Navigation – Plan du site
En amont, en aval

Madame Bovary and the Sandman : Flaubert’s Uncanny Memories

Anne Green

Résumés

Une note tôt rédigée, dans le dossier de Madame Bovary, indique qu’Emma, enfant, croyait en « l’homme qui jette du sable ». Cet article montre comment le souvenir du conte LHomme au sable de E.T.A. Hoffmann, que Flaubert a lu quand il était tout jeune, imprègne Madame Bovary et continue de refaire surface dans la suite de l’œuvre. Les références dans le conte d’Hoffmann aux automates, au démembrement, aux yeux qui brûlent et qui saignent, aux laboratoires, aux fourneaux, aux lentilles oculaires, au jets de sables, etc., reviennent de façon répétée dans Madame Bovary ou dans les brouillons du roman. De la même façon que les personnages d’Hoffmann se superposent ou se dédoublent au fur et à mesure que leurs identités se dissolvent, des éléments épars du conte circulent d’un personnage à l’autre et tissent au sein du roman une trame souterraine lugubre et inquiétante. Les réflexions d’Hoffmann sur le processus de création littéraire y sont également perceptibles. La présence obsédante de LHomme au sable chez Flaubert semble liée à certains événements traumatiques de son enfance. Reconnaître cette mémoire d’Hoffmann dans l’œuvre de Flaubert permet de lire celle-ci sous un éclairage nouveau, comme de mieux comprendre les liens qui unissent la mémoire traumatique et la pratique de la littérature.

Haut de page

Texte intégral

Portrait d’Ernst Theodor Amadeus HoffmannAfficher l’image
Crédits : British Museum
  • 1 Brouillons, I, fol. 84v. All references to the Madame Bovary manuscripts are to the online transcri (...)
  • 2 Der Sandmann (1816), first translated into French in 1829, had several XIXth century French transla (...)

1An early manuscript draft for Madame Bovary contains an intriguing note about Emma as a child. Flaubert writes that “elle avait [...] cru [...] à l’homme qui jette du sable”1 : she believed in the Sandman. At first sight, the note seems insignificant – a fleeting notion of Flaubert’s, soon forgotten ; a detail never mentioned again in the novel’s voluminous notes and drafts. It feels superfluous, since most children of Emma’s generation would have been familiar with the comforting folk myth of a Sandman who sprinkles magic sand in children’s eyes to send them to sleep and bring them pleasant dreams. It would therefore be easy to dismiss the note as a trivial and unnecessary aberration. If, however, Emma believed not in the kindly Sandman of popular folklore, but in his terrifyingly distorted counterpart from E.T.A. Hoffmann’s short story, Der Sandmann2 (L’Homme au sable), Flaubert’s apparently innocuous note takes on startling new significance. In this article I argue not only that memories of Hoffmann’s Sandman tale permeate Madame Bovary, and, once recognised, transform how that novel is read, but that the tale continued to haunt Flaubert’s writing. Hoffmann’s insistent but almost subliminal presence in Flaubert’s work throws new light both on how we read his fiction, and on the relationship between traumatic memory and literary practice.

2L’Homme au sable tells the dramatic story of Nathanael, a young man traumatised as a child by the tale of a terrifying Sandman who was said to throw handfuls of sand in the eyes of children who refused to fall asleep, causing their eyes to fall bleeding from their heads, then gathering them up in a sack to feed to his nestful of hook-beaked offspring. In Nathanael’s disturbed mind, the Sandman comes to be associated with a sinister lawyer and alchemist, Dr Coppelius, and his terrifying furnace and pincers, and with Giuseppe Coppola, who sells spectacles and barometers and optical lenses. Nathanael is engaged to be married to Clara, but becomes obsessed by his neighbour Spallanzani’s beautiful daughter Olympie, who turns out to be a wooden mechanical doll with a wax head, as Nathanael discovers when Spallanzani, Coppola and Coppelius fight over her and pull her apart. The tale ends with Nathanael plunging to his death from the top of a tower in the town square, after trying to throw Clara from it.

