Flaubert and his time
He hated his epoch. Flaubert was born during the “Bourbon restoration”, the period of the return of the monarchy after the Napoleonic episode. Despite two revolutions (1830 and 1848), his century was all about moral order and industrial development. In L’Éducation sentimentale, he gave a very profound analysis, far ahead of its time, of the history of his generation, with its hopes and failures.
The 19th century was a century of great certainties: people believed in science, in progress, in technology, in virtue and morality, in civilisation and colonisation. Flaubert will apply himself all his life to dismantle these certainties in order to show that they are only based on illusions, lies and preconceived ideas. But he would go further: mightn’t the criticisms that we address to our epoch be ideas that have circulated during our times and that we thoughtlessly repeat like a parrot? Curiously, he wrote the following article in his Dictionnaire des Idées reçues:
“Epoch (ours): To thunder against it. – To complain that it is not poetic. – To call it an era of transition, of decadence. “
We always remain slightly entangled within our time, even when we think we are judging it. This is the Flaubert’s lesson.
"I am a bear and I want to remain a bear in my den, in my cave, in my skin, in my old bear skin, very quiet and far from the bourgeoisie and the bourgeoises. "
To Caroline Flaubert, 20 December 1843