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Tidying Up?

In response to:

Romancing Flaubert from the May 26, 1994 issue

To the Editors:

Please accept a friendly aside to Julian Barnes’s review of Francine du Plessix Gray’s book on Louise Colet [NYR, May 26]. Concerning the question of who might or mightn’t have destroyed any of Flaubert’s letters or manuscripts, you appear to subscribe to the view that Flaubert’s niece, Caroline, “deleted and rewrote, but never touched the manuscripts themselves.” Well, hardly ever. We do know that during the Villa Tanit days when she was the residing divinity over Flaubert’s literary after-life, Caroline dismantled a number of the manuscript files by selling off pages to collectors, so that now bits and pieces of individual projects are to be found in different libraries and private collections in France and as far afield as North America.

There is evidence, moreover, that on at least one occasion she contemplated going even further. In her handwriting on the title page of the manuscript of Pierrot au Sérail, a facetious and bawdy pantomime written in collaboration with Louis Bouilhet, one reads, “A détruire, probablement.” Whether this note to herself was an isolated example of “tidying up,” it stands to reason that there should not be many of them.

Marshall Olds
University of Nebraska
Lincoln, Nebraska

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