Three Tales

by Gustave Flaubert

Other authorsAlvin Lustig (Cover artist)
Hardcover, 1944





Norfolk, Conn., New Directions, 1944.


Three Tales offers an excellent introduction to the work of one of the world's greatest novelists. A Simple Heart is set in the Normandy of Flaubert's childhood, while Saint Julian and Herodias draw on medieval myth and the biblical story of John the Baptist for their inspiration. Each of thetales invites comparison with one or other of Flaubert's novels, but they also reveal a fresh and distinctive side to the writers's genius.

User reviews

LibraryThing member ocgreg34
"A Simple Heart' tells the story of Félicité, a young woman who begins work as a house servant after her chance for true love evaporated in the blink of an eye. It didn't really strike me as a story but more of a portrait of the young woman, finding comfort in what little she has, striving to always do good by the family for whom she works thought they seem to pay little attention to her wants and needs, and always maintaining her faith when others would start to falter.

In "The Legend of Saint Julian the Hospitalier", the young Julian is pre-destined to become a saint from birth, based upon visions witnessed by both his parents, and the two treat him as such, delicately, making sure he has the proper education and spiritual nourishment. Yet after an innocent run-in with a mouse during church, he becomes quite a little demon when it comes to the treatment of animals. His cruelty increases day by day, until one afternoon while on a hunt, he slaughters an entire valley of deer but is cursed by the one remaining stag and his life changes forever.

The stark and bloody imagery seemed a bit contrary to what I would expect from the someone destined to be a saint. I had a difficult time accepting his sainthood when it finally arrived.

"Herodias" is a re-telling of the beheading of John the Baptist by Herod at the request of Salomé. I found this tale very confusing thanks to too many characters and encountered much difficulty trying to keep the story straight in my head. And oddly enough, the title character, Herodias, was hardly seen as was her daughter Salomé.
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LibraryThing member JosephCamilleri
With his allegedly "immoral" first novel Madame Bovary, Flaubert established himself as a leading exponent of the budding realist approach to literature with its emphasis on the sometimes sordid details of everyday life. The same elements recur in Sentimental Education but, in contrast, the historical novel Salammbô is an exercise in over-the-top exotic Orientalism. Flaubert's late "Three Tales" reflect these two extremes of his literary style.

This edition features a high-profile guest foreword by Margaret Drabble, as well as an introduction by translator Howard Curtis. Both writers emphasize the fact that these short stories are a distillation of Flaubert's craft and amongst his best works.

The collection opens with "A Simple Heart", a blow-by-blow description of the life and hardships of humble Normandy servant Felicite. The detached, sphinx-like third person narration is tantalisingly ambiguous - are we meant to feel sorry for the protagonist? Contemptuous at her ignorance? Angry at her too easy resignation in the face of adversity? Or should we admire her humility and loyalty? Much is made of Felicite's quasi-blasphemous mental association between the Holy Ghost and her stuffed parrot. Said parrot makes a final appearance in the final pages, when Flaubert abandons the matter-of-fact storytelling in favour of a glimpse of the dying protagonist's ecstatic visions. What are we make of this? It is unlikely that the secularist Flaubert wanted us to take these mystic passages at face value - on the other hand, the heightened language suggests that rather than demented ravings of a gullible old woman, these "visions" give Felicite a hard-earned dignity at the moment of death.

Certainly, for an anti-clerical agnostic, Flaubert's tales show a strange fascination with religion. "Saint Julian the Hospitaller" is a retelling of the medieval legend of the patron saint of hunters in which Flaubert resorts to Gothic tropes for heightened effect - dark forests, rambling castles, talking animals and last but not least a curse which haunts Julian. "Herodias" is an account of the beheading of St John. An excuse to indulge in Salammbô-style exoticism, the colourfully-described orgies would influence later writers including Oscar Wilde.

This Hesperus classics edition is highly recommended, particularly for Howard Curtis's idiomatic translation, which was nominated for the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize.
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LibraryThing member DRFP
My first introduction to Flaubert and I was a little disappointed.

He writes sparsely, and well, but it felt more like a technical exercise than anything else. These stories, oddly given their subject matter, seemed to lack heart. "A Simple Heart" was a rush through an average servant's life but it left little room for contemplation. "Saint Julian" I enjoyed the most as Flaubert's fleeting style actually suited this sort of pseudo-medieval tale. "Herodias" was probably the weakest, requiring too much historical knowledge and, again, lacking some soul.… (more)
LibraryThing member DavidGoldsteen
I read Madame Bovary in an old translation, several years ago. That's the total of my experience with Flaubert. When I picked up "Three Tales," I wondered, would I be hearing the same, precise voice.

