Recognised as a master short story writer, Maupassant was a protégé of Gustave Flaubert. Maupassant also lived for some time in Rouen, attending school there from age 13. While a student in Rouen, he often visited Flaubert at his house on the Seine at Croisset. There he met other famous writers such as Zola and Turgenev.
Flaubert’s Parrot, a novel by Julian Barnes was short-listed for the Booker Prize in 1984. The book is an investigation of Flaubert’s life and a search for the stuffed parrot that sat on Flaubert’s desk when he was writing A Simple Heart.
As Julian Barnes explains in Flaubert’s Parrot, there is more than one contender for being the actual stuffed parrot, including this one in Flaubert’s Pavilion.
Flaubert died in 1880, aged 58, and was buried in his family’s plot at the cemetery in Rouen. His grave is marked with a relatively plain tombstone. It seems very appropriate that the cemetery is on a hill overlooking Rouen, with striking views across the rooftops and spires. Flaubert famously commented, “Madame Bovary, c’est moi” (Madame Bovary – that’s me) but as you look down on the town you realise that he could equally have said “Rouen, c’est moi”.
The Flaubert Pavilion at Croisset near Rouen contains interesting memorabilia. Pens, inkwells and works of art that belonged to the famous author are on display. Flaubert’s study was on the first floor of the main house that no longer exists, but he entertained writer friends such as Emile Zola and Guy de Maupassant in the pavilion.
From 1843 until his death, Flaubert lived and worked in his home at Croisset just a few kilometres out of Rouen. The main house has now gone, but the sunny pavilion overlooking the Seine is open to the public as a Flaubert museum.
In the grounds of Flaubert’s Pavilion there is one particularly interesting feature. Beneath the trees there is a stone covered pathway, along which he used to walk when seeking inspiration for his writing.
The pavilion is open to visitors on Saturday and Sunday afternoons in the summer.
The key site in Rouen mentioned in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary is the Notre Dame Cathedral, where Madame Bovary meets her lover. They are shown around the cathedral by an overly enthusiastic beadle who points out all the interesting tombs and artworks. Several of the cathedral’s stained glass windows also appear in other stories by Flaubert. However he had reservations about the exterior of the cathedral, describing one of the spires as a “sort of truncated funnel … that rises grotesquely”.
Rouen appears repeatedly in Madame Bovary, Flaubert’s most famous novel. This meticulously written story of marital infidelity caused a storm at the time, though the plot isn’t quite so sensational by today’s standards. In the early pages of the novel, Charles Bovary goes to school in Rouen. Emma, who becomes Madame Bovary when she marries Charles, attends a convent in Rouen and later obtains her wedding trousseau from the town.
In the centre of Rouen there is a full length bronze statue of Gustave Flaubert in the leafy, cafe-filled Place des Carmes.
Gustave Flaubert was born on 12 December 1821 in the Hotel-Dieu, a Rouen hospital, where his father was a surgeon. The family lived in residential quarters at the hospital during Flaubert’s childhood. The hospital building still stands, just a few blocks from the centre of town and a wall plaque proclaims that this was Flaubert’s birth place.
On one side of the hospital is the apartment where the Flaubert family lived. It is now the Flaubert and History of Medicine Museum (Musée Flaubert et D’Histoire de la Medecine). Inside you can see displays about the family and about the horrors of 19th century medical practices. In the garden outside there is a marble bas relief sculpture of Flaubert.
The French provincial city of Rouen is a picture-perfect medieval town with many historical and literary connections.
In 1415 the French army assembled outside Rouen before setting of for the Battle of Agincourt, in which they were soundly beaten by Henry V and his army. Joan of Arc was captured in 1430, imprisoned in Rouen and burnt at the stake in the town’s main square.
In the 19th century, Guy de Maupassant studied the classics in Rouen, and the impressionist painter Monet turned the town’s cathedral into an icon with his delicately coloured paintings under different lighting conditions. Napoleon Bonaparte visited the town in 1802 and there is a fine equestrian statue of him outside the town hall.
But above all else, Rouen is the town of the French novelist Gustave Flaubert. He was born and raised in Rouen, lived and worked there for all of his life, died there and was buried in the local cemetery.
An even more recent memorial to Adam Lindsay Gordon has been erected in the main street of Ballarat. In 1969, to commemorate 100 years since the poet lived the city, an impressive statue of a horse remembers Gordon. The monument is also a memorial to all the horses that were killed during World War I.