Monthly Archives: August 2012

Gustave Flaubert

Gustave Flaubert

Writer, Novelists
(1821 – 1880) 

The most influential French novelist of the nineteenth century, Flaubert is remembered primarily for the stylistic precision and dispassionate rendering of psychological detail found in his masterpiece, Madame Bovary (1857). Although his strict objectivity is often associated with the realist and naturalist movements, he objected to this classification, and his artistry indeed defies such easy categorization. Gustave Flaubert struggled throughout his career to overcome a romantic tendency toward fantastic imaginings and love of the exotic past. A meticulous craftsman, he aimed to achieve a prose style ‘‘as rhythmical as verse and as precise as the language of science.’’

France during the nineteenth century was a place of frequent political turmoil and intrigue. The monarchy had only recently been removed from power during the French Revolution, in the final years of the eighteenth century. A republic was established in its place, though the country eventually came under the control of military leader Napole´on Bonaparte, who declared himself emperor and whose tyrannical and imperialist rule was in many ways not unlike the monarchy that had recently been deposed. After Napole´on was removed from power in 1815, an official monarchy was established once again, though the royal family’s power was no longer absolute. This resulted in a period of relative peace during the 1830s and 1840s; however, the dissatisfaction of the working class who for the most part were not able to vote, since they did not own property erupted in 1848 with another revolution.

Once again the vacuum of power left in the newly established republic led to a single leader with extensive powers, and once again his name was Napole´on: Louis Napole´on, nephew of the former emperor. He ruled from 1852 until 1870, when he was removed from power and yet another republic known as the Third Republic was established. These tumultuous times inevitably informed Flaubert’s writing, most notably in his last novel, Sentimental Education (1870). Gustave Flaubert was born on December 12, 1821, in Rouen, France, where his father was chief surgeon and clinical professor at the city hospital, the Hoˆtel Dieu, and his mother was a well-known woman from a provincial bourgeois (middle-class) family. Read the rest of this entry

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Nell Gwyn

Nell Gwyn

Actress
(1650–1687)

Nell GwynWhen she was just a child, Eleanor Gwyn lost her father, who likely died in a debtor’s prison. The future great actress of the Restoration stage therefore grew up under the care of her mother, who ran a house of prostitution near Covent Garden, then in the western end of the city of London. In her childhood years she was a barmaid in her mother’s establishment before becoming a fruit seller at the nearby Drury Lane Theater. She came to the attention of the theater’s major actor, Charles Hart, and although only fifteen at the time she became his lover. Hart saw to it that she was given roles in productions and she continued in the company until 1669 when she became pregnant by the king. She returned to the theater for one production after the birth, but then soon retired to devote herself to her love, King Charles II. In the years that she had performed at the Drury Lane Theater, Gwyn premiered a number of roles in plays by John Dryden and James Howard.

Although she acted in dramas, it was in comic roles that her talents were most evident. Observers noted that she had a quick and ready wit, and althoug hilliterate, was able to charm even the most educated by the intelligence of her conversation. She was also considered to be an excellent singer and dancer, and she was admired for her abilities to recite the poetic prologues and epilogues that were common in the theater of the day. In her retirement the king granted her a house, where she entertained Charles and members of the aristocracy. She was twice coaxed back onto the stage during the 1670s, the first time to play the female lead in Aphra Behn’s comedy of manners, The Rover (1677) and again in a role in the author’s Sir Patient Fancy a year later. These productions were staged, not at her former establishment the Drury Lane Theater, but at the Dorset Gardens, the house belonging to the troupe known as “The King’s Men.”

In the years after she became the king’s lover, she devoted almost all of her energies to entertaining Charles and members of his court and to tending to her mother and children. Since she had the royal ear, she frequently became involved in intrigues at court, although she seems never to have tried to interfere in politics. Charles richly rewarded her with a generous allowance and a handsome house in the St.James’ section of London so that she could be near the palace. He elevated the two sons she bore him to the nobility. With her newfound wealth, Gwyn provided a house for her mother in fashionable Chelsea, but her mother died in an accident in 1679 brought on by a bout of drunkenness. Despite the king’s great largesse, Gwyn spent prodigiously and when Charles died in 1685, she was in danger of being sent to debtor’s prison. Read the rest of this entry