MEMOIRS OF A MADMAN and NOVEMBER
Translation Andrew Brown 2002, 2005
Ms. Hen bought this book on a whim. She decided to buy it because the title reminded her of the Gogol story “Diary of a Madman,” and she thought she needed to read more Flaubert. Besides, the book was cheap. Ms. Hen is a hen who is always looking for a bargain, so she picked it up.
When she read the introduction, she was disappointed to discover that “Memoirs of a Madman” was written when he was fifteen, and “November,” shortly after. She thought this book might be a waste of time, since she wasn’t sure if it would be good. But she was wrong about that.
“Memoirs of a Madman,” is not exactly the memoirs of a madman, but it is about a young man who dreams of love. He falls in love with a young, married woman whom he cannot have. He meets her on vacation with his family where she is staying with her husband and her infant child. He pines for her. When his family leaves the place where they are staying, he dreams of her often.
In between the two stories of love is “Bibliomania,” a short story about a man’s mania for books, which drives him to his downfall. Ms. Hen thought it was charming, and it fit between the two stories of obsessive love.
“November,” is supposedly about Flaubert’s first sexually experience with a prostitute. In the story, the character falls in love with a prostitute that he only sees for one day. She ruins him, and he would never forget her. She tells him the lurid story of how she became a prostitute, and it shocks him. She tells him that all men make love the same way, nobles and peasants, old men and young, and even hunchbacks.
The character in "November" yearns for the days before industrialization, when everything was quieter and more serene, when people lived their lives more fully. Ms. Hen wondered what Flaubert and his characters would think of today’s world, with its interconnectedness online, but nobody actually connecting in real life. Ms. Hen wonders about people who walk around with their faces in their phones that don’t even notice the world, and the hen on the table in the coffee shop doesn’t even matter to them. Ms. Hen wonders what it would be like to live in Flaubert’s time, when there was no electricity and television and people actually had to read ALL the time to entertain themselves. She wouldn’t want to be a hen in those days because she wouldn’t have had a good life, but she would like to go just for a day to see how simple everything was, and to see if people actually paid attention to the world around them.
Ms. Hen realizes that she is ranting. This has to stop! On to the chickens.
There is one place in this book where hens are mentioned, The character was on vacation and observed his place, “Day was dawning; the great white moon was rising up into the sky; between the steep-rounded hills, the pink wisps of vapour rose in a gentle haze and melded into the air; the hens in the yard were clucking.” He is describing how beautiful his world appears to him, and of course, the hens are there.
MEMOIRS OF A MADMAN and NOVEMBER is a book about 19th century French male adolescent yearnings, which are not unlike the same kinds of yearnings that young men have, but society was different then, so Ms. Hen will let you read the book if you want to learn the difference.
Ms. Hen enjoyed this book, even though it was a touch misogynistic and offensive, but she realizes that she can’t change the past, and she is a forgiving hen. She gives this book four feathers up.