  • 3 Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary, édition de Jacques Neefs, Paris, Le livre de poche classique, 2019(...)
  • 4 Ibid., p. 240.
  • 5 Ibid., p. 100.
  • 6 E.g. “Ses lèvres brûlantes recontrèrent des lèvres glacées ! – Le froid contact de la main d’Olympi (...)
  • 7 Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 78. An earlier version of the description of Emma’s hands has the mecha (...)
  • 8 Olympie plays “avec une habileté remarquable”. L’Homme au sable, op. cit., p. 295. In Emma’s case, (...)
  • 9 L’Homme au sable, op. cit., p. 300.
  • 10 Brouillons, I, fol. 172. Emma carries out many other actions “machinalement”: see e.g. Brouillons, (...)
  • 11 Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 449.
  • 12 L’Homme au sable, op. cit., p. 297.
  • 13 Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 314. Cf. p. 200, where Emma “tourna sur ses talons, tout d’un bloc comm (...)
  • 14 Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 193. In Brouillons, V, fol. 28v the words “machine inerte” occur when E (...)
  • 15 Brouillons IV, fol. 129.

3This seems far removed from Flaubert’s novel of adultery in a Norman village, yet on closer inspection memories of Hoffmann’s tale turn out to be omnipresent in Madame Bovary, particularly in the manuscript drafts. Like Olympie, Emma is represented as an automaton, “obéissant comme un automate à l’impulsion des habitudes”3. Both are described as beautiful, elegantly dressed, and remarkable for their eyes, which although sometimes “beaux”, are more often vacant or “fixes”. Emma’s eyes, which she half-closes “machinalement”4, seem curiously artificial, as if carefully enamelled : “ils avaient comme des couches de couleurs successives, et qui plus épaisses dans le fond, allaient en s’éclaircissant vers la surface de l’émail”5. Both have lips and hands that are ice-cold, unresponsive, lifeless6. Emma’s over-long hands, “sans molles inflexions de lignes sur les contours” and with surprisingly shiny white nails, seem, like her eyes, uncannily artificial7. Dancing at a ball is a highlight for both Olympie and Emma, and both play the piano mechanically but with remarkable dexterity8. Olympie’s piano-playing has “la précision convenue, l’exactitude monotone et matérielle d’une machine organisée”9, a description equally applicable to Emma, who in early drafts plays “d’une façon dure, et sans nuances”, strikes the keys with confidence, marks the beat strongly, and accompanies her mechanical performance with many movements of her head and arms “à la façon d’un maître allemand qu’elle avait eu”10. (Is it too fanciful to see a subliminal nod to Hoffmann in this reference to a German master mentioned nowhere else in the text ?) Moreover, when Flaubert writes of Emma that “Ses dents claquaient, ses yeux agrandis regardaient vaguement autour d’elle, et à toutes les questions, elle ne répondait qu’en hochant la tête ; même elle sourit deux ou trois fois”11, his description is strikingly reminiscent of the obedient machine that is Olympie, who can only nod and sigh and stare vacantly and say “Ha ! – ha !”12. If Olympie sometimes makes mysterious clanking noises, strange creaking or clicking sounds occasionally emanate from Emma. Echoes of Olympie, whom Hoffmann describes not only as a wooden doll but also as a wax model and a statue, are again apparent when we see Emma “étendue, la bouche ouverte, les paupières fermées, les mains à plat, immobile, et blanche comme une statue de cire”13. Like Hoffmann’s dismembered automaton, Emma is “brisée [...] inerte”14. This sense of Emma as a mechanical doll is reinforced by a manuscript note stating that when Rodolphe tired of her, “il en fit une machine à plaisir”15.

  • 16 Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 279.
  • 17 Ibid., p. 291.

4It is in no way my contention that Flaubert has made conscious, straightforward borrowings from Hoffmann. Madame Bovary does not map neatly onto L’Homme au sable. Rather, Hoffmann’s text reappears in Flaubert’s novel fragmented and splintered, like the shards of broken glass that feature prominently in both texts. Just as characters in L’Homme au sable overlap or double one another as individual identities dissolve, so elements of Hoffmann’s tale circulate among Flaubert’s characters. Emma is not the only automaton in Madame Bovary, for there is also something chillingly evocative of the mechanical doll in the fact that Hippolyte’s leg is encased in a “moteur mécanique”16, that he is literally dismembered, and that he ends up with a wooden limb and a mysteriously complicated mechanism concealed beneath his clothes, almost as if Dr Coppelius has been at work on him : "Le pilon en était garni de liège, et il y avait des articulations à ressort, une mécanique compliquée recouverte dun pantalon noir, que terminait une botte vernie"17. Indeed the failed operation on Hippolyte is strongly reminiscent of Dr Coppelius’s manhandling of Nathanael, who hears him announce :

  • 18 L’Homme au sable, op. cit., p. 265.

