Dear Gertrude

July 26, 2009

A book about Gertrude TennantFrancis Steegmuller translated and published the letters of Gustave Flaubert (Madame Bovary) in two volumes, now out of print: 1830 to 1857 (Belknap Press, 1980) and 1857 – 1880 (Belknap Press, 1982). 

David Waller’s recently published The Magnificent Mrs Tennant: The Adventurous Life of Gertrude Tennant, Victorian Grande Dame brings to light 24 new and, before now, unknown letters of Flaubert.

The book profiles the life of an influential Victorian lady who shared an intimate friendship with the French novelist.

While doing research for the book, Waller came upon “a haul of largely unpublished documents – including 24 letters from Flaubert to Gertrude – [that] casts the relationship in a new and poignant light.” (Maud Newton, Prospect Magazine) That haul was sitting in a farmhouse.

Reading about all this, I reached for Steegmuller’s The Letters of Gustave Flaubert 1830 – 1857 on my bookshelf, curious to revisit some of the correspondence. It opened itself to Flaubert’s intelligent and emotional letters to Louise Colet, and this sentence, which I had underlined:

“Do you know what you lack, or rather what you sin against? Discernment. You find hidden meanings where they don’t exist, in places where no one dreamed of concealing them.”

I don’t know anything more about Waller’s book other than what’s available in this post, but having been absorbed once in Steemuller’s first volume of letters, I have a feeling the first thing I’d do with The Magnificent Mrs. Tennant in hand is to find and read the new Flaubert letters. (Dessert first.)

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