Three Tales


While in financial trouble at the end of the 1870s, Gustave Flaubert (1821−80) wrote a series of shorter works of fiction before going back to his difficult task of writing Bouvard et Pécuchet. Un Cœur simple (A simple heart) was published as a series in the Moniteur universel newspaper in April 1877, while La Légende de Saint-Julien l'Hospitalier (The Legend of Saint Julian the Hospitaller) and Hérodias (Herodias) were published the same month in Le Bien public newspaper. These stories were then compiled into one book by publisher Charpentier under the title Trois contes (Three tales). The first of the three tales takes place in Flaubert’s era, while the second one is set in the Middle Ages, and the third at the time of Jesus Christ. Although the tales appear very different from one another—from different eras; with very different characters, ranging from a housemaid to the wife of a king; and with writing styles at times simple and at times epic—an underlying cohesion is woven through all three. All of the tales draw on visual inspiration in exploring the theme of religion or, more precisely, religious faith. The manuscript presented here offers a good example of the unique way in which Flaubert wrote. An extraordinary master of style, he dreamed of writing a book that would “stand on its own by the sheer strength of its style.” The draft shows how sentences were rewritten, crossed out, and how words were taken out, changed, and added until Flaubert found the perfect, indispensable term. Some of his preparatory work is presented here as well, for example drafts and writer’s notes.

Last updated: May 11, 2015