Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Parrots only learn and repeat words, sayings, phrases, sounds, that they've been taught or have heard over a long period of time. There's one at my dog's vet that sounds like a Nextel phone. It's uncanny. Is Flaubert's fascination with the parrot metaphorical for the life of a writer? Do writers only regurgitate what they've heard before? Or is there actual creation in the writing, true art? And now that I think about it, what makes me believe that Flaubert was fascinated by the parrot? Is it because Barnes writes that Flaubert possibly had two stuffed parrots (but at different locations) and stared at them while writing Un coeur simple, A Simple Heart? Within three weeks, the parrot began to "irritate him," Barnes states.

Flaubert may have been of the literary philosophy, some call him the first Modern writer, that there is no deeper meaning in novels. They are what they are. But Barnes seems to revel in this idea of Flaubert who, with every novel, wrote more and more about his life, even if subconsciously.

We can, if we wish (and if we disobey Flaubert), submit the bird to additional interpretation. For instance, there are submerged parallels between the life of the prematurely aged novelist and the maturely aged Felicite. Critics have sent in the ferrets. Both of them were solitary; both of them had lives stained with loss; both of them, though full of grief, were persevering. Those keen to push things further suggest that the incident in which Felicite is struck down by a mail-couch on the road to Honfleur is a submerged reference to Gustave's first epileptic fit, when he was struck down on the road outside Bourg-Achard. I don't know. How submerged does a reference have to be before it drowns?

I don't know either Julian, but I'm going to read the rest of your book to see if I can get a better glimpse. So far, I don't know if Flaubert's Parrot is more of a testament to Flaubert's or Barnes's brilliance and I don't know if I ever will.


Dorothy W. said...

I think Flaubert's Parrot is a testament to the brilliance of both them! I'm posting a bit on this novel today.

Stefanie said...

Blogger is being a pain lately. I tried to comment a few times yesterday without success. today it seems to be behaving. Anyway, you are making me want to read this book Mike. But since one of my New Year's Reading Resolutions was to read Madame Bovary this year, I am going to make myself read that before the Parrot. Not that Madame B is a punishment, I've heard it's quite good, I just need a little extra motivation :)

litlove said...

Have you read 'A Simple Heart'? It's very interesting. George Sand said Flaubert couldn't write a nice character if it killed him, and so general thinking is that he wrote about Felicite and her parrot in an attempt to bring Sand to tears. Don't know if he managed it. I think Flaubert has it in for readers (Emma Bovary being a prime example) and Felicite sort of escapes his wrath because she is illiterate. Well, I don't know, I'm making it up as I go along, as usual!

M. Barresi said...

I haven't read A Simple Heart. Do you recommend it? If so, maybe I'd read it sooner, rather than later.