A Simple Heart

Week 8 Lecture Notes
Gustave Flaubert is a French author probably most famous for his work Madame Bovary. The story we’ll be reading this week, “A Simple Heart” is a story from his collection, Three Tales. Norton points out a few characteristics in the story that are distinctively attributed to Flaubert:

Economy — Flaubert will write only exactly what he wants to say with little to no frills in the text.

Objectivity– You’ll see little of Flaubert’s own opinions in this story. He sought to replicate what was his own perception of God: “present everywhere and visible nowhere”(782).

Structure– If you pay attention, you’ll see a pattern in Felicite’s love life. As is typical in the human heart, our love frequently redirects to a new object, and we’ll see this as Felicite loses one loved one after another.

Flaubert himself was a bit of a hermit, yet at the same time is known for the numerous mistresses he kept (and the occasional male prostitute.) Yet in his writing, he was a perfectionist. He would insist on ever only using the perfect word, which would sometimes result in spending an entire week on one page (I believe it took him five years to write Madame Bovary.) Demanding such perfection in his writing would lead to one critic comparing him to the spring: “it all begins again with him.” In other words, many authors that would follow would attempt a style that he himself already established. And at the end of all things, they would return to his style of simplicity. One of these authors who would follow in Flaubert’s footsteps is Franz Kafka, who we will be reading a little later.

As you’re reading “A Simple Heart”, consider the following:

The fairly simplistic events that occur in this story. During this time period it wasn’t unheard of to lose several loved ones to accident and disease. Flaubert doesn’t bother with working in any kind of supernatural events or anything particularly adventurous. It’s simply the highs and lows (mostly the latter) of a servant.
Each object of affection that Felicite goes to after losing the previous one. Is Felicite becoming more desperate in her love in that she comes to devote herself to more and more abstract people/animals/things? Or, as is argued in your textbook, is it actually an “ascent”? Is her love becoming more encompassing and less restricted? Less sensual and more charitable?
Flaubert’s statement that in writing “A Simple Heart”, he wanted to “arouse people’s pity.” Did he accomplish this?
Felicite’s association of her dead parrot to the symbolic portrayal of the Holy Spirit. Is this innocent or sacrilegious?
The qualities that make Felicite a good housekeeper.
Flaubert’s claim to have no opinion in this story. Do you agree? Do you see any shred of the author’s views on life in this story?

In reference back to the lecture notes, do you agree that Felicite’s love shows an “ascent” as the story progresses? Or does she become more desperate in her love? Examine the various objects of her affection and give your thoughts. Is she learning to love less sensually and more unselfishly? Or does she come to love something as pitiful as a stuffed parrot because in her mind it is the only thing that will not break her heart? Give sufficient evidence to support your opinion.

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