Week 3 Reading response: “Flaneur” detail

This week’s reading response is mostly overlap with this and next week’s writing assignment. Select a “flaneur” passage from A Sentimental Education, or any passage heavy with descriptive detail, and one not quoted by Wood. The passage should exemplify Flaubert’s characterization of his method Wood quotes in Section 30:

An author in his work must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere. Art being a second nature, the creator of that nature must operate with analogous procedures: let there be felt in every atom, every aspect, a hidden, infinite impassivity.

In the comments below, start with the Flaubert passage you choose (it may be the same one you use in your writing assignment). Don’t hesitate to type out a long passage – Hunter S. Thompson is said to have typed out The Great Gatsby, just to get the feeling of what it was like to write like FSF.

Next, analyze the passage according to the dynamics of detail that Wood highlights: of varying duration (or “time signatures”), stasis vs. action, seeming randomness vs. potential significance, and the conventions of realism.

This assignment comes to you a bit late, and the Flaubert is on the dense side, so let’s call Sunday night our reading response deadline this week.

Week 3 Reading response: “Flaneur” detail

10 thoughts on “Week 3 Reading response: “Flaneur” detail

  1. Ronni says:

    “The dining-room, painted sea-green, couldn’t have been more charming. At one end, a stone nymph was dipping her big toe into a shell-shaped basin. Through the open windows, the whole garden could be seen, with an old Scots pine which had lost three-quarters of its needles, standing on one side of the lawn, dotted with clumps of flowers sticking up here and there; beyond the river, the Bois-de-Boulonge, Neuilly, Sevres and Meudon spread out in a broad semi-circle. In front of the entrance gate facing them, a sailing boat was tacking” (p 90).
    In his description of the Arnouxs’ country home, Flaubert leads his readers through a series of ‘frames’ – we have the dining room acting as a frame to its open window, which in turn frames a picturesque country landscape. This act of steering our attention gives the paragraph a sense of mobility, acting like a camera which pans the length of the room, zooming in and out, while describing a scene which is essentially static. The author also generates as sense of movement and vitality in this scene by telling us that a sculpture of a nymph ‘was dipping her toe’ and drawing our attention to the sailing boat tacking outside.
    Flaubert takes care to sketch out the Arnouxs’ dining-room view in careful composition, allowing us to simultaneously see its significance both as another one of Arnoux’s artistic acquisitions and as a carefully constructed view, hinting slightly at Jacques Arnoux’s scheming nature. The ‘frames’ that are artfully built in this scene are purposefully, in my opinion, echoing the Arnouxs’ lives which are completely engulfed in the social scene at the ‘L’Art industriel’.


  2. Lola Jalbert says:

    “Lolling in their low-slung barouches with their veils fluttering in the wind, women would drive nonchalantly past close beside him, imperceptibly swaying on the glossy leather seats which creaked to the rhythm of the horse’ hooves. As the number of carriages increased and they slowed down on approaching the Rond-Point, they would occupy the whole roadway, jammed mane to mane and lamp to lamp. The steel stirrups, the silver curbs and the brass buckles glinted amongst the breeches, the white gloves and the fur rugs dangling over the coats of arms on the carriage doors. He felt as if lost in a remote world. As his eyes wandered over these female faces, vague similarities would bring Madame Arnoux to mind, and he’d imagine her sitting there with the others in one of those little broughams like the ones used by Madame Dambreuse. But the sun set and a cold wind was whirling up clouds of dust. The drivers dank their chins into their neck-cloths, the wheels started to turn faster, rasping on the asphalt, and off the carriages went down the avenue at a brisk trot, wheel to wheel, swerving, overtaking, and finally dispersing at the place de la Concorde. Behind the Tuileries the sky turned slate-grey; in the garden the trees formed two huge clumps topped with indigo; the gas jets were lighting up and the Seine, greenish in colour over its whole expanse, was shredded into shimmering silver against the piers of the bridges.” (Flaubert 26)

    I believe this passage to be an excellent example of the omniscience that Wood discusses Flaubert having used and helped to invent. The passage seems to sway between details that Flaubert himself could have seen, sitting alongside the road watching Parisian life go by, and ones that have a more omniscient quality. Some of the details are in the present tense (“the sun set and a cold wind was whirling up clouds of dust”), while some are more general, expressing a general trend of what would have been happening, in that area, on any given day at that time (“as the number of carriages increased and they slowed down on approaching the Rond-Point, they would occupy the whole roadway, jammed mane to mane and lamp to lamp”). Some of the details are random in that they do not obviously add to the plot, while others tie the description back to the storyline, to the protagonist’s great love of Madame Arnoux, for example. This movement from the specific to the general, from the significant to the not, are representative of the way that Flaubert wishes to capture reality, in a way that is perhaps even more realistic than sticking to a strict timeline and perspective. Rather, he combines details that are occurring in the moment with details that he knows are happening and with ones that will happen soon. This blending of tenses allows for a fuller picture, one that many people create, especially in a city that is familiar to them, but that is not necessarily all encompassing or faithfully accurate. The result is a beautifully crafted passage that can be understood by many but successfully created by few.


