“The fields were empty, the river rippling in the wind; at the bottom long weeds were waving to and fro, like the hair of corpses floating in the water.” – Gustave Flaubert, Three Tales
Three Tales by Gustave Flaubert
Published by Penguin Classics, 1877
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Re-readability: I might give this another read someday, but only after I get around to Madame Bovary.
Reviewed by Pete
Three Tales is a collection of three short stories, which were originally published together in 1877. Each story is as complete and satisfying as any novel—a quality many short stories lack.
My favorite (and the most celebrated) of the three was A Simple Heart, which follows the life of a servant woman named Félicité and her unambitious life, filled with loss and disappointment that would have crushed anyone. But Félicité is a steady character who is almost disturbingly content with her life, despite the trauma she endures.
The Legend of Saint Julian the Hospitator was more predictable—since it’s a story of prophecy, this makes sense. But its cheerful, saintly ending left a weird taste in my mouth after thirty pages of complete carnage, misery, and self-loathing.
The third story, Herodias, follows the beheading of Tetrarch Herod Antipas through the clever scheme of his wife, Herodias. If I knew more about this time period (early Roman Empire following the death of Jesus) and the story of John the Baptist, maybe this one would have engaged me more. Instead, I was lost keeping track of the various political figures and their relationships.
It’s always nice to read a classic for the first time and learn that the writing is fairly accessible. I read Robert Baldick’s 1961 translation from French, so I can’t say how much the language was modernized. Flaubert was able to walk the line between long-term and short-term focus in his stories naturally. The book’s introduction gave the stories context that felt vital, explaining which events surrounded Flaubert’s writing of the stories and where he drew his inspiration for each story from.
Though I didn’t love these stories, I enjoyed reading them, and I look forward to reading more of Flaubert’s work, and maybe rereading this one someday.