The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 19 October 2003

Flaubert in Egypt

by Gustave Flaubert

edited by Francis Steegmuller

In the fall of 1849, Gustave Flaubert joined his friend Maxime du Camp on a journey to Egypt, up the Nile river and across the Sinai peninsula. This was part of a more extensive journey that took these men to Turkey, Palestine, and parts of Europe. Here, Francis Steegmuller has collated Flaubert's travel notes into a richly narrated journey into mid 19th century Egypt. One could say that du Camp should also be listed as an author, as many entries from his own much later travel narrative have been included. These are the years leading up to Flaubert's authorship of Madame Bovary and students of the writer are likely to seek precursors to his genius in these travel notes. There isn't much to find there in that respect, but, perhaps, for the name of the proprietor of the inn where Flaubert and du Camp stayed in Cairo. Flaubert's journal entries are often terse, and leave the reader wondering about the magnificent sights he must have seen. The pages are also littered with tales of his sexual exploits with Egyptian prostitutes and the bardashes of the Turkish baths. Flaubert's entries are ribald and explicit in this respect. Du Camp's notes don't speak much at all of Flaubert, but his perspective fills out the story of the trip up and back down the Nile. The book doesn't read so much as a travel narrative, but, with Steegmuller's editorial commentary, it is a fine collection of journal entries and letters outlining what was perhaps a pivotal time in the life of this now-famous French author.

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