Flaubert's voice, via Curtis, was a familiar one: exacting in its choice of details, spare but not minimalist, precise. That's the Flaubert I've always read about, so I think Curtis got it about right. You never feel like the translator has taken the prose where it didn't want to go, or that he's getting between the reader and writer.

That said, "Three Tales" was a mixed pleasure, at best. It's very Christian, for one, in a way I never expected from the man who said "epater le bourgeoisie." Flaubert's devotion and evident sincerity was a surprise. It worked well enough in the first two stories -- "A Simple Heart" was a sweet and never condescending study of a good heart, effortless and nicely drawn. Likewise, "Julian the Hospitaler" is a straightforward story, lacking in irony and simply affecting.

The final story, "Herodias," was a disappointment. There's not much story there, nor observation. I couldn't understand the point of the story, nor why Flaubert thought it worth telling. I attributed it to religious feeling, nothing more.
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LibraryThing member wrmjr66
Flaubert's collection of "Three Tales" brings together a wonderful set of short stories. Working from contemporary to ancient and in various modes of realism, Flaubert delves into the spiritual depths of his characters. The first story, "A Simple Heart" is the best of the group. In this story, Flaubert tells the story Felicite, a loyal servant to an uninteresting patron. Flaubert quickly covers her whole life, from her difficult childhood and through her many attachments to her death. Felicite is a woman who feels love deeply, but Flaubert's presentation is very detached and never maudlin. The last great love of Felicite's life is a parrot (which also inspired Julian Barnes' "Flaubert's Parrot") who comes to symbolize the holy spirit for her. It would have been easy for Flaubert to portray Felicite's simplicity as an object of scorn or irony, but he treats her faithfully and never passes judgment on her actions or thoughts. Her story is beautifully told and stands up well to any short story I know.

The second tale, "The Legend of Saint Julian the Hospitaller," is a retelling of the legendary Saint's life. Flaubert is in a completely different mode here; he is comfortable in the quick and magical progression typical of medieval tales. Flaubert's eye for detail makes some of the scenes more horrific and as such more effective. In particular, the scenes of carnage while hunting and the scene with the leper are particularly well drawn.

The final tale, "Herodias," is a retelling of the story of John the Baptist's execution. Here, Flaubert delves into the emotions of religious fervor and political intrigue. He focuses not on Herodias or John, but on Herod. He portrays Herod as caught between competing forces: Rome and the tribes outside his kingdom; his wife and the proconsul; pharisees, essenes, and the fledgling movement spawned by Jesus. All of these competing voices make the story a bit disjointed at times, but once again Flaubert's realism lends a detached feel to the entire story.

Margaret Drabble's introduction to the volume is useful in how she ties the "Three Tales" into Flaubert's career and surroundings. The cathedral at Rouen, for example, has a series of stained glass windows depicting Saint Julian's story, and it also has a statue of the beheading of John the Baptist. Such details help bring the stories into greater clarity, though I recommend reading the introduction last if you have never read the stories, so as to be able to come to the stories fresh.
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LibraryThing member rmckeown
Flaubert’s Madame Bovary is, arguably, the best 19th century novel, and I am a big fan. I teach it nearly every semester so I can read it again and again. This volume contains a most interesting Foreword by Margaret Drabble, another of my favorite novelists.

The three stories are set in reverse chronological order: the early 19th century, the Middle Ages, and during the height of the Roman Empire. The first two represent spectacular examples of Flaubert at his best as a realist writing a story with not the minutest detail omitted. The Introduction, written by Howard Curtis, advises the reader to “think of each sentence less as an element of a smooth narrative sequence than as a description of a separate image in a shooting script” (xvi). Excellent advice for the reader unfamiliar with this master of 19th century realism and naturalism.

I thoroughly and completely enjoyed the first two stories. “A Simple Heart” tells an enchanting story of Félicité who spends her life in service to others. Acting as a nurse to her employer’s young daughter, she has developed a close relationship with the child when she is whisked away to a convent for her education. “In the mornings, out of habit, Félicité would go into Virginie’s room and look at the walls. She missed combing her hair, lacing her ankle boots, tucking her up in bed, seeing her lovely face at all times, holding her hand when they went out together. In her idleness, she tried to take up lace-making, but she broke the threads with her heavy fingers. She could not put her mind to anything. She had not been sleeping well, and she felt ‘drained,’ as she put it” (16). Curtis could have had this sentence in mind when he wrote the Introduction.

The second story was an interesting hagiography of Julian the Hospitaller. I thought Flaubert represented the middle ages well. The last story I found confusing and difficult to follow. It seemed written in a different voice than the other two, as if Flaubert tried to imitate writers from that period. I much preferred the voices of the first two stories.

Nevertheless excellent examples of Flaubert in his last years – still at the height of his powers. 4 stars.

