Professor Benfey Reviews Two New Books

Tuesday, June 6, 2006 - 10:15

In the May 22 issue of the New Republic, Christopher Benfey, Mellon Professor of English, reviews Flaubert: A Biography, by Frederick Brown (Little, Brown).

Benfey writes:

"In his splendid new biography, Frederick Brown, the author of well-received lives of Zola and Cocteau, deftly dismantles the most durable cliché concerning Flaubert himself. The difficult task that Brown has set himself, nowhere stated but everywhere pursued in this vigorously researched, intellectually nuanced, and exquisitely written book, is to challenge the long-standing view that Flaubert started out as a Romantic writer in the vein of Chateaubriand or Lamartine, underwent a violent 'purge' at the insistence of two wise friends, and was miraculously transformed into a Realist with the writing of Madame Bovary."

And recently in the online magazine Slate, Benfey reviews The Poe Shadow, by Matthew Pearl, and discusses the idea that "fiction that seems to be increasingly invaded by fact. Historical fiction is booming--Doctorow is back, and newer practitioners like Emily Barton are on the march--and Pearl's book on Poe, with its research in eight states, insists on its factual basis. Are we losing our faith in the power of the imagination? As the market for serious fiction declines, the question is worth asking."

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