Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


French Studies

First Advisor

Nathaniel Wing


Flaubert's novels demonstrate how the nineteenth-century's self-conception was defined by a disciplined obsession with the past. By looking at History, past and present, Flaubert's novels attempt to comprehend the individual and his evolving social reality. As evidenced in L'Education sentimentale, Bouvard et Pecuchet and Salammbo, one of Flaubert's main concerns is that of man's personal connection with history. The historian and the novelist both work within the constraints imposed upon them by language. Both take from the world around them to construct a narrative that in many ways is similar. By the fusion of the familiar in his work the novelist creates an illusion of reality thereby making it believable. The historian will also rely on imagination to re-create the past. History is written and rewritten from one generation to another from what one finds important to remember of the other. In L'Education sentimentale Flaubert's views of the cyclical nature of history are much like those affirmed by Marx. Whereas Marx proposes solutions, Flaubert, however, does not believe that there is any way to get out from under history. The Revolution of 1848 that had at first sparked hope in the minds of many ended up being a failure and disappointment typical of the disillusionment of the time that was the nineteenth century. Bouvard et Pecuchet in many ways is reminiscent of Ecclesiastes. Both the book of the Bible and Flaubert's novel question the validity and meaning to the quest for knowledge in life. Once again the cyclical nature of history is evident in this Flaubert's last and unfinished novel as the Bouvard and Pecuchet move through the whole disillusioning experience of Flaubert's generation. In Salammbo by escaping the horrors of his generation Flaubert, in providing a construction of the past, is presenting a reading of the present. What at first seems to be a desire for otherness soon becomes a form of sameness. Once again the teleological view of history is put into question as Flaubert sees the same old problems being repeated over and over again.