" [...] nous allons à cette heure bien observer le mécanisme des mains et des pieds. "
À ces mots, il me saisit si rudement les membres que mes jointures en craquèrent, et qu’il me déboîta les pieds et les mains en les tournant tantôt d’un côté, tantôt d’un autre. " Ça n’est cependant pas aussi bien qu’avant " 18.

5Just as the last that Nathanael hears of Olympie is the sound of her wooden feet bumping down the stairs, so Yonville echoes to the sound of Hippolyte’s wooden leg thudding on the cobbles. And in a further reminder of Olympie’s dismembered body and wax head, the wigmaker’s shop in Madame Bovary displays a wax model of a woman’s head and shoulders.

  • 19 He is “immobile comme un mannequin” (Brouillons, III, fol. 126) and is compared to a mechanical jac (...)
  • 20 Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 152.
  • 21 “il avait le buste si roide et immobile, que toute la partie vitale de sa personne semblait être de (...)
  • 22 Brouillons, III, fol. 72v.
  • 23 Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 153.
  • 24 L’Homme au sable, op. cit., p. 310. See also p. 306.

6The figure of Olympie is also refracted through Binet, the woodturner. Binet is represented as an automaton19 whose habits and movements are characterised by extreme regularity : “son pareil n’existe pas sur la terre pour l’exactitude”20. With his curiously rigid bearing, he walks, like Olympie, with highly measured and artificial steps21, and in an early version he moves “sans fléchir aux articulations”22. Like Olympie, Binet is silent and unresponsive : he is “comme une alose, sans dire un mot”23. His obsessive wood-turning activities, however, recall the strangely ominous phrase repeated many times over in L’Homme au sable : “Poupée de bois, tourne ! – Tourne, poupée de bois ! tourne !”24 – a phrase that returns in Flaubert’s description of Emma dancing with the viscount at the ball :

  • 25 Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 123. Cf. p. 200, where Emma “tourna … comme une statue sur un pivot”.

Ils commencèrent lentement, puis allèrent plus vite. Ils tournaient : tout tournait autour d’eux, les lampes, les meubles, les lambris, et le parquet, comme un disque sur un pivot. […] Et puis, tournant toujours, mais plus doucement, il la reconduisit à sa place25.

  • 26 Ibid., p. 311. Even the phrase “jetait les yeux” takes on new meaning in the context of the bleedin (...)
  • 27 Ibid., p. 312.
  • 28 Ibid.
  • 29 L’Homme au sable, op. cit., p. 310-311.
  • 30 Brouillons, IV, fol. 191v. Binet’s monstrously magnified profile echoes Hoffmann’s horrifying descr (...)

7That Flaubert, despite his usual determination to avoid assonances and alliteration, should produce the strikingly assonant phrase “Ils tournaient; tout tournait autour”, is confirmation of its special significance. And indeed the sound of Binet’s lathe (in French, tour, the same word as “tower”) is particularly evident at a fraught moment that mirrors the climax of L’Homme au sable, when Nathanael takes Clara to the top of a tower overlooking the town square and tries to throw her from it before hurling himself to his death. In the corresponding scene in Madame Bovary, Emma rushes to the attic at the top of her house to read Rodolphe’s note breaking off their relationship. Like Nathanael and Clara, she gazes over rooftops to open countryside beyond. Overcome with distress, like Nathanael she looks around wildly (“elle jetait les yeux tout autour d’elle avec l’envie que la terre croulât”26) as the surface of the village square below seems to sway and tilt, and she feels herself being drawn into the abyss. Like Clara, who in anguish and despair finds herself “suspendue dans les airs en dehors de la balustrade, et n’étreigna[nt] plus que d’une seule de ses mains un barreau de fer”, Emma finds herself “tout au bord, presque suspendue, entourée d’un grand espace. […] l’air circulait dans sa tête creuse”27. In this perilous position, she hears the never-ending sound of Binet’s tour, “comme une voix furieuse qui l’appelait”28. The furious voice that Clara hears calling her as she hangs in mid-air is that of Nathanael, repeatedly shrieking “Poupée de bois, tourne ! – Tourne, poupée de bois ! tourne !”, and “Cercle de feu, tourne ! – cercle de feu, tourne !”29 Should more evidence be needed of the distorted presence of Hoffmann’s tale in this episode, an early draft of Flaubert’s version contains a compelling detail : just as Nathanael’s crisis on the tower is precipitated when he believes he sees Olympie through the lens of his telescope, so from her attic Emma has a hallucinatory view of a monstrous Binet in profile behind his skylight, in extreme close-up, as if seen through a magnifying lens – “tout rapproché d’elle, à deux pas et monstrueux comme à travers une verre lenticulaire”30.