--Jim, 1/18/10
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LibraryThing member tctruffin
As Flaubert's "Three Tales" have been reviewed and studied time and again, I see no point in rehashing that information here. A new publication of old material should be judged primarily on the packaging. In this case, the new Hesperus Press edition presents a fine physical artifact. The paperback is compact yet readable. The paper cover is of fine heavy-weight paper that has a very touchable matte sheen finish. The fold-over flaps on front and back offer very convenient bookmarking opportunities.

The foreward by Margaret Drabble is unfortunately not as sleek and enticing as the physcial book. Bloated by breathless superlatives, the 5-page essay presents information that feels like it could have easily been pared down to 2 or 3 pages.

In contrast, the introduction by the volume's translator Howard Curtis is a much more straight-forward and informative history of the tales. That sparse, stylish approach carries over into the translated text, which seems appropriate for Flaubert.
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LibraryThing member benjaminjudge
It seems a little odd reviewing Flaubert, obviously this is good stuff, and while I am pretty sure I have read these stories before (a long time ago) I cannot remember them well enough to compare translations.

However, as always, Hesperus have constructed a very handsome edition of a classic work and Margaret Drabble has provided an excellent introduction.… (more)
LibraryThing member Crowyhead
Thanks to a senior seminar, I can now appreciate the beauty and symbolism of Flaubert's prose in these short stories. Still, I doubt I'll be re-reading this any time soon.
LibraryThing member klarusu
These are three beautifully crafted short stories. I've read Flaubert's longer works and enjoyed them but these three stories are, in a way, more perfectly realised than the longer works. Their charm is in the restrained language and description, somehow complementing the religious undertones perfectly. They are poignant works with well-drawn characters that seem all the more powerful for the sparseness of Flaubert's descriptions.

The Hesperus press edition is a wonderful presentation of these short works. I will certainly search out more from this publisher. It's a well-translated piece with a really thoughtful and enlightening introduction by Margaret Drabble that added to the reading of these pieces without over-analysing them. I would definitely recommend both the stories and this published edition.
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LibraryThing member michaelbartley
three short novels by flaubert, the first a simple heart was my favorite. the story told with great compassion of a woman housekeeper in the 19th century. the next two for me did not touch as deeply. certainly flaubert is an excellent writer that works very hard
LibraryThing member stilton
Three stories written by Flaubert in the mid-1870s during a break in his work on "Bouvard et Pécuchet" and published in 1877, making them the last of his works to appear before he died.

"A Simple Heart" is great, the tale of an utterly selfless servant girl. Flaubert covers her life in the most straightforward way possible; he doesn't dwell on psychological speculations, but just says what happens and lets us draw our own conclusions. His method can seem artless, but of course this isn't such an easy trick, and the final effect is anything but simple. I'm reminded of a comment Robert Bresson made about film: "You must leave the spectator free. And at the same time you must make yourself loved by him. You must make him love the way in which you render things." As with Bresson's films, "A Simple Heart" ends with a transformation, something like a miracle, which you accept because what has gone before has made you love the storyteller's way of rendering things. The comparison shouldn't be taken too far, of course: unlike Bresson, Flaubert makes everything completely natural and believable. "A Simple Heart" recalls "Madame Bovary" in its style, setting and quality.

The other two stories were inspired by art in Rouen Cathedral. "The Legend of Saint Julian the Hospitaller" is myth-like; its vengeful animals and fairy tale-esque ending couldn't be called naturalistic. But the story has a clear and uncluttered trajectory, and the way of telling it is familiarly striaghtforward in style; I liked it very much. I'm not so sure about the last of the trio, "Herodias". Dealing with the beheading of John the Baptist (it was apparently an influence on Oscar Wilde's "Salome") I thought the biblical surface was somewhat over the top, a little King Vidor; I gather "Salammbô" (which I've not read) is similar in this respect but to my mind it doesn't show Flaubert at his best. Still, the other two stories - "A Simple Heart" especially - have something magical to them.

I haven't compared Howard Curtis's translation for this Hesperus edition with others, but it seems very good, unobtrusive and simple; nothing in it jars. Curtis also provides an introduction, and there's a foreword by Margaret Drabble. Physically the book is very pleasing, with nice paper, nice type, and a suitably unflashy cover.
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LibraryThing member stef7sa
Five, four and three stars respectively for the three stories. The first is a masterpiece on equal par with Mme Bovary, the style is incredibly effective in all its simplicity, the story is really moving. The second one also contains some beautiful writing but the story less captvating. The last one is a rather overloaded retelling of the biblical tale.… (more)
LibraryThing member Smiler69
Three short stories by Flaubert, each with very different themes, were a very good introduction to the scope of this giant of French literature. Un cœur simple or Le perroquet, known as A Simple Heart in English, narrates the life story of a servant called Félicité, who, having experienced a great romantic deception in her youth, devotes her life to her employer Mme Aubain and her children. When she inherits a live parrot, the animal becomes the recipient of all Félicité's love and passion, even once it passes away, when Félicité has him sent to a taxidermist so she can keep the bird by her side until her dying days. An interesting story about selfless love and devotion. ★★★★