  3. Olorin says:

    “This garden was laid out like an English park and divided down the middle; half of it belonged to old Roque who had another one, for vegetables, down by the river. The two neighbours were on bad terms and took care not to be in the garden at the same time. Since Frédéric’s return, however, the old man was to be seen there more often and was fulsomely polite to Madame Moreau’s son. He commiserated with him at having to live in a small town. One day he told him that Monsieur Dambreuse had enquired after him. On another occasion he dwelt at length on the custom prevalent in Champagne of allowing titles to pass on through the female line.”

    This passage is a fine example of both the odd significance of detail and Wood’s definition of time signatures in A Sentimental Education. The details, the relationship of the neighbors and the concern with status prevalent in the final two particulars, tie together nicely in the description of Frédéric’s mother’s concern about Roque; while the construction of the backyard and Roque’s alternate garden fall as insignificant asides. Yet they hold import in understanding character and setting. Speaking of asides, this passage begins a pages long aside from the main action of the story, which thoroughly engulfs us until we’ve practically forgotten what is to happen. While this may not display Wood’s admiration of Flaubert’s knack for simultaneous action, it affects our perception of time in the novel. We absorb the descriptions of memories and characters simultaneously with the action—and are forced to reflect upon them in relation. This adds depth to both, and demands heightened acuity.


  4. Acacia says:

    “The orchestra, perched like monkeys on the platform, scraped and blew with a will, while the conductor, standing in front of them, beat time mechanically. The dancers were crowded together and in high spirits; hat ribbons, coming undone, brushed against cravats; boots disappeared under skirts; and all this jumped up and down in time with the music. Deslauriers pressed the young woman against him, and, carried away by the intoxication of the can-can, flung himself about among the dancers like a great marionette. Cisy and Dussardier continued their walk; the young aristocrat eyed the girls, but, in spite of the clerk’s encouragement, did not dare to speak to them, for he imagined that in the rooms of that sort of woman there was always ‘a man hiding in the wardrobe with a pistol, who comes out and forces you to make out a bill of exchange in his favor’. (81)

    The flurry of the dance floor seemed to be a perfect representation of the character being somewhat of a writer in its relation to the narration. As Wood suggests, the memory is like a wide lens that takes in everything before it, but it is the literary narrative that selects out the aesthetic. This scene is jumbled and quick paced, but the narrator describes it through a series of synecdoches (The hat ribbons and cravats represent the boys and girls dancing together) and quickly linked sentences through the semicolons. The passage is, at once, very general and very specific. The author dips into the thoughts of the various characters but remains outside.


  5. Loulou says:

    “So they continued to walk from one end to the other of the two bridges which met on the narrow island lying between the river and the canal. Facing them on the Nogent side was a cluster of slightly rickety houses; on the right they could see the church behind the wooden water-mills, their sluices now closed, and, along, the river bank to the left, hedgerows at the bottoms of gardens now practically invisible. But in the direction of Paris the main road ran straight downhill and in the distance the meadows were lost to sight in the evening mist. It was a still night lit by a whitish glow; scents of damp leaves came wafting up towards them; from the sluice between the river and the canal a hundred yards away came the strong, gentle murmur of water rippling in the dark.
    Deslauriers stopped and spoke:
    ‘It’s funny, all those simple folks sleeping so peacefully! Just wait! There’s another ’89 on the way! People are fed up with new constitutions and charters, quibbles and lies! Oh, if only I had a newspaper or some sort of forum, what a shake-up I’d give everything! But to get anything done you need money! What a curse to be the son of a publican and waste your youth having to earn enough to survive on!’
    He hung his head, biting his lips; he was shivering in his thin overcoat.
    Frédéric threw half his own coat over his shoulders. They wrapped it round themselves and walked along together under it, holding each other round the waist.
    ‘How do you think I’m going to be able to live there without you?’ Frédéric said. His friend’s bitterness had revived his own black mood. ‘With a woman who loved me I’d been able to achieve something. Why are you laughing? Genius feeds on love, it’s the air it needs in order to breathe. To produce really outstanding works you’ve got to feel grand emotions. As for trying to find the woman I need, I give up! Even if I do find her, she’ll turn me down. I’m the sort of man who’s doomed to be a failure and I’ll go to my grave without ever knowing whether I was real gold or just tinsel!'”
    (p. 18-19)