  • 31 The word “sinistre” appears multiple times in the drafts of Madame Bovary but is absent from the fi (...)
  • 32 Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 256.
  • 33 Ibid.
  • 34 Ibid. Note that the words “Vous êtes un monstre !” leap out at Rodolphe from a letter sent him by a (...)
  • 35 L’Homme au sable, op. cit., p. 262 ; Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 230. Lheureux, too, emits “son pet (...)

8Hoffmann’s tale reverberates endlessly through Madame Bovary, adding sinister undercurrents to many of Flaubert’s characters31. If Emma as a child believed in “l’homme qui jette du sable”, as an adult she meets him in the flesh in the person of Rodolphe, for, waiting in the darkness outside Emma’s house, he alerts her to his presence by throwing a handful of sand against her shutters. Equally disturbingly, his strange smile, fixed stare and clenched teeth frighten Emma when he is about to seduce her in the forest, and at that moment of fear Rodolphe utters what are surely the words of the Sandman : “J’ai besoin de vos yeux”32. The chilling significance of these words is easily missed in a normal reading of the novel, for they are absorbed into Rodolphe’s smooth rhetoric of seduction : “J’ai besoin de vos yeux, de votre voix, de votre pensée. Soyez mon amie, ma sœur, mon ange !”33 Once we recognise the echo of the terrifyingly predatory Sandman, however, we recognise Rodolphe as something far more diabolical than a mere cad, an impression reinforced by the fact that he is able, like so many of Hoffmann’s diabolical figures, to change manner and expression in an instant and replace his frightening appearance with an unthreatening demeanour : “en changeant de visage […] il redevint aussitôt respectueux, caressant, timide”34. Moreover the strange whistling sound that elsewhere accompanies his seductive words is troublingly evocative of the sinister Coppelius’s “sifflement très-extraordinaire”35.

  • 36 Note that the whole of Yonville seems on fire after Emma’s death. Ibid., p. 477.

9Homais, too, bears traces of L’Homme au sable. Is it a coincidence that Léon lives above Homais’ pharmacy and that Nathanael, too, lives above the laboratory of a pharmacist ? Or that Homais ostentatiously parades technical terms just as Hoffmann’s pharmacist bombards Clara with impenetrable scientific terminology ? Or that both pharmacists’ laboratories should be sources of destruction, burning the house down in L’Homme au sable 36, and providing the arsenic that kills Emma and indirectly destroys her family in Madame Bovary ?

  • 37 E.g. Brouillons, IV, fol. 105. The detail does not appear in the published novel.
  • 38 Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 77.
  • 39 In Brouillons IV, fol. 205v, the debris includes “des éclats de verre”.

10Such echoes abound. Rodolphe and Guillaumin appear bathed in the ominous red glow of a forge, reminiscent of Coppelius’s lethal furnace37. The incongruously huge fireirons at Les Bertaux, “tous de proportion colossale”38, seem menacing in the context of L’Homme au sable’s terrifying tongs and pincers. At a moment of crisis both Coppelius and Emma fall backwards onto tables that overturn, shattering glass and receptacles39. Even the charming little brother, whom Emma imagines running over sand to bring her a nest, takes on disturbing overtones when we remember the Sandman’s nest of beaked, eye-eating offspring.

  • 40 Brouillons, VI, fol. 137v.
  • 41 Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 287.
  • 42 Brouillons, IV, fol. 105v. Mocking, diabolical laughter is also a common feature of L’Homme au sabl (...)
  • 43 Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 266.
  • 44 Ibid., p. 458.
  • 45 Brouillons, V, fol. 229.
  • 46 Ibid., fol. 230.
  • 47 Ibid.

