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Meltzer, F. (2003). Françoise Meltzer on Baudry's “Flaubert and Madame Bovary”. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 51(4):1357-1362.
(2003). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 51(4):1357-1362
Françoise Meltzer on Baudry's “Flaubert and Madame Bovary”
March 23, 2003. As psychoanalysis and literature continue their uneasy alliance, I read with interest Francis Baudry's “Flaubert and Madame Bovary: An Intimate Courtship” (J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn. 50/4, 2002). I think, however, that a few remarks from the field of literature need to be made, if only to clarify the difficulties inherent in looking at the literary text with psychoanalytic lenses.
Baudry would have us believe that Flaubert was able to “imagine himself in the persona of a woman” not only because he had the expected qualities of self-observation, empathy, identification, curiosity, and so on. More importantly for Baudry, Flaubert's remarkable ability to describe the “soul of a woman” is rooted in “very profound bisexual characteristics.” There is, I would like to submit, something wrong here: are we to believe, because of Molly's soliloquy in Ulysses, that Joyce was bisexual? Ah, you will say, his Nora helped him write that, hence its realistic tone. But Flaubert, as Baudry himself reminds us, had an intense correspondence with the writer Louise Colet during the difficult four and a half years of Bovary's composition. He wrote endlessly to her about the progress and details of the novel, and she to him. Isn't this a similar collaboration, if one wants to think in such causal terms? And by the way, why does Baudry refer to Colet as “a difficult, demanding, would-be writer”? Colet, largely forgotten as a writer today, was very famous in her day. She had won the Académie Française prize in poetry on numerous occasions—an honor by any standard. The fact that she has fallen by the wayside (along with teeming throngs of equally forgettable writers) does not make her a would-be writer: she wrote.
Bisexuality in itself, further, is not a passport to more insight into the opposite sex. George Eliot may have been self-described as “ugly,” but she was not bisexual, and the men in her novels seem nonetheless quite wonderfully believable. Oscar Wilde's Salome, and his version of her mother Herodias, do not give us an in-depth view into the “soul of a woman,” even though Wilde was bisexual.
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