: they flattered his weakness, making it look like preoccupation with lofty things."

"I worship God. I believe in the Supreme Being, in a Creator, whoever he may be, I don't really care, who has put us here on earth to perform our duties as citizens and family men; but I don't need to go into a church and kiss a silver platter and reach into my pocket to fatten a pack of humbugs who eat better than we do! Because one can honor him just as well in a forest, in a field, or even gazing up at the ethereal vault, like the ancients. My own God is the God of Socrates, Franklin, Voltaire, and B‚ranger.... I cannot, therefore, accept the sort of jolly old God who strolls about his flower beds with cane in hand, lodges his friends in the bellies of whales, dies uttering a groan and comes back to life after three days: things absurd in themselves and completely opposed, what is more, to all physical laws; which simply goes to show, by the way, that the priests have always wallowed in a shameful ignorance in which they endeavor to engulf the peoples of the world along with them."

"If there is on earth and among all these things of nothing, a belief worthy of adoration, if there is anything holy, pure and sublime, anything answering that immoderate desire for the infinite and the vague that we call the soul, it is art."

"If you participate in life, you don?t see it clearly: you suffer from it too much or enjoy it too much. The artist, to my way of thinking, is a monstrosity, something outside nature. All the misfortunes Providence inflicts on him come from his stubbornness in denying that maxim."

"If you knew all the dreams I've dreamed!"

"I'm absolutely removed from the world at such times... 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."

"Iced champagne was poured out. Emma shivered all over as she felt it cold in her mouth. She had never seen pomegranates nor tasted pine-apples. The powdered sugar even seemed to her whiter and finer than elsewhere."

"I?m dazzled by your facility. In ten days you?ll have written six stories! I don?t understand it? I?m like one of those old aqueducts: there?s so much rubbish clogging up the banks of my thought that it flows slowly, and only spills from the end of my pen drop by drop."

"In every parting there comes a moment when the beloved is already no longer with us."

"In her enthusiasms she had always looked for something tangible: she had always loved church for its flowers, music for its romantic words, literature for its power to stir the passions and she rebelled before the mysteries of faith just as she grew ever more restive under discipline, which was antipathetic to her nature."

"In March 1853 she was afflicted with a pain in the chest; her tongue seemed to be covered with a film; leeches failed to make her breathing any easier."

"In his earliest youth, he had drawn inspiration from really bad authors, as you may have seen from his style; as he grew older, he lost his taste for them, but the excellent authors just didn?t fill him with the same enthusiasm"

"In my view, the novelist has no right to express his opinions on the things of this world. In creating, he must imitate God: do his job and then shut up."

"In the dark room a cloud of yellow dust flew from beneath the tool like a scatter of sparks from under the hooves of a galloping horse. The twin wheels turned and hummed. Binet was smiling, his chin down, his nostrils distended. He seemed lost in the kind of happiness which, as a rule, accompanies only those mediocre occupations that tickle the intelligence with easy difficulties, and satisfy it with a sense of achievement beyond which there is nothing left for dreams to feed on."