11One might assume there would be no place in the Bovary’s dull Norman village for such grotesque images as the bloody, pecked-out eyes of the Sandman’s victims ; or Clara’s eyes, which Nathanael imagines burning like red-hot coals and falling from their sockets onto his chest ; or the terrifying human faces with black cavities instead of eyes, which Nathanael believes he sees being formed by Coppelius’s tools ; or Olympie’s bleeding, staring eyes that are left lying on the ground after her dismemberment. Yet Hoffmann’s recurrent imagery of horrific, burning or bleeding eyes runs insistently through Madame Bovary, where eyes are equally frightening and dangerous. Guillaumin’s little red eyes shoot out fiery sparks when he leers at Emma40, and Emma’s eyes, when not vacant and enamelled, are capable of blazing violence, as when “elle fixait sur Charles la pointe ardente de ses prunelles, comme deux flèches de feu prêtes à partir”41 – a burning glare that in one draft is accompanied by her “ricanement diabolique”42. Elsewhere, her eyes seem almost capable of making her jump out of windows to join sand-throwing Rodolphe43. Hoffmann’s image of Nathanael’s chest being burned when Clara’s eyes fall on it like red-hot coals has more mundane counterparts in Charles’s “yeux rouges comme des charbons”44 and in the chest of Madame Homais, scarred from having once had burning embers dropped on it by a cook – another incongruous detail that suddenly makes sense if we remember Hoffmann. In one draft, echoing the moment when Coppelius plucks burning coals from the fire to throw in Nathanael’s eyes, Flaubert writes that the eyes of the Blind Beggar “semblaient arrachés par une brûlure”45, and it is the Beggar whose gaping, bleeding eye-sockets most vividly evoke the horror of the Sandman’s predations. Echoing Hoffmann’s glasses merchant, in some drafts Hivert taunts the Beggar by asking if he needs spectacles46. And Emma is terrified when the Beggar’s head with its bloody eye-sockets appears at her coach window like a decapitation : another dismemberment47.

***

12The Sandman’s unlikely presence in Madame Bovary should by now be undeniable. A more interesting question, however, is why. Although Hoffmann’s immensely popular work inspired many XIXth century writers, including Balzac, Champfleury, Gautier, Hugo, Musset and Nerval, on none of them had it anything like the obsessive effect seen here. Why, then, is Flaubert’s novel so saturated with memories of Hoffmann’s tale ? Why did he erase so many of these traces before publication ? And why do most of the remaining echoes survive in a displaced or splintered form ?

13The echoes of L’Homme au sable mentioned so far have been instances of descriptive detail or gothic incident, but Hoffmann’s tale consists of much more than a thrilling plot. Throughout the narrative he weaves reflections about the creative imagination, about the relationship between the real world and the multiple ways in which can be perceived, and about the problems of transforming visual or mental perceptions into language. All are issues that preoccupied Flaubert deeply, and their foregrounding in Hoffmann’s text must have held particular appeal. Acutely aware of the difficulty of conveying vivid internal impressions in words, Flaubert had much in common with the narrator of L’Homme au sable, who reflects :

  • 48 L’Homme au sable, op. cit., p. 277.

en t’efforçant de trouver des termes pour t’exprimer, il te semblait que, du premier mot, tu allais évoquer toute la magie splendide, horrifique, épouvantable ou joyeuse qui te possédait, de manière à saisir tout le monde comme par une secousse électrique : et cependant pas une parole, pas une des ressources du langage qui ne te parût décolorée, inerte et impuissante. Tu cherches, tu hésites, tu bégayes, tu balbuties48.

  • 49 Ibid., p. 302.
  • 50 Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 165.
  • 51 See Brouillons, II, fol. 88.

14When he is with Olympie, however, Nathanael (who is himself a writer) finds that all difficulties of expression vanish. Words pour effortlessly from him. He pulls out his old writings from the back of drawers, adds new pieces, and reads and rereads them to Olympie for hours on end, “sans se lasser et sans discontinuer”49, while Olympie appears to listen with rapt attention. Emma has a similarly enabling effect on the articulacy of Léon, who reflects that “jamais, jusqu’alors, il n’avait causé pendant deux heures de suite avec une dame. Comment donc avoir pu lui exposer, et en un tel langage, quantité de choses qu’il n’aurait pas si bien dites auparavant ?”50 Not only is this miraculous sense of linguistic ease reminiscent of Nathanael’s experience with Olympie, but a draft of the passage shows Flaubert struggling with a metaphor that echoes Hoffmann’s reference to pulling writing out of drawers for the mechanical doll. In confused jottings Flaubert tries (and the words are obviously not flowing easily for him) to make an analogy between a release of language and a spring mechanism that opens a secret drawer at a touch51. The words articuler/articulation are of course equally applicable to jointed dolls, language and mechanics, and given Flaubert’s famous struggles to perfect the articulation of his ideas, it is clear why this image tempted him.

