Ask Flaubert

(“We” start Madame Bovary then “we” disappear)

Googling back to where I was fifty years ago, 
I come out of the Ecole Normale on Rue Anselme
and head for the Café de la Butte on the corner.

Lyon, hard and bitter in January, exhaust plumes trailing
Simcas and Panhards on Boulevard de la Croix Rousse.
Pierre brings me a coffee and a newspaper.
“L’Angleterre est dans la merde, Wilson,” 
the warmth of his daily greeting,
whatever’s on the front page today.

The man from the British Consulate,
blue-veined nose, public school hair,
thin strands, John LeMesurier,

raises his second glass of white,
best way to start the day, he says,
and I sneak away into Charles Bovary’s classroom, 

looking round for the disappearing ‘nous’,
the first word of the first sentence
that’s puzzled me ever since for half a century –

such a short time ago, so easy to google back: 
back half a century times two and I’d be blown up 
in a boggy trench, which I’ll give a miss; 

back times three and I could speak to Flaubert, 
ask if he was sorry for the way he used ‘us’ and dumped ‘us.’
Probably easier to skype him, you’ll say.


© Nemo 2023
Views: 1358
critique and comments welcome.
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

must read this book again, an amazing book one of the best, Dickens Balzac Dostoevsky and this book by Flaubert Camus and of course Kafka and Gombrowicz.

three books from each aforementioned, then
Iliad Odyssey and three tragedies by Sophocles Aeschylus and Euripides

one doesn’t need to read anything else.

and I must ponder over this nous again…

good poem.


first time I hear about Bellow – not a fan of Marquez but he of course was great for others.

woefully disappointed that i have not found a woman with a voice as important as the ones i mentioned.

good writing yes but not as special


they didn’t manage to write in an at least neutral voice, have read most of the ladies you mentioned they were always too feminine too this and that. not even attacking traditional female values for the sake of new ideals has helped a female write better than men or as good as male writers. they tried to be various things. yes they wrote some very good stories. as women afflicted by what society and family expect from them even as trained soldiers of feminism.

(but boy are we better journalists… tee hee)


thinking about nous. a lot. it must be solved
Agatha Christie perhaps is the only writer I would admire as much as the ones I mentioned.

(just my odd impersonal opinion)


yes The Mill on the Floss was as if penned by one of the masters of literature. perhaps there are women writing as anon or using male names that can change their voice so much that sexes become either indistinguishable or neutered.

While continuing to contribute pieces to the Westminster Review, Evans resolved to become a novelist, and set out a pertinent manifesto in one of her last essays for the Review, “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists”[18] (1856). The essay criticised the trivial and ridiculous plots of contemporary fiction written by women. In other essays, she praised the realism of novels that were being written in Europe at the time, an emphasis on realistic storytelling confirmed in her own subsequent fiction. She also adopted a nom-de-plume, George Eliot; as she explained to her biographer J. W. Cross, George was Lewes’s forename, and… Read more »

Flag Content