Monday, August 23, 2010

Research: Flaubert in Egypt

Continuing researching regarding early travels down the Nile for my Ralph Waldo Emerson project, I've been reading "Flaubert in Egypt." This book, with its fancy Orientalist cover, has been on my shelf for years. I love "Madame Bovary" and was worried this would repel me. Thus far, these accounts of his journey from France to Egypt in the fall of 1849 has proved a fascinating and aesthetically beautiful read. A collection of letters, journal notes, and sections from the memoirs of his travel partner Maxime Du Camp is very, very Flaubert, and very, very little Egypt. He sexualizes the men and the women and the children and even the street animals like that of a horny young artist. He goes of looking for splendor and fantasy and finds it precisely because he is seeing it through his own lens. As the translator and editor Francis Steegmuller states in her introduction he was sensualist and frequenter of prostitutes, male and female. He obsesses over the frequency of people hitting the lower classes, which is alarming. His visual impressions of the colors and scents and foods are worth the read.

Flaubert's literary influences in his perceptions of Egypt came from reading the romantic effusions of "The East" in works by Lord Byron, Victor Hugo's "Les Orientales," and the collected "Arabian Nights." He also, in a letter to his mother, refers to Lane's "The Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians" (1836). Steegmuller juxtaposes a scene from Flauber's "pre-Egypt_ Orient and one from his travel account. That tomorrow....

Photos of Gustave Flaubert taken shortly before his Egyptian travels; Maxime Du Champ, his co-traveller. Both from Wikipedia.

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