The Legend of Saint Julian the Hospitalier tells the story of how a young man who loved to kill animals for pleasure eventually became a saint. After having killed a mouse as a child, Julian, the son of noble parents develops a taste for killing and takes to hunting with a vengeance. He loves to massacre large quantities of animals without a shadow of remorse. One day, after an especially bloody carnage wherein he massacres an entire valley of deer, he starts having qualms about his favourite hobby, but his reservations dissipate instantly when he spies a family of deer and can't resist killing off the fawn and his mother. When he fails to kill the stag, the animal curses him with the promise that Julian will end up killing both his mother and father. Terrorized that the curse might come true, Julian flees from the parental home, but will he manage to escape his destiny? A great story about redemption, but for animal lovers like me, the scenes of carnage were difficult to stomach, though in retrospect, necessary to tell the story. ★★★★

Hérodias is the retelling of the beheading of St-John the Baptist. I wasn't particularly fond of the religious aspects of the story, but as a historical piece is was interesting, especially with the description of the party Hérodias holds for her new husband Herod Antipas, when guests make themselves vomit between courses so they can continue stuffing their faces; leave it to the Romans to benefit from all the advantages of bulimia without the guilt. Then Salomé arrives on the scene and uses her charms to have John's head served on a platter. Lovely. Very well told, but not my favourite story. ★★★
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LibraryThing member Voracious_Reader
I'd recommend reading the foreword and introduction after the Tales; though, both are worth reading. By reading the intro first, I anticipated too much of the plots.

The first tale is "A Simple Heart." The title speaks for itself. The story is about a woman who loves completely, selflessly and without hesitation. At first glance, she seems worthy of pity and appears to be a bit nuts. She's actually content and isn't really crazy even though she speaks to a dead, stuffed parrot that she comes to believe is the Holy Ghost. In this tale, Flaubert has a way of rendering the common beautiful-- whether he's describing things like the weather and sounds of a village or the life of a common, illiterate peasant.

"The Legend of Saint Julian the Hospitaller" is about a wealthy man who loses everything, spends the rest of his life making penance and is finally willing to give all that he has for another. The story has a lot to say about human madness and passion. Not quite sure what I think of it yet.

The third tale, "Herodias" didn't work for me on any level. It is sort of anti-Semitic; it is choppy and difficult to follow, and is not interesting in any way. Plot-wise it is about Roman and Jewish politics and the killing of John the Baptist. I love history. I love religious history. I love historical fiction. This piece fails for me on all levels. It does, however, have one of my favorite sentences from all three tales: "So he stretched his arms toward Zion, rose to his full height and, with his head thrown back and his fists clenched, laid a curse on it, believing that words had real power." p. 69.

Curtis and Drabble made nice contributions to the foreword and introduction respectively. Both comment on the power of Flaubert's use of language or his literary style. For them, as they describe Flaubert sometimes laboring for a week at a time to finish just one sentence, "words had real power." The trademark Hesperus binding, thick paperback cover and sturdy pages will help this book hold up through multiple readings, but the stories themselves might fail to stand the test of time if Flaubert hadn't also written "Madame Bovary."
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LibraryThing member westcott
I once (possibly twice, actually) tried to read Madame Bovary. I didn't necessarily dislike it, but had to stop before I felt I could really judge it or Flaubert. I generally read before bed and when I was reading Bovary, staying awake became difficult. Things did not move quickly. I could appreciate the way that Flaubert accumulated details to establish the mood and define the characters, but appreciation could not keep my eyes open. I have continued to hope that one day I will return to Bovary and give it a fair shot, but was happy to get this from Early Reviewers as a chance to take on a smaller chunk of Flaubert. Since he was only working in 30 page chunks, Flaubert had to get where he was going. It was also striking that he went to three very different places. "A Simple Heart" looks a the sad life of a devoted servant in 19th century France. It is a stark story and presents a complicated view of a very simple woman. "The Legend of St. Julian the Hospitaler" tells the story implied by the title, switching to a medieval setting and more Romantic style, full of prophetic dreams and religious miracles. It was probably the weakest for me .The last story tells the Biblical story of the death of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod and his wife Herodias. Though the story is called "Herodias" and the most famous character is John, the focus is on Herod and his struggle to decide John's fate. It's an odd story because it has so many elements that seem somewhat mashed together. Flaubert looks at the religious, political, and familial struggles among the Romans and Jews. He also dwells on the exoticism and decadence of the time and place. It's a lot to cram into less than 30 pages, so while each aspect was interesting and I'll want to revisit it, each part also felt short-changed.… (more)


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