Book Review: la niéce de Flaubert by Willa Cather

Je l’ai terminé.  J’ai fini le livre.

J’ai acheté “la nièce de Flaubert” à Paris à une petite librairie près de notre hotel.

Une femme, la narratrice, est en vacances à Aix-les-Bains dans les collines sud des Alpes.

Elle est de rester au Grand Hotel et–vous l’aurex deviné–de meme que la nièce de Gustave Flaubert!

Well, that’s enough of that!  Got the setting?  The narrator is staying at the Grand Hotel at Aix-les-Bains which is in the foothills of the Alps, an hour or so east of Lyon.  It is today, and was at the time of the writing–1930–a popular tourist area.  The village borders the Lac du Bourget–a beautiful freshwater lake about 18 miles long.

And, lo and behold, it turns out that this fascinating little old lady the narrator sees and subsequently meets at dinner at the hotel, is –you guessed it–the niece of Gustave Flaubert!

There are good discussions about his writing–and comparisons to Balzac, Turgeniev, George Sand and others.  The “niece” says that people reading French literature start out with Balzac, and love him.  Then they try Flaubert and are annoyed–different tone,  temperament.  After awhile they read neither–have lost both authors in affection.  But, in time, “they recover both,  . . .and read each for what he is, having learned that an artist’s limitations are quite as important as his powers . . .”  Interesting.

Bien sur, I didn’t get that idea from reading the book en francaise—-I did stumble through the entire book (66 pages) with my handy French dictionary and pencil handy and got the drift of the plot.

But the real breakthrough came when I found the translation of the little novella or short story.  It was published as “A Chance Meeting”.  And, when I read THAT–

Well, I could see that this was a pleasant little story—and you might enjoy it too.

You might also enjoy reading about Willa Cather’s life—born in Nebraska and a world traveler.  She made many trips to France.  Not all her work was about Nebraska and pioneers.

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