French novelist Gustave Flaubert, author of Madame Bovary, is born on this day in 1821 in Rouen, France.
Flaubert, the son of the chief surgeon of the hospital in Rouen, France, began writing stories in his teens. In 1840, he went to Paris to study law but failed his exams. Three years later, he had a nervous breakdown. He retired to a small town outside Rouen to write. In 1846, he began a long, tempestuous affair with poet Louise Colet, which ended bitterly in 1855. Meanwhile, he traveled extensively with French writer Maxime du Camp, taking extended walking tours with her and journeying to Greece, Syria, and Egypt from 1849 to 1851.
When Flaubert returned from the journey, he began work on Madame Bovary, which took five years to write. The book was serialized in Revue de Paris in 1856. The novel, about the romantic illusions of a country doctor's wife and her adulterous liaisons, scandalized French traditionalists. Flaubert was brought to trial for obscenity in 1857. He was acquitted and the book became a popular success. The book's realistic, serious portrayal of humble characters and situations was a milestone of French realism. His other works include Salammbo (1862), an historical novel about ancient Carthage, Sentimental Education, about the July 1848 French uprising, and the collection Three Tales (1869), which included one of his best-known stories "A Simple Heart." Flaubert died in 1880.