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Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Temptation of Saint Anthony by Gustave Flaubert

The Temptation of Saint Anthony

Book Review
The Temptation of Saint Anthony
by Gustave Flaubert
p. 1874
Translated by Lacadio Hearn
Introduction by Michel Foucault
Modern Library Paperback Classics

  Man all I had to see was "Introduction by Michel Foucault" to know that I was in for a raft of pretentious modernist bullshit.  The Temptation of Saint Anthony is one night in the life of the famous early Christian anchorite/hermit.  In 192 pages, Anthony is tormented by a variety of different spectres: fraility, the seven deadly sins, heresiarchs, martyrs, magicians, the gods, science, food, lust and death, monsters and of course, metamorphosis.

  The text has a dreamlike/surreal/poetic quality radically different from the naturalist/realist prose of Madame Bovary and Sentimental Education.  The Temptation of Saint Anthony was a book that Flaubert worked on his entire life.  At one point it was  supposed to be a play, and that early form shapes the resulting text, which, at times, reads exactly like a play.

  The translation by American Lacadio Hearn is also worth noting- his was the first English language translation, but prevailing mores in America prevented anyone from actually PUBLISHING his translation until the 1920s, and even then lines explicitly mentioning sexuality were cut out.  They have been restored here.

  The Temptation of Saint Anthony is perhaps interesting as a reference point for future works of surrealism and psychatry, but as a novel it is barely.  Obviously, Flaubert's prowess as a novelist is beyond question, and The Temptation of Saint Anthony is more a labor of love by a great author as supposed to an epic stand alone classic work.  You have to be interested in Flaubert and the subject of 19th century literature (and 20th century literature) to read The Temptation of Saint Anthony.

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