“Sometimes, in a dream, he would see himself like our father Adam in the middle of Paradise, with all the birds and beasts around him; and stretching out his arm, he would put them to death.”
Flaubert. Three Tales. Penguin Edition (1961). Translator: Robert Baldick. p.72
The original French:
“Quelquelfois, dans un rêve, il se voyait comme notre père Adam au milieu du Paradis, entre toutes les bêtes; en allongeant le bras, il les faisait mourir”
Published in 1877 in a set of three short stories: ‘Julien’ joins ‘A Simple Heart’, and ‘Hérodias.’ Flaubert at that time was experiencing writer’s block and in poor health while convalescing in his farmhouse in Normandy. Flaubert, a life-long epileptic, would die in 1880. He also contributed to his own decline by contracting venereal diseases several times. While reviled for Madame Bovary and venerated as the precursor of Realism he is considered the innovator of the modern novel for introducing ‘free indirect discourse.’ Flaubert is also considered a symbol against censorship, although he’d probably resist the martyr’s laurel for the cause of artistic freedom. Scholars point to Kafka as his direct literary heir in terms of precision and realism. Flaubert was ruthlessly self-critical with his own work. Flaubert was also a highly sensitive man; he was absolutely devastated by the death of his mother (1872) and by that of George Sand (1876).
Flaubert was a neurotic and obsessed man, like so many authors, in his quest for the right word (his infamous ‘le mot juste’). Nabokov and Graham Greene are two other notorious examples. Flaubert’s French diction will send readers to the dictionary. His ‘Julien’ alone is replete with minutiae on medieval heraldry, weaponry, and all aspects of the medieval hunt. His ‘Hérodias’ is practically Biblical and archaeological in ambiance.
A worthwhile comment here: the parrot in ‘A Simple Heart’ appears in Julian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot and both ‘Julien’ and ‘Hérodias’ were inspired by Flaubert’s visits to the Rouen Cathedral where Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake. Flaubert consulted a Bibliothèque Nationale mansucript B.N fr. 6447 for writing ‘Julien.’ ‘Hérodias’ supposedly inspired Oscar Wilde’s Salome (1893) and Jules Massenet’s opera Hérodiade (1881). The encrusted literary style of ‘Hérodias’ undoubtedly influenced the artwork of Gustave Moreau and the artist’s depiction of the feminine.
Why this passage? Flaubert takes the poetic and philosophical act of naming and makes it a violent act. Unlike Whitman’s celebratory act of naming all things to identify Love in the cosmos, Flaubert uses the same act to illustrate ignorance that begets violence. His Adam inverts and rejects the ever-present presence of God’s love in medieval thinking. Ignorance is the rejection of God’s love and Julien’s subsequent estrangement and nihilism will lead him to an emotional reconciliation with Christ the Leper at the end of the story.
Adam is our first poet and author of violence. To me this is an entirely different approach to putting all the blame on Eve.