Mario Vargas Llosa: Two hundred years | Opinion



At some point in the last century, I arrived in Paris and that same day I bought a copy of Madame Bovary. After spending most of the night reading it, by dawn he knew the kind of writer he wanted to be and, thanks to Flaubert, he was beginning to learn all the secrets of the art of the novel.

Nobody gave as much impetus to the fictional genre as Croisset’s solitaire. He discovered that the narrator was the most important character created by the novelist, and that the novelist could be an impersonal storyteller who knew everything — an imitation of God the Father — or a character storyteller; and that these could be several and diverse. In this way, Flaubert created the modern novel and laid the foundations for what, years later, would be the infinite arrangements and figures invented by James Joyce to endow the novel and differentiate it from the past, the classic. However, the novelist who made the best use of Joyce’s inventions, the Irishman, was not a European, but an American lost in the Mississippi region, in whose hands the fictional genre achieved a flexibility in time and space that allowed all the excesses: William Faulkner. The most extraordinary thing about Faulkner, however, was not the fantastic audacity that allowed him to write novels like As I Lay Dying Y The Sound and the Fury, the most difficult of fictional creation, but the deceptions of journalists who were presented “as a farmer who loved horses” and refused to talk about the techniques of the novel because, according to him, “he did not know anything about that ”. Thanks to Flaubert, Joyce, and Faulkner, the modern novel would be a new and singularly different reality from the classical novel.

In Flaubert’s case, concern about the structure of the novel came in the letters he wrote every night to his lover Louise Colet, for much of the five years it took him to write. Madame Bovary. So it was a good number of years before these letters could be brought together in one book, perhaps the most important that has been written, setting the limits of the modern novel, as a perfectly established form and distinct from everything that had been done. until then in some stories that would have the name of “novel”. The break with the past was blatant and yet mysterious. It consisted in explaining that the computer of a story could be the imitation of “God the Father” who knows everything about everything, or of a simple character who cannot know more than what ordinary beings know about others, with implied fallibility in that knowledge. In a novel, as in Madame BovaryThere may be a “God the Father” narrator and several character narrators, provided that the limits of each are respected.

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At the prose level, Flaubert always believed that the excellence of the phrase depended on its music and that one syllable out of tune was enough to lose that musical perfection of the phrase, to which Flaubert attributed enchanting virtues. The five years that he spent writing Madame Bovary they were the richest and most creative from the point of view of the novel structure. Well, truth be told, the true creator of the modern novel was Flaubert.

The story of Emma Bovary and the almost daily letters to Louise Colet were the foundation of the modern novel, although this took some time to become apparent. The invisible narrator is Flaubert’s most important creation: there he is who knows everything about the story he tells, but he is not a presence but an absence, who knows everything that happens but does not show himself and rather hides his presence by pretending impersonality, always interrupted by the other characters in the story, who are allowed to show and feel a limited presence and existence, provided that it does not exceed what a person should and can know. The angle of focus is always the work of the narrator “God”, who distributes the appearances and reappearances of the characters according to the different fluctuations in the story. Within this scheme, everything can be known and told, including the wise silences that the narrator imposes on the narrative.

The “new novel” that Flaubert invented in Madame Bovary It allows everything, within certain limits. For example, creating a collective, momentary character, like that class in which the new student bursts in at the beginning of the novel, when the teacher introduces the new student, Charles Bovary, to that audience. This audience is a single character, which will break down into different beings as the students in the class regain their personalities and begin to differentiate themselves from each other. Within the scheme created by Flaubert, everything is possible and coherent, as long as the novelist respects the rules and is not distracted, so that an accident occurs and the rigorous bond of the novel collapses.

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Flaubert did not easily become the one who could spend five years of his life writing overnight, seven days a week, Madame Bovary. Before he had to invent a disease that convinced his father, the Doctor, he wanted, of course, his son Gustave to pursue a career, as he had done. Critics and doctors have argued a lot about Gustave Flaubert’s famous illness, those crises that hit him and knocked him to the ground, seeing strange lights. I believe that this disease was invented to be able to work in peace, dedicating all his time to writing, which did not mean at all that he did not fall to the ground sometimes and see strange lights and have vomiting and everything else. Good thing his letters to Louise Colet have been preserved. She kept them, bless her memory. Instead, those from Louise Colet to Flaubert, an infamous niece burned them because they were too pornographic, thus earning all the hatred of the Flaubertians (also mine, of course).

Did Flaubert know of the revolution that he would unleash with Madame Bovary? It is not very safe. He believed, in those five years, that he was working on Madame Bovary, and he was probably not aware of the extraordinary diffusion that his discovery would have nor the revolution that the invisible and total narrator would provoke, which would create a caesura between the new novel and the old one, that is, the classic. It is not the first time in the history of literature that someone, as if by chance, discovers a new narrative system, thereby causing a revolution (for example, Borges in his stories).

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I have always had admiration and affection for Flaubert, like an uncle or a grandfather. I went to Croisset I don’t know how many times, to relive his walks screaming in the “avenue of screaming” where he went to test the perfection of his rhythmic phrases, and I have brought him flowers I don’t know how many times to that cemetery full of graves and of crosses, and I have visited the hospital of his father, the doctor who forced him to support him while he wrote that novel-river.

It is two hundred years old, and the way of writing novels that he invented is always alive and young. I have the feeling that in the two hundred years to come, his writing will continue to operate in his eternal youth.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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