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.”
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.)
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.