Flower Poetics in the Works of Gustave Flaubert

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This study explores in detail the suggestive patterns of imagery generated by the flower figure across the complete works of Gustave Flaubert. The approach is chronological, as it charts Flaubert’s growing stylistic sophistication as he develops from adolescent imitator of the Romantic School to a writer whose highly personalized style hallmarks him as a precursor of the Modernist movement. While the exploration is text-based, mention is made of the cultural phenomenon that was le langue des fleurs in 19th-century France. The study proposes a methodology for the decipherment of this private ‘language’ used by Flaubert, revealing ways in which his flower poetics underpins character development, guarantees thematic coherence and ultimately proffers a system of signification producing overall aesthetic cohesiveness.


“In the course of the book Tipper touches on a whole range of flower-related spaces – gardens, forests, arbours, flowerbeds, windowboxes, greenhouses, deserts – and he also throws light on broader issues such as narratorial voice irony, sexuality and exoticism in Flaubert’s work….Although the discussion focuses primarily on the evolution of Flaubert’s own personal flower symbolism, Tipper also discusses various nineteenth-century publications on the language of flowers, and his book ends with a ‘floral lexicon’ listing all the flower-types mentioned by Flaubert together with the meanings ascribed to them by contemporary langage des fleurs manuals. A very extensive bibliography completes the book. Tipper has carried out his investigations with commendable thoroughness and his findings have plugged a hitherto unsuspected gap in Flaubert studies.” – Dr. Anne Green, King’s College, London

“This is an illuminating study which breaks new ground in the closes analysis of the intricacies of the Flaubertian text….turns out to yield major insights since flower references underpin the major thematic structures of Flaubert’s works…. In a single-minded and meticulous fashion each work is sifted and flower references are grouped and glossed in an invariably perceptive manner. The analysis is attuned to the complexity and subtle nuances of Flaubert’s writing and repeatedly demonstrates that flower imagery constitutes a kind of subterranean logic in the text which in unexpected ways enhances the reader’s grasp of the predicament of the protagonist…. Flower imagery in many respects is paradigmatic and in providing such a full and penetrating analysis of a central pattern of imagery, the author has significantly advanced our understanding of the complex ways in which meaning is generated in the works of a major nineteenth-century novelist.” – Anthony Williams

“He combines references to the best of older work with sufficient acknowledgment of more recent books and articles. I especially like the extensive and apposite use of Flaubert’s correspondence. These references are convincing and often throw new light on what I had thought was thoroughly familiar material.” – Larry Riggs

Table of Contents

Table of contents:
Foreword; Preface
1. Introduction: The Flowers of Language and the Language of Flowers & A Methodology for the Analysis of Flower Figures in Flaubert
2. The Romantic Legacy: Flower Topoi in Œvres de jeunesse
3. From Ideal to Real: the Uses and Ruses of Irony in Madame Bovary
4. Exoticism and the Culture of Flowers in Salammbô
5. The Palpable Sign: A Subterranean Floral Grammar in L’Éducation sentimentale
6. Conclusions & Bouvard et Pécuchet’s Sickly Flowers
Afterword: Le Dictionnaire des fleurs reçues
Bibliography: Primary Sources and Works Cited
Flower Books of the Nineteenth Century and General Works on Flower Lore, Flower Culture and Flower Poetics; Critical Works on The Language of Flowers; Flower Encyclopedias

Other France/French: All Subjects Books