Saturday, 21 October 2017

A Simple Heart by Gustave Flaubert.

The Green Parrot by Vincent van Gogh (1886).
For the past few months, for the Deal Me In Challenge, I've been reading Flaubert's Three Tales (1877): HérodiasThe Legend of Saint Julian the Hospitalier (La légende de Saint-Julien l'hospitalier), and now A Simple Heart (Un cœur simple), also known as The Parrot (Le perroquet) which is actually the first of the three stories.

It tells the story of Félicité Barette, the servant of Madame Aubain. She is by all accounts an excellent servant, and we learn a little about her past: her parents died when she was young and she fell madly in love with a young man, Théodore, who married another woman to avoid conscription. Brokenhearted and alone, she goes to work for Madame Aubain where she remains all her life caring for her mistress and her mistress' daughter Virginie. Her life continues to be marred by tragedy: Virginie dies of pneumonia and her beloved nephew Victor dies of yellow fever. Nevertheless Félicité continues to work for Madame Aubain, and one day she inherits a parrot - Loulou, who becomes the focus of her love, even after death.

Loulou, a green parrot, provides what has been missing in Félicité's life, and gives her love and the focus for her love. It's a very moving story on suffering, and, as the title suggests, simplicity and humility. Félicité is a gentle soul and her disappointments have defined her life, and yet she still finds love, not in Théodore sadly, but in the parrot. Dissatisfaction and regret are the hallmarks of this story, and it didn't surprise me to learn that Flaubert himself looked back at his life, as Félicité and Madame Aubain had, with some sadness at wasted opportunities. I loved this, however sad, and admire it greatly, not least for the message that happiness, redemption, even salvation can be found in a little pet.

And that was my 43rd title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week: The Prevention of Literature by George Orwell.

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