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A Simple Heart by Gustave Flaubert

A Simple Heart (1875)

by Gustave Flaubert

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (9)  French (3)  Norwegian (1)  All (13)
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
Beautiful story of a servant's life
By sally tarbox on 30 November 2016
This short (52p) work tells the uneventful life of devoted servant Felicite. After a wretched childhood followed by an unsuccessful romance, Felicite spends the rest of her days in the calm haven of Mme Aubin's household. Here she finds moments of happiness in caring for Mme's children; in having her nephew come to visit, and in religion, which she approaches in an entirely simple and uneducated way.
And the years roll by, each much like the last:
"Domestic events marked dates that later served as points of reference. Thus in 1825 a couple of glaziers whitewashed the hall."
There are tragedies and happinesses, notably when Felicite is gifted an unwanted pet parrot. As she looks at an image of the Holy Spirit, "one day she noticed that it had something of the parrot about it." She comes to vaguely conflate her beloved Loulou with the Holy Ghost:
"although Felicite used to say her prayers with her eyes on the picture, from time to time she would turn slightly towards the bird."

Although the reader smiles at this, the innocent and pure-minded devotion of this woman's life are touchingly described - I loved it. ( )
  starbox | Nov 29, 2016 |
A simple story about an ordinary woman. It made me cry... ( )
  SashaM | Apr 20, 2016 |
I enjoyed this portrait of an early 19th century maid in rural France. It depicts in a detailed and sympathetic way the emotional life of a woman who is fundamentally unsophisticated, but has deep feelings for the children of her mistress, for her nephew, and finally for a parrot. It could be viewed as patronizing, but I think Flaubert was sincere in his attempt to get inside the head of someone who lives their life in an emotional rather than intellectual world. ( )
  BobCulley | Oct 26, 2015 |
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. ( )
1 vote 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. ( )
1 vote Poquette | Jul 13, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
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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.
For half a century the women of Pont-L'Eveque envied Mme Aubain her maidservant Felicite.
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:20 -0400)

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