The First Temptation of Saint Anthony

by Gustave Flaubert

Other authorsEdward Bolland Osborn (Introduction), René Francis (Translator), Jean de Bosschère (Illustrator)
Hardcover, 1924





London : John Lane The Bodley Head, 1924.


A book that deeply influenced the young Freud and was the inspiration for many artists, The Temptation of Saint Anthony was Flaubert’s lifelong work, thirty years in the making. Based on the story of the third-century saint who lived on an isolated mountaintop in the Egyptian desert, it is a fantastical rendering of one night during which Anthony is besieged by carnal temptations and philosophical doubt. This Modern Library Paperback Classic reproduces the distinguished Lafcadio Hearn translation, which translator Richard Sieburth calls “a splendid period piece from one of America’s premier translators of nineteenth-century French prose. In Lafcadio Hearn’s Latinate rendering, Flaubert’s experimental drama of the modern consciousness reads as weirdly as its oneiric original.”… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member stillatim
This is a pretty damn weird book, in the best possible way. You always hear about Flaubert as a realist, Flaubert as wanting to write a novel about nothing, Flaubert as being obsessed with form and so on. Well, this was published 17 years after Madame Bovary, and is... not exactly a realist novel. It's more like a medieval passion play with historical people rather than personifications. First Antony is tempted by biblical characters (the Queen of Sheba, Nebuchadnezzar), then he confronted by heretics and theologians (Marcion, various Gnostics, Origen and pretty much everyone else), and finally he's given a vision of most of the gods anyone could be acquainted with by the 19th century.

I don't really know who to recommend this to, except a friend of mine who is writing a dissertation on someone who was obsessed with gnosticism, and another who's a junkie for church history. On the other hand, it's fascinating and moving. And everyone should read it, especially if you're into books which really don't have many precedents (Faust aside.)
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LibraryThing member Porius
After Oscar Wilde was let out of Reading Gaol he wandered through Europe a spent force, pretty much. His books were sold to pay off his debts, and he didn't have the maniacal energy of his earlier days for writing, et cetera. He would wander into a new town, calling himself Sebastaian Melmoth, and the first things he would request was plenty of cigarettes and a copy of Flaubert's ST. ANTHONY. He was a devotee of French literature.… (more)
LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
A vivid and terrifying fever dream, a spectacle of horrors and temptations. It's hard to believe this is the same Flaubert who wrote Madame Bovary.

It is based off of the Christian fable - the monk, Anthony, goes to the desert to meditate and pray, and the devil tempts him - and indeed, how the devil tempts him. All the obsessive desires of lust, of gluttony, and then the seductions of heresy and following false prophets, and then the submission to the vastness of the cosmos, the contradictions of scripture, and a display all of life itself.

I do not believe in God as Christians do. But I recognize that temptation is fierce and unrelenting, and Flaubert captures it totally, and without reservation. Flaubert's inimitable style shines even brighter here. It is, in itself, almost a religious revelation.

Not 5 stars because the more obscure early religious references might baffle more than a few interested readers. But this is still a work to behold.
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LibraryThing member Kristelh
Saint Anthony or Anthony the Great was a Christian saint from Egypt. Flaubert desired to write an epic of spiritual torment that might equal Goethe’s Faust (German literature). The author spent a large portion of his life writing this story that is written in the form of play script. The work’s form influenced the development of modernist play-texts, notable the “Circe” section of Joyce’s Ulysses. The novel might also be called a prose poem. The work is a fictionalized story of the inner life of Saint Anthony a fourth century Christian. The anchorite undergoes temptations; frailty, the seven deadly sins, Heresiarchs, the martyrs, the magicians, the gods, science, food, lust and death, monsters and metamorphosis. I especially enjoyed the sections that included dialogue with Hilarion (satan and also science). There is a cast of biblical characters including Queen of Sheba and King Nebuchadnezzar. The section on Chimera and the Sphinx and all the monsters were the most confusing to me. I did not get the purpose of that section though did like the ladies, lust and death. My favorite was the exploration of the heresies. Vampires are even mentioned in this work. I had many sections I highlighted and here is one example, a quote from Hilarion--”My kingdom is as wide as the universe, and my desire has no limits. I am always going about enfranchising the mind and weighing the worlds, without hate, without fear, without love, and without God. I am called Science.” This was an interesting read, I gave it 4 stars. It would appeal to anyone interested in religion, hallucinations of the flesh or modernist poetics.… (more)
LibraryThing member Schmerguls
I pay little attention to the genre called 'fantasy' but since I had read 5 of Flaubert's books but not his one, I thought I would read this. It describes at excessive length temptations of the Egyptian hermit, St. Anthony. They are set out in detail and numerous pagan figures enter into the sequences. I found the ending heartening.… (more)


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