15L’Homme au sable even confronts the problem of how to begin a narrative. Half way through the text, the narrator reflects on various possibilities :

  • 52 L’Homme au sable, op. cit., p. 278.

[...] je me suis tourmenté l’esprit pour trouver à l’histoire de Nathanael un début remarquable, original, saisissant ! – “Il y avait une fois…” : Le plus beau commencement de tout récit, mais un peu fade. – “Dans la petite ville de province de S*** vivait... :” Pas trop mal, au moins c’est mettre d’abord au fait du lieu de la scène. – Ou bien tout de suite, medias in res : “Allez-vous-en au diable ! s’écria l’étudiant Nathanael, la fureur et l’effroi peints dans ses regards farouches, quand le marchand de baromètres Giuseppe Coppola...” Ceci, je l’avais effectivement déjà écrit, lorsque je crus apercevoir dans les regards farouches de l’étudiant Nathanael quelque chose de burlesque, et l’histoire n’est pourtant nullement plaisante. Bref, il ne me venait à l’esprit aucune tournure de phrase qui me parût réfléchir le moins du monde, l’éclatant coloris du tableau que j’imaginais en moi-même. Je pris le parti de ne pas commencer du tout.52

16In fact the tale opens with a long exchange of letters between Nathanael, Clara, and her brother. Finding an original way to start his novel was a major concern for Flaubert also, and like Hoffmann, his answer was to play with narrative voice. Whereas Hoffmann delays the emergence of his narrator until half way through the text, Flaubert does the opposite, introducing a first-person narrator who will shortly disappear.

  • 53 Ibid., p. 307.
  • 54 Cf. the narrator’s comment about the inadequacy of literary depiction : “le poète n’en peut saisir (...)
  • 55 Birgit Roder, A Study of the Major Novellas of E.T.A. Hoffmann, New York, Camden House, 2003, p. 68 (...)

17Hoffmann’s tale explicitly invites many different readings. One interpretation sees L’Homme au sable as staging the complicated tensions between a rational, logical view of the world, and the irrational, disruptive world of the imagination : Enlightenment order versus Romantic passion – positions which Flaubert farcically redraws in Madame Bovary through the relationship between Homais’s debased and misapplied rationalism and Emma’s equally vacuous Romantic fantasies. As L’Homme au sable’s Professor of Poetry and Eloquence observes, “le tout est une allégorie, une métaphore amplifiée”53, but it is left to the reader to make the necessary imaginative leap. Hoffmann, like Flaubert, refuses to provide explanations. His characters double or merge ; their attributes move from one figure to another ; multiple and contradictory explanations of events are offered ; and the perspective constantly changes – all devices subsequently adopted by Flaubert. The fact that Hoffmann’s story relies on constant shifts of perspective and invites multiple interpretations is clearly reflected, metaphorically, in its emphasis on lenses, spectacles, barometers and spy-glasses. Exemplifying a multiplicity of ways of viewing and understanding the world, these instruments mirror the writer’s ability to alter a viewpoint, to focus on detail or take a wider angle, or to heighten or distort reality54. Birgit Roder has noted that Nathanael does not buy spectacles from Coppola, because spectacles correct vision and give a clearer view of reality ; instead he buys a telescope, which distorts reality by making objects seem bigger and closer. Roller sees the telescope as a symbol of the Romantic imagination in its ability to exaggerate and produce either a grand ideal or something terrifying and grotesque55.

  • 56 Brouillons, I, fol. 213.
  • 57 Brouillons, VI, fol. 134v.
  • 58 Ibid., fol. 134.
  • 59 Brouillons, III, fols. 41, 42, 43, 45. In the published text the blood spurts onto “la glace”. Mada (...)

