Gustave Flaubert rare books and memorabilia

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2015-06-26 11:01:31

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Gustave Flaubert rare books and memorabilia are collectible items relating to French writer Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880).

Brief History/biography

Flaubert is considered one of the greatest Western novelists in history, influential to a huge generation of writers worldwide. He is best known for his first published novel Madame Bovary (1857). His writing is both romantic and realist. He is also famed for his relationship with the poet Louise Colet, whom he termed his muse and wrote many letters to.

His first complete work however, was the novella November, written in 1842 at the age of 21. After reading the first draft of his periodically written and edited work The Temptation of Saint Anthony to friends, they told him to throw it on the fire and concentrate on more worldly and less fantastical matters.

He began writing Madame Bovary in 1850 after a trip to Egypt. It took five years to write, and was first serialised in the Revue de Paris. This publication was controversial, and the government prosecuted writer and publisher for immorality.

Other noted works include Salammbo and L’Education Sentimentale.

Flaubert was known for a particularly perfectionist and painstaking style of writing, avoiding anything vague or cliched, but spent his life making sure his writing used to the utmost degree, ‘le mot juste’ – the right word, or the nearest perfect expression.

Types of rare books and memorabilia

Books

Christie’s

  • Inscribed first edition of Madame Bovary (1857, Michel Levy, Paris) sold for €26,650 in November 2007
  • Second edition of L’Education Sentimentale (1870, Michel Levy, Paris) with handwritten notes by the author, sold for €32,950 in November 2003.
  • Inscribed presentation first edition of Madame Bovary (1857) sold for $28,200 in October 2001.
  • First edition of Madam Bovary (1857) with original paper wraps, sold for $25,850 in April 2001.

Sothebys

  • Madame Bovary first editions (1857) with inscription and signature of Flaubert, sold for €34,800 in May 2006, and €38,400 in June 2007.
  • First edition of Trois Contes (1877, Charpentier, Paris) sold for €38,400 in November 2005.
  • First edition of La Tentation de Saint Antoine (1874, Charpentier, Paris) sold for €33,600 in November 2005.
  • Second edition of L’Education Sentimentale (1870, Michel Levy, Paris) sold for €25,800 in June 2007.

Documents, Autographs etc

Bonhams

  • Handwritten letter signed by Flaubert to his muse Louise Colet, 1852. Sold for $9,150 in April 2011.
  • Handwritten letter signed by Flaubert to Louise Colet, 1852. Sold for $3,904 in April 2011.

Sothebys

  • Handwritten correspondence between Flaubert and Guy de Maupassant. Sold for €168,750 in May 2010.
  • Handwritten letter to Louise Colet, sold for €53,550 in May 2012.

Guide for collectors

First editions are worth much more when they retain their original bindings, usually of paper or cloth covered boards. Therefore restoration or rebinding of first editions is not generally recommended.

Copies are worth much more if signed by Flaubert, especially if inscribed to a significant contemporary.

After the initial publication of Madame Bovary in serial in the Revue de Paris, Flaubert heavily edited the text. He added in previously suppressed passages, played around with the paragraph division and punctuation, and generally demonstrated his enthusiasm for perfectionism. The result is that in the first book form of Madame Bovary (1857, Michel Levy, Paris) we see much more of Flaubert’s desired result. While it cannot be considered the very first publication of the text, it is more accessible, more true to Flaubert as a writer, and remains extremely valuable.

Flaubert’s letters, particularly those to his lover the poet Louise Colet, are very sought after and fetch large amounts at auction.

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