    This passage starts by Flaubert describing the surroundings carefully. We can easily imagine the view (the rickety houses, the water-mill). He draws the attention to ‘hedgerows at the bottom of gardens now practically invisible.”, making us aware of random details we wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. The night scene comes across as very palpable. The misty nights, the smell of damp leaves and somewhere in the background the sound of a gentle river. By describing several things Flaubert doesn’t need to mention that the two persons are moving, walking. Maybe it’s because of the mention of flowing water. It feels very natural when the characters stop. They discontinue the ‘action’ to have a conversation. The peaceful night scene is disrupted by Deslauriers frustrated speech. The scene turns darker. Their insecurities come out. Because Deslauriers speech is so animated, it doesn’t feel weird when he tells Frédéric to stop laughing, without us knowing Frédéric had been laughing. Flaubert doesn’t need to mention that. I really liked the sentence ‘I’ll go to my grave without ever knowing whether I was real gold or just tinsel!’.


  6. Alona says:

    “five or six people were crowded into the narrow room, which was lit by a single window overlooking the courtyard; at the far end a brown wool damask sofa stood in a recess between two door-curtains of the same material. On the mantelshelf littered with papers there was a bronze Venus; two lampstands with pink candles stood in identical positions on either side of the fireplace. In an armchair on the right next to a filing cabinet a man sat reading a paper, still with his hat on; the walls were covered with prints and pictures, valuable engravings or sketches by well known contemporary artists, adorned by dedications professing their sincere affection for Jacques Arnoux…Situated in the heart of Paris, L’Art industriel was a convenient meeting place, a sort of neutral territory where competing interests could rub shoulders in a free-and-easy atmosphere. On the particular day you could have met Anténor Braive, the painter of royalty, Jules Burrieu, whose drawings were beginning to popularize the Algerian war; the cartoonist Sembaz, the sculptor Vourdat and others, and not one of them corresponded to the student’s preconceived ideas. They were simple in manner, outspoken in their speech. The other-worldly Lovarias told a dirty story while the inventor of oriental landscape-painting, the famous Dittmer, was wearing a knitted spencer under his waistcoat and went home by bus.” – p. 36-37
    In this passage we see a good example of the omniscience narrator wood speaks about. Flaubert gives us not only what his character sees but also a description of the atmosphere in the place (whether the character is there or not) and a glimpse at the personality of the owner of ‘L’Art industriel’. Placing his focus on small details like the matching fabric of the sofa and the curtains, or the precise location of the lampstands, or using the word “littered” for scattered paper, Flaubert indirectly describes Jacques Arnoux to his reader. The narrator does not care about the preciseness on the furniture and neither does Fredric; it is a sort of indirect way for the reader to know Arnoux not via Fredric. Phrases like ‘neutral territory’, ‘free and easy atmosphere’ and ‘went home by bus’ are also the words of an omniscience narrator. Since it is his first time there it is impossible for Fredric to know these things. Flaubert uses his narrator voice in a very subtle way, making it similar to Fredric’s voice, which increases the readers viewing of Fredric as a ‘flaneur’ character that notices everything.


  7. “The band had left. They dragged the piano out of the hall into the drawing-room, Vatnaz sat down on it, and to the accompaniment of the Choirboy’s Basque drum, launched into a wild country dance, hitting the keys like a horse stamping its hooves and lurching to and fro in time with the music. The Marshal carried Frederic off, Hussonnet turned a cartwheel, the Stevedore was twisting and jerking like a clown, while the Clown pretended to be an orang-utan and the Native Woman held her arms out sideways and imitated the pitching and tossing of a ship. In the end, everyone stopped, exhausted. Somebody opened a window. (138)”

    What a wonderful and exciting description of a party! In this small scene we see the party take a wild and vulgar direction, as each of the characters ‘lets loose’. The achievement of this passage is to take the party and make the reader feel as if we are seeing every crazy action in perfect sequence. They could actually be happening all at once, for even though they are presented calmly and sequentially for our reception, we as readers have the feeling of being inside this party, of being first amused by the Clown who pretends to be an orang-utan and stunned by the Native Woman’s impression. The time signature is both immediate, in order to sweep the reader up in the action, and delayed, because the verbs are in the past tense and so we instinctively know that somebody (the implied narrator) is describing these events to us. We slide so easily into the mayhem of the party that we might never question its realness; it takes reflective effort in order to realise that this is a simulation imparted to us by the impassive and invisible narrator.

    Flaubert mixes habitual detail with dynamic detail here expertly. While there is nothing new in a piano being played at a piano, the “wild country dance” comes to us quite unexpectedly. The two similes introduce an unexpected air of imaginative fantasy into the party scene so that we know perceptions are distorted (i.e., we know it’s a good party!). When Flaubert has Vatnaz “hitting the keys like a horse stamping its hooves” he lends his character the wild and furious energy of equestrian impatience. And in a forceful poetic description, he has the Native Woman hold her hands out sideways and imitate “ the pitching and tossing of a ship”, conveying to us the imbalance and shifting currents of both her mood (and presumably) the mood of the party.