18Memories of Hoffmann’s use of optical instruments may explain the extraordinary abundance of lenses, spectacles, barometers and spy-glasses that appear in Madame Bovary, particularly in the drafts. The image of a telescope retracting into itself conveys Emma’s sense of her past life vanishing before her eyes, for example, “rentrant en soi comme les cylindres d’une lorgnette”56. Flaubert’s references to glasses frequently convey a sense of uncannily altered reality, as when Guillaumin’s appearance changes from cunning to stupid as soon as he removes his spectacles57. Without glasses, he reveals tiny eyes, dull as unpolished glass, that have “qqu chose de bestial et de faible qui vous répugnait”58, but when the glasses are replaced he again appears normal. The seemingly innocuous mention of a barometer hanging in the Bovarys’ sitting room also assumes ominous overtones when the novel is read in conjunction with L’Homme au sable and its sinister barometer merchant. Readers alert to Hoffmann’s presence in the novel will understand why rays of fire seem to emanate from the Bovarys’ barometer when Rodolphe enters the room, and why that barometer should fall and smash when Hippolyte’s leg is amputated. Earlier, when Rodolphe brings his servant to Charles to be bled, drafts have blood spurting onto the glass of the same barometer59.

19But perhaps the most uncanny of all the glass-related episodes that resonate between the two texts comes in L’Homme au sable, when Coppola lays aside his barometers and produces more and more spectacles from beneath his coat. As reality tips over into hallucination, the glasses become terrible, threatening eyes :

  • 60 L’Homme au sable, op. cit., p. 290-291.

[...] toute la table commença à rayonner et à scintiller d’une singulière façon. Nathanael voyait des milliers d’yeux croiser sur lui leurs regards et s’agiter convulsivement, mais sans pouvoir détourner sa vue de cet aspect ; et Coppola déposait toujours plus de lunettes sur la table, et de nouveaux yeux étincelants lançaient des éclairs de plus en plus redoutables sur Nathanael, qui sentait leurs rayons d’un rouge de sang pénétrer ardemment dans sa poitrine60.

  • 61 Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 445.
  • 62 Brouillons, VI, fol. 255v.

20Although Flaubert makes no mention of glasses in his description of Emma’s deranged and altered state of mind as she rushes towards suicide after Rodolphe’s final rejection, it seems clear that the memory of Nathanael’s surreal hallucination underlies his account, for she sees little fiery globes multiplying and spinning in the air (“et tournaient, tournaient”61 – another linguistic echo of L’Homme au sable), each with Rodolphe’s face at its centre. In an earlier version the echo is stronger still : there are a thousand of these globes, “et tous la regardaient en roulant leurs yeux pareils avec une expression terrible et menaçante”62. The altered perception, the hallucinatory multiplication of horrific eyes, and the menacing image of Rodophe – the man who threw the handful of sand and told Emma that he needed her eyes – leave no doubt that Flaubert’s mind was full of L’Homme au sable as he wrote Madame Bovary.

  • 63 Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 124.
  • 64 Brouillons, I, fols. 243v and 222v. One of Emma’s extravagances is to have new panes of coloured gl (...)

21Should further confirmation be necessary, however, one final example must suffice. Hoffmann’s use of glass as a metaphor for shifting perspectives, or for the writer’s ability to see or represent the world in different colours, finds a striking counterpart in a deleted passage of Madame Bovary which describes how differently things appear when observed by Emma through panes of coloured glass. The context is significant : it comes immediately after the ball, when everyone in the chateau has fallen asleep except Emma, who “faisait des efforts pour se tenir éveillée”63 and is thus perfect prey for the Sandman. The manuscript describes her wandering into the castle grounds and finding a strange summerhouse. As she looks through the coloured glass of its window, each pane produces a different version of the world. Mood, material, size, and distance fluctuate depending on the colour of the glass : “à travers les bleus, tout semblait triste et reculé” ; “par les carrés jaunes les feuilles des arbres étaient plus petites le gazon plus clair et le paysage en entier comme découpé dans du métal.” The green pane turns everything livid and makes individual features disappear. The red pane produces the most chilling effect, however, bleeding everything of colour and life, and this is the pane with which Emma spends longest. Viewed through it, green vegetation looks grey or dead, flowerbeds resemble pools of dried blood, the sky turns to fire, and “elle eut peur”64. Like the lenses and telescopes of L’Homme au sable, these panes of coloured glass reveal the frightening instability of the world, but also the possibility – for the writer as well as for Emma – of perceiving or representing it in a multiplicity of ways ; the near may be distant, the big may be small, and, as the flowerbeds of congealed blood show as clearly as the glasses that turn into eyes, untold horror may lie beneath the seemingly familiar.

***

22It is easy to see why Hoffmann’s reflexions on the process of literary creation might have interested Flaubert, or why, like Hoffmann, he might have found the automaton a useful tool for mocking conventional bourgeois mentality. Shared literary preoccupations, however, seem inadequate as an explanation for L’Homme au sable’s pervasive presence in Madame Bovary, nor do they explain why most echoes were erased, leaving barely detectable traces in the published novel.

  • 65 Gustave Flaubert, Correspondance, II, edited by Jean Bruneau, Paris, Gallimard, 1980, II, p. 697.

23In a letter written shortly before the publication of Madame Bovary, Flaubert revealed how deeply – and visually – Hoffman’s tales had affected him : “Tout ce qu’il y a dans [...] Hoffmann [...], je l’ai senti, je l’ai vu65. Elsewhere, however, he rarely mentions Hoffmann. He was happy to acknowledge that other writers he read when young had left lasting impressions on him : Cervantes dominated his imagination even before he could read, and Rabelais, Montaigne, Shakespeare, Goethe, Rousseau and Byron were all favourites. None, however, appears as insistently in Flaubert’s work as the author of L’Homme au sable.

  • 66 Sigmund Freud, “The Uncanny”, in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmun (...)

24In order to think about why Hoffmann’s story should have had such a powerful yet unacknowledged hold on Flaubert, it may perhaps help to turn to Sigmund Freud. In his famous essay on “The Uncanny”, where he uses the Sandman tale to exemplify the term, Freud describes the uncanny as “something which is familiar and old-established in the mind and which has become alienated from it only through the process of repression” ; it is “something which ought to have remained hidden but has come to light” 66. In other words, it is something that the mind seeks to repress, but which returns unbidden in various guises. Freud’s hypothesis that the uncanny stems from “something familiar and old-established in the mind” indicates that the answer may stem from Flaubert’s distant past.

  • 67 Correspondance, II, op. cit., p. 376.
  • 68 L’Homme au sable, op. cit., p. 264.
  • 69 Sigmund Freud, “Creative Writers and Daydreaming” [1908], in The Penguin Freud Library, XIV, edited (...)

25An explanation for the obsessive and uncanny presence of L’Homme au sable may indeed lie in events in Flaubert’s childhood. As he recalled many years later in a famous letter to Louise Colet, he and his sister, when very young, used to climb up a trellis in their garden to peer into the mortuary of the Hôtel-Dieu at corpses laid out for dissection, and watch as their doctor father worked away at a cadaver67. Did the sight of those pale, stiff bodies being opened up or dismembered give Hoffmann’s terrifying story about a lifelike mannequin with mechanical innards whose body comes apart a peculiar resonance for the boy ? After all, like the young Flaubert, Nathanael as a child secretly watches his father and Dr Coppelius as they appear to dissect human faces68, and he cannot distinguish his dear father from the terrifying doctor with his medicine chest and instruments of torture. What we see in the manuscripts of Madame Bovary appears to be, to use Freud’s term, the return of the repressed, whereby a disturbing or traumatic memory is repeatedly pushed aside, only to reappear in different forms, however hard the subject tries to suppress it. Flaubert’s childhood memory of the Hôtel Dieu’s half-dissected cadavers and anatomical models with exposed organs and staring eyes could never be unremembered, but displaced onto the horrifying tale of the Sandman with its mechanical doll, emptied and bleeding eye-sockets and optical lenses, it constantly reformed itself. (A similar process is seen in L’Homme au sable itself, where Nathanael’s traumatic childhood memory repeatedly returns under new guises.) As Freud says, “we can never give anything up ; we only exchange one thing for another”69, and indeed the associations of Flaubert’s repressed traumatic memory resonate on through his writing, far beyond Madame Bovary, resurfacing in different forms and where least expected, filtered and refracted through the transforming lens of L’Homme au sable.

  • 70 Gustave Flaubert, Le Château des cœurs, Œuvres complètes, II, edited by Bernard Masson, Paris, Seui (...)
  • 71 Gustave Flaubert, Salammbô, édition de Jacques Neefