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32

Flaubert and Modern Narrative

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Wood, J. (2009). Flaubert and Modern Narrative. In Wood, J. How Fiction Works. Vintage, pp. 32-38

34

To this end, Flaubert perfected a technique that is essential to realist narration: the confusing of habitual detail with dynamic detail. Obviously, in that Paris street, the women cannot be yawning for the same length of time as the washing is quivering or the newspapers lying on the tables. Flaubert's details belong to different time signatures, some instantaneous and some recurrent, yet they are smoothed together as if they are all happening simultaneously.

The effect is lifelike—in a beautifully artificial way. Flaubert manages to suggest that these details are somehow at once important and unimportant: important because they have been noticed by him and put down on paper, and unimportant because they are all jumbled together, seen as if out of the corner of the eye; they seem to come at us 'like life'. From this flows a great deal of modern storytelling, such as war reportage. The crime writer and war reporter merely increase the extremity of this contrast between important and unimportant detail, converting it into a tension between the awful and the regular: a soldier dies while nearby a little boy goes to school.

—p.34 by James Wood 3 years, 2 months ago

To this end, Flaubert perfected a technique that is essential to realist narration: the confusing of habitual detail with dynamic detail. Obviously, in that Paris street, the women cannot be yawning for the same length of time as the washing is quivering or the newspapers lying on the tables. Flaubert's details belong to different time signatures, some instantaneous and some recurrent, yet they are smoothed together as if they are all happening simultaneously.

The effect is lifelike—in a beautifully artificial way. Flaubert manages to suggest that these details are somehow at once important and unimportant: important because they have been noticed by him and put down on paper, and unimportant because they are all jumbled together, seen as if out of the corner of the eye; they seem to come at us 'like life'. From this flows a great deal of modern storytelling, such as war reportage. The crime writer and war reporter merely increase the extremity of this contrast between important and unimportant detail, converting it into a tension between the awful and the regular: a soldier dies while nearby a little boy goes to school.

—p.34 by James Wood 3 years, 2 months ago