A great blonde giant of a man, Gustave Flaubert lived at home with his widowed mother, writing wonderful novels at the rate of five words an hour, escaping to Paris, for 'refreshment' every few months. A great traveller - to Corsica, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Morocco - he kept company with courtesans, actresses, acrobats, gypsies, idiots and simpletons of every stripe. Flaubert detested his respectable, provincial neighbours, referring to them as 'the borgeoisie'. They, in turn, heaped infamy on his name and contrived to have him persecuted for writing an immoral book. Decent people avoided his company and he returned the compliment.
Flaubert's character's most famously Emma Bovary, live on in the popular literary imagination with the same authority as those of Shakespeare and Joyce. They travel towards the dark places of the mind, and their fate prompts our pity, fear and laughter.
Geoffrey Wall teaches French at the University of York. He also works as a translator, travel writer and literary biographer. His acclaimed translation of Madame Bovary was published in 1992.