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A Simple Heart by Gustave Flaubert
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A Simple Heart (1875)

by Gustave Flaubert

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» See also 22 mentions

English (6)  French (3)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (10)
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
SPOILER ALERT! Geez, a bit depressing. A servant woman who has no love in her life except for a parrot (who dies). Excuse me while I go slit my wrists. ( )
  AliceAnna | Aug 31, 2014 |
The importance of this novella — also known as "A Simple Heart" and "Un Coeur simple" — was revived by Julian Barnes' 1984 book Flaubert's Parrot, which is the source of my interest in reading it. In an 1876 letter to a friend, Flaubert writes:

Do you know what I've had on my table in front of me for the last three weeks? A stuffed parrot. It sits there on sentry duty. The sight of it is beginning to irritate me. But I keep it there so that I can fill my head with the idea of parrothood. Because at the moment I'm writing about the love between an old girl and a parrot.

The "old girl" in question is Félicité, a young servant girl, who gains employment in the household of Madame Aubain:

For a hundred francs a year, she cooked and did the housework, washed, ironed, mended, harnessed the horse, fattened the poultry, made the butter and remained faithful to her mistress—although the latter was by no means an agreeable person.

At some point the household acquired a hand-me-down parrot, whose novelty wore thin after a while, and it ended up belonging to Félicité. Eventually the parrot died and Félicité had him stuffed.

In church she had noticed that something about the parrot resembled the Holy Spirit. And she had acquired a picture of Jesus' baptism where the resemblance was even more marked. She hung this picture, before which she acquired the habit of praying, in her room, and over the years the parrot became in her mind an actual representation of the Holy Spirit. As an old woman on her death bed, deaf and almost blind:

The beats of her heart grew fainter and fainter, and vaguer, like a fountain giving out, like an echo dying away; and when she exhaled her last breath, she thought she saw in the half-opened heavens a gigantic parrot hovering above her head.

Many questions arise regarding these stories. Was Flaubert mocking religion in his usual way? Was he laughing at poor simple Félicité, or Julian for that matter? The mockery is apparent in the first story about Death. But it was written decades before and really bears little in common with the latter two stories.

We know from Flaubert's correspondence with George Sand that he wrote A Simple Soul in response to a challenge from her to write something positive and sympathetic. She had complained that his books were too filled with pessimism and desolation. He was in the process of writing A Simple Soul when George Sand died, so she never actually read it. But Flaubert pushed on and finished it. Here is what he had to say about his own motivation:

A "Simple Heart" is just the account of an obscure life, that of Félicité a poor country girl, pious but mystical, quietly devoted, and as tender as fresh bread. She loves successively a man, her mistress, her mistress' children, a nephew, an old man she is taking care of, then her parrot. When the parrot dies she has him stuffed, and when she herself is dying, she confuses the parrot with the Holy Ghost. It's not at all ironic, as you suppose, but on the contrary, very serious and very sad. I want to arouse people's pity, to make sensitive souls weep, since I am one myself.

It would seem to me that this story and Flaubert's comment should be taken at face value. While equating the parrot with the Holy Spirit may seem blasphemous to some, one cannot discount the archetypal significance that the apotheosized parrot provided for Félicité in the waning days of her life. ( )
  Poquette | Jul 13, 2014 |
A novella. Somewhat charming, but overall not that good. ( )
  lindawwilson | Feb 28, 2009 |
I'd been meaning to read this one for some time, and it was perfect for what it is. It is beautifully written, and the characters feel frustratingly real. At the same time, I wanted to know more about what was going on in Felicite's head, and more about How she was the way she was. If I had, I feel as if I might have gotten more lost in the story. As is, it engaged me and interested me, but didn't drive home much emotion in any sense. For the most part, with the exception of LouLou, I feel as if this one wasn't particularly memorable. Still, it was an interesting story, and a nice way to pass a relaxing unstressed morning. ( )
1 vote whitewavedarling | May 6, 2008 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Flaubert, Gustaveprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sahner, BrigitteEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Ein halbes Jahrhundert lang beneideten die Hausfrauen von Pont-l'Evêque Madam Aubain um ihre Dienerin Félicité.
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This entry refers to the individual short story - please DO NOT COMBINE WITH ANY COLLECTIONS OF STORIES
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0146001532, Paperback)

One of 60 low-priced classic texts published to celebrate Penguin's 60th anniversary. All the titles are extracts from "Penguin Classics" titles.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:38:31 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

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