A Draft of Flaubert

This photo was taken from Henri Troyat’s biography of Gustave Flaubert.  The caption reads: Page from the manuscript of L’Education sentimentale (from the first part of Chapter V). (Archives Tallandier).

For myself I must say I never feel like I’ve crafted a good work of fiction if the drafts aren’t covered with crossouts, rephrasings, notes, and diagrams.  On a superficial level I want to be like Flaubert and Tolstoy, perfectionists who succeeded in creating perfect works of art; but beneath that I know that the real work, the real sweat, of writing, is actually in endless re-reading and endless editing—in short, sacrifice and drudgery.

You smash what you love again and again and try to pick up the pieces, re-sculpt the powder of a crushed statue into something far more beautiful than its progenitor; it takes a great deal of stamina to do this, and while I do not find it difficult to write, I do find it extraordinarily difficult to edit.

That’s what Flaubert did for years and years—he edited, he honed.  He gave everything to his art and seems to have gained little from that sacrifice but misery.

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One thought on “A Draft of Flaubert

  1. solidgoldcreativity says:

    Flaubert gained my undying love. So too Tolstoy. And Nabokov (though somehow I don’t imagine Vlad slaving away over editing; it would all have come out wonderfully on the first go for him, I reckon). Different psychology, though end result the same: beauty, truth, joy.

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