Francis Steegmuller’s beautifully executed double portrait of Madame Bovary and her maker is a remarkable and unusual biographical study, a sensitive and detailed account of how an unpromising young man turns himself into one of the world’s greatest novelists. Steegmuller starts with the young Flaubert, prone to mysterious fits, hypochondriacal, at odds with and yet dependent on his bourgeois family. Then, drawing on Flaubert’s voluminous correspondence, Steegmuller tracks his subject through friendships and love affairs, a trip to the Orient, nervous breakdown and tenuous recovery, and finally into the study, where a mind at once restless and jaded finds a focus in the precisely detailed reality of an imagined woman, utterly ordinary in her unhappiness, whose story was to revolutionize literature.
In his segregation of the relevant from a tempting superfluity of information Mr. Steegmuller shows himself a true biographer. In his delicate weaving together of these diverse strands into the single but complex theme of Madame Bovary’s creation he shows himself a true artist.
— Philip Toynbee
A most instructive, perspicacious and amusing portrait of the bear of Croisset, and the gifts of novelists and scholar have been married with unusual happiness in its production.
— V. S. Pritchett
Flaubert and Madame Bovary can justly be called a brilliant achievement. Mr. Steegmuller is a superb stylist, and even were his study second-rate in other respects (which it is not), it would still be worth reading for the sheer perfection of its prose.
— Lewis Mumford
Flaubert and Madame Bovary is an admirable accomplishment in research and thought, in the dramatic sense, and in a well-concealed virtuosity. It is fresh and illuminating. It is a piece of vividly interesting reading.
— Katherine Woods, The New York Times