    Right at the end of the description, we are given a break, along with the characters. After a whole paragraph of action, Flaubert brings his party to a close in six words. But then, when somebody opens a window, the Flaubertian touch for the unexpected as a relief and signpost to new action begins. The following paragraph reads: “Daylight streamed in” and so Flaubert is off again.


  8. “The clouds looked like elongated pink scarves hanging over the roof-tops; shops were beginning to roll up their awnings; water-carts were sprinkling the dust, and an unexpected coolness mingled with the various smells drifting out through the open doorways of the cafés in which tall bunches of flowers could be seen reflected in long wall mirrors amongst the silver and gilt. The crowds were sauntering along. Knots of men stood around chatting in the middle of the pavement; women went past, limp-eyed, with that camellia flesh-tint peculiar to the feminine complexion during the weary dog-days. Some mighty things was overflowing and encircling the houses. Paris had never seemed so lovely and in the future, he could see nothing but an endless procession of years brimming over with love.” (p.97)
    In this passage we can see how Flaubert puts Frédéric in the position of the omnipresent observer. He sees and experiences everything from clouds to the reflection of the flowers. This contrast between the description of bigger and smaller sensations contributes to the feeling of realness of the event. By including the view, the sound and the smell in just a few sentences Flaubert succeeds in creating a complete grandiose picture of the place and Frédéric’s feelings. Even though some of these sensations are only momentary changing their duration adds to their importance. The seemingly random comparison of the behavior of men and women and sudden switch the “some mighty things” seemed connected to the way Frédéric felt about Madame Moreau. There were obstacles in their relationship (marriage at least) according to the rules of society. But with putting these two sentences together, we also get Frédérics conviction that the feelings are mighty things that will win against all the obstacles. Flaubert’s style of writing gives much stimulus to all the senses and engages the reader fully.


  9. Joel says:

    “One summer evening when they’d been walking for a long time along stony paths beside vineyards or on the open rode miles out in the country and the wheat was dancing in the sun while the rich scent of angelica wafted through the air, half-suffocating, in a sort of intoxication, wth their heads swimming, they’d stretch out on their backs; the other boys would be in their shirt-sleeves playing tig or flying kites. the master would call to them and they’d all troop back beside the gardens crossed by little streams and then long the broad boulevards under the shadows of old walls. Their footsteps echoed through the deserted streets, the gates would open, they’d go upstairs and they’d feel sad, as if they’d had an orgy.” (16)

    In this passage we see the present yet invisible narrator Wood mentions. He describes the countryside that Frederick and Deslauriers are running through. He not only gives us an account of what they see but also a sense of smell and even warmth of the environment. Even tough there is constant movement in the paragraph, we get a sense of freezing habitual occurrence with the dancing wheat, the scent of angelica and the boys flying kites- it is the artificial realism that characterises Flaubert throughout his novel. As for the dynamic, Flaubert kicks of with a mobile narration of the country side and the reader sees and smells what Flaubert narrates and the characters experience, we are gradually brought slowly to a stop as the boys are brought back and sent upstairs where sadness culminates the paragraph.


  10. Wilma says:

    “There were two long parallel galleries in the ‘Moorish’ style stretching out left and right. The far end was closed off by the wall of a house and the fourth side, containing the restaurant, was a mock-Gothic cloister with stained glass windows. The band was sitting on a raised platform under a sort of Chinese roof; the space round was asphalted and in the distance there was a glittering ring of multi-coloured Venetian lanterns festooned on pots and lighting the area used for quadrilles. Here and there were tiny jets of water squirting out of stone basins resting on pedestals. In the shrubberies, plaster casts of Hebe or Cupid could be seen with their paint still sticky; the many small paths of extremely yellow, meticulously raked, sand created the illusion of spaciousness.”

    Here, in addition to a large amount of sensory language and description, we see Flaubert, as Wood describes, playing with the time signatures of his narration. Here, it is a little more subtly done than perhaps in the rest of the text: Flaubert’s movement of the flaneur viewpoint in-and-out of the setting gives a sort of time-signature in itself: Frederic’s gaze seems to shift from closeness (such as the small size and detail of the water fountain) to the description of what is distant, and also far int he sense of time (“in the distance there was a glittering ring of multi-coloured Venetian lanterns festooned on pots”). Interesting here is of course additionally, the zooming-in of the authorial “camera” – the details of the rushing water or the stickiness of the casts. In their own way, the movement of Flaubert’s narration manages to create a time-signature, or rather several, all by itself: by focusing on the simultaneity of the small water jets gushing, or the methodical blinking of the far-away lights that, quite scientifically, takes a while to be perceived.


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