Flaubert’s True Love – Louise Colet

Flaubert’s True Love – Louise Colet

From 1846 to 1854, Gustave Flaubert, the creator of Madame Bovary, had a relationship with the poet Louise Colet. The relationship turned sour, however, and they broke up. Louise was allegedly so angered by her breakup with Flaubert, she wrote a novel, Lui,(Him) in an effort to target Flaubert. However, Colet’s book has failed to have the lasting significance of Madame Bovary. Flaubert’s dozens of long letters to her, in 1846–1847, then especially between 1851 and 1855, are one of the many joys of his correspondence. Many of them are a precious source of information on the progress of the writing of Madame Bovary. In many others, Flaubert gives lengthy appreciations and critical comments on the poems that Louise Colet sent to him for his judgement before offering them for publication. The most interesting of these comments show the vast differences between her and him on the matter of style and literary expression, she being a gushing Romanticist, he deeply convinced that the writer must abstain from gush and self-indulgence.

An extract from one of the letters is reproduced below. Flaubert never married and according to his biographer Émile Faguet, his affair with Louise Colet was his only serious romance. Flaubert believed in, and pursued, the principle of finding “le mot juste” (“the right word”), which he considered as the key means to achieve quality in literary art. Does he find ‘le mot juste’ in this letter dated 1846?

“I will cover you with love when next I see you, with caresses, with ecstasy. I want to gorge you [sic] with all the joys of the flesh, so that you faint and die. I want you to be amazed by me, and to confess to yourself that you had never even dreamed of such transports… When you are old, I want you to recall those few hours, I want your dry bones to quiver with joy when you think of them.”

In his novel he Flaubert gives expression to his thoughts on love to Emma;

Before her marriage she had thought that she had love within her grasp; but since the happiness which she had expected this love to bring her hadn’t come, she supposed she must have been mistaken. And Emma tried to imagine just what was meant, in life, by the words “bliss,” “passion,” and “rapture” – words that had seemed so beautiful to her in books.”

“She was not happy–she never had been. Whence came this insufficiency in life–this instantaneous turning to decay of everything on which she leaned? But if there were somewhere a being strong and beautiful, a valiant nature, full at once of exaltation and refinement, a poet’s heart in an angel’s form, a lyre with sounding chords ringing out elegiac epithalamia to heaven, why, perchance, should she not find him? Ah! How impossible! Besides, nothing was worth the trouble of seeking it; everything was a lie. Every smile hid a yawn of boredom, every joy a curse, all pleasure satiety, and the sweetest kisses left upon your lips only the unattainable desire for a greater delight.”

In choosing to lose his heart to Louise Colet Flaubert had chosen badly. In her twenties she married Hippolyte Colet, an academic musician, partly in order to escape provincial life and live in Paris, echoes of Emma Bovary here I’m sure. When the couple arrived in Paris, Colet began to submit her work for approval and publication and soon won a two-thousand-franc prize from the Académie française, the first of four prizes won from the Académie. Like many women of note she ran a salon that was frequented by many of the city’s literary crowd including Victor Hugo. In 1840 she gave birth to her daughter Henriette, but neither her husband nor her lover, Victor Cousin, would acknowledge paternity of the child. After her affair with Flaubert she took up with Alfred de Musset, then Abel Villemain.

She was a resourceful woman and after her husband died, she supported herself and her daughter with her writing. Her “dry bones” probably did not quiver when she thought about Flaubert in her old age, far more water passed under her bridge than it ever did under Flaubert’s.

Illustration: Louise Colet by James Tissot (1836-1902), Oil on canvas, 1861.

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.42  Also available on:

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The world’s first successful female composer – Barbara Strozzi

The world’s first successful female composer – Barbara Strozzi

Giulio Strozzi, a poet and librettist, recognised Barbara as his adopted daughter on 6 August 1619 when she was baptised in the church of Santa Sofia in the Cannaregio district (sestiere) of Venice. Barbara was most likely his illegitimate daughter by Isabella Garzoni, his long-time servant.

Barbara was lucky that, unlike most women, she was encouraged in her musical talents by her adopted father and introduced to Venice’s intellectual elite. Giulio used his connections in the intellectual world of Venice to showcase his daughter and to advance her career. He was a member of the Venetian circle of intellectuals known as the Accademia degli Incogniti (“Academy of the Unknowns”), which met to discuss and debate questions of literature, ethics, aesthetics, religion, and the arts. The Incogniti were early proponents of Venetian opera in the late 1630s and ’40s, and, although there were no professional musicians among their members, their discussions sometimes centred on music. In 1637 he formed a musical subset of the Incogniti, the Accademia degli Unisoni (“Academy of the Like-Minded,” also a pun on the musical term unison)—which did count musicians as members—over which Barbara presided, performing as a singer and suggesting topics of discussion. She was the dedicatee of a number of publications, beginning with two volumes of music by Nicolò Fontei (Bizzarrie poetiche [“Poetic Oddities”] of 1635 and 1636) and including Le veglie de’ Signori Unisoni (1638; “The Vigils of the Like-Minded Academicians”), which documents some of the activities of the academy.

Her role as hostess of the Unisoni and her very public involvement in music were satirized in an anonymous manuscript that may have been penned by a member of the Incogniti; the author equated her status as a musician with licentious behaviour, implying that she was a courtesan. Although it is unclear whether that accusation was true, a portrait of her by Bernardo Strozzi (not of the same family) has been interpreted as highlighting her activities both as a musician and as a courtesan. Although she never married, Strozzi had four children; her two daughters joined a convent, and one of her two sons became a monk.

Giulio Strozzi’s proto-feminist sensibilities garnered Barbara an opportunity that would be closed to most women composers for centuries: getting published. Barbara would eventually publish eight collections of her vocal works between 1644 and 1664, seven of which survive. She likely sang a number of her works at academic meetings at her father’s music school, the Accademia degli Unisoni, and in private performances and social gatherings at the family home among various members of the Venetian high society. Renowned for both her poetry and her music, Barbara Strozzi was a woman ahead of her time — far ahead of her time, as it would still be several centuries before most women could have serious careers as composers. Barbara died in 1677 leaving behind a body of work praised for its wit, linguistic virtuosity, and erotic imagery.

Click on the link to hear her haunting cantata – My Mourning sung by Pamela Lucciarini.

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.42  Also available on:

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The Apothecary Poet

The Apothecary Poet

Like my hero Sinclair, the Romantic poet John Keats (1795-1821) studied to become doctor but unlike Sinclair’s his heart was not really in it. Keats’s letters to Fanny Brawne are among the most famous love letters ever written. As next-door neighbours, they exchanged numerous short notes, and occasionally more passionate letters.

Fanny Brawne

Keats trained as an apothecary at Guy’s Hospital from 1815 to 1816 and attended lectures on the principles and practice of surgery by the famous surgeon Sir Astley Cooper who also makes a brief appearance in my novel. In 1816, Keats received his apothecary’s licence, which made him eligible to practise as an apothecary, physician, and surgeon.

Keats’s desire to become a poet led him to abandon medicine soon after he completed his training. In his ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ recalls his experience of caring for the dying:

The weariness, the fever and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last grey hairs,
Where youth grows spectre-thin, and dies.

Ironically, it was his medical training that made him such a good carer for his brother Tom when he died from tuberculosis. In giving that care Keats became infected with the disease himself; there was no inoculation at the time, the now well-know BCG vaccine was first used in humans in 1921. Infection for Keats meant certain death but not before, he fell in love and wrote some of the world’s greatest poetry and love letters. Here is one of them.

“25 College Street, London

My dearest Girl,
This moment I have set myself to copy some verses out fair. I cannot proceed with any degree of content. I must write you a line or two and see if that will assist in dismissing you from my Mind for ever so short a time. Upon my Soul I can think of nothing else – The time is passed when I had power to advise and warn you again[s]t the unpromising morning of my Life – My love has made me selfish. I cannot exist without you – I am forgetful of every thing but seeing you again – my Life seems to stop there – I see no further. You have absorb’d me. I have a sensation at the present moment as though I was dissolving – I should be exquisitely miserable without the hope of soon seeing you. I should be afraid to separate myself far from you. My sweet Fanny, will your heart never change? My love, will it? I have no limit now to my love – You note came in just here – I cannot be happier away from you – ‘T is richer than an Argosy of Pearles. Do not threat me even in jest. I have been astonished that Men could die Martyrs for religion – I have shudder’d at it – I shudder no more – I could be martyr’d for my Religion – Love is my religion – I could die for that – I could die for you. My Creed is Love and you are its only tenet – You have ravish’d me away by a Power I cannot resist: and yet I could resist till I saw you; and even since I have seen you I have endeavoured often “to reason against the reasons of my Love.” I can do that no more – the pain would be too great – My Love is selfish – I cannot breathe without you.  Yours for ever, John Keats

Their love story was made into a film – Bright Star in 2009. It stars Ben Whishaw as Keats and Abbie Cornish as Fanny. It was directed by Jane Campion, who wrote the screenplay inspired by Andrew Motion’s biography of Keats; Motion served as a script consultant on the film. The film was in the main competition at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival, and was first shown to the public on 15 May 2009.The film’s title is a reference to a sonnet by Keats titled “Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art”, which he wrote while he was with Brawne.

For more see: http://englishhistory.net/keats/letters/love-letter-to-fanny-brawne-13-october-1819/

Julia Herdman writes #historical #fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.29  Also available on:

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The Apothecary Poet – John Keats

The Apothecary Poet – John Keats

John Keats – The Apothecary Poet

The poet John Keats trained as an apothecary and a surgeon before deciding to dedicate himself to poetry.

Keats had first-hand experience of serious illness and death. His father died after falling from a horse, and his mother and uncle died of what was called ‘an unspecified decline.’ Keat’s only brother Tom was to die of tuberculosis in December 1818. Keats nursed his brother through his final months catching the deadly virus in the process. Keats’ disease became apparent early in 1820. Known as consumption in those days the disease was common, distressing and lethal.

Keats Early Life

Aged just 14 years old Keats was apprenticed to the family’s doctor, Thomas Hammond. In the summer of 1810, Keats moved in above Hammond’s surgery in Edmonton, North London. While an apprentice, Keats would have performed such tasks as making up medicines, cleaning the surgery, preparing leeches (blood-sucking worms that were used to bleed patients), and bookkeeping. As he progressed he may have moved on to dressing wounds, drawing teeth and visiting the sick.

Keats’s poetry received some harsh criticism form literary snobs because he was an apothecary. Having such a profession was seen by some to be beneath the dignity of a poet. The Tory critic John Gibson Lockhart, writing anonymously in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Lockhart advised Keats that ‘It is a better and a wiser thing to be a starved apothecary than a starved poet.’

He seems to have left before his apprenticeship was completed, but he had done enough to satisfy the requirements of the 1815 Apothecaries Act, which came in while Keats was in the next stage of his training at Guy’s Hospital. Keats entered Guy’s Hospital as a student on 1 October 1815 and, with incredible speed, was promoted to the role of ‘dresser’ on 29 October 1815, less than a month after he had arrived at the hospital and just before he turned 20.

The Apothecaries Act had come into force on 12 July 1815 and was an attempt to regulate and professionalize apothecaries. To be allowed to practice, there was now a required minimum degree of training and an exam. Keats had done enough of his apprenticeship, the requisite six months of hospital training, and then passed the difficult exam (which his two housemates failed). He qualified for his apothecary license on 25 July 1816.

Keats Poetry

His knowledge of the human body and its suffering can be found in his narrative poem Lamia which was published in 1820. The poem was written in 1819, during the famously productive period that produced his 1819 odes. It was composed soon after his “La belle dame sans merci” and his odes on Melancholy, on Indolence, to a Grecian Urn, and to a Nightingale and just before “Ode to Autumn”. It tells how the god Hermes hears of a nymph who is more beautiful than all the rest and he goes searching for it but he finds Lamia, trapped in the form of a serpent. She reveals the previously invisible nymph to him and in return, he restores her human form. Her transformation into a woman contains all the pain and horror he had witnessed in his hospital work. It shows the knowledge of chemistry he gained at Guy’s Hospital. Lamia foamed at the mouth her eyes wild ‘Flash’d phosphor and sharp sparks’ (Part 1, ll. 148-52). The beautiful colors that had characterized her mythological, serpent body are replaced with the ‘pain and ugliness’ of human mortality and the change was horrible, physically painful ‘She writh’d about, convuls’d with scarlet pain’ (Part 1, l. 164; l. 154). Scarlet is, of course, the color of blood and in his phrase ‘scarlet pain’, Keats describes the agony of Lamia’s transition into a fully mortal woman.

Keats Death

During 1820 Keats’ health declined. He suffered two lung haemorrhages in the first few days of February and lost a lot of blood. At the suggestion of his doctors, he agreed to move to Italy with his friend Joseph Severn. He took a house on the Spanish Steps in Rome, today the Keats–Shelley Memorial House museum. Despite the care of Severn and Dr. James Clark, his health rapidly deteriorated. Keats was placed on a starvation diet of an anchovy and a piece of bread a day intended to reduce the blood flow to his stomach. He was bled, a standard treatment of the day to reduce the agitation of his blood. Weak and knowing the fate he had in store Keats tried to poison himself with opium without success. His friends hoping to save him from himself took the opium away and Keats died in agony with nothing to ease the pain.

John Keats died in Rome on 23 February 1821 and was buried in the Protestant Cemetery. His last request was to be placed under a tombstone bearing no name or date, only the words, “Here lies One whose Name was writ in Water.” Severn and his doctor Brown erected the stone. On it they had a relief of a lyre with broken strings cut into it with the epitaph:

This Grave contains all that was Mortal of a  Young English Poet Who on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his Heart at the Malicious Power of his Enemies Desired these Words to be engravened on his Tomb Stone:  Here lies One  Whose Name was writ in Water. 24 February 1821. The text echo a sentimetn from Catullus LXX. Sed mulier cupido quod dicit amanti, in vento et rapida scribere oportet aqua  which means ‘ What a woman says to a passionate lover should be written in the wind and the running water.

About the author

Julia Herdman is a novelist writing about 18th and early 19th century London. Her debut novel Sinclair is about a family of apothecary surgeons working at Guy’s and St Thomas’s Hospitals at the dawn of modern medicine. Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.29

Julia Herdman is a novelist writing about 18th and early 19th century London. Her debut novel Sinclair is about a family of apothecary surgeons working at Guy’s and St Thomas’s Hospitals.

What people are saying about Sinclair.

5 stars – Fantastic Tale of the 18th century

This book is superbly written and pulls the reader right into 18th-century life! Truth be told, I am not usually a fan of historical fiction, but Sinclair has changed that for sure! I was fully immersed in this tale, and have recommended it to all of my friends & colleagues! C.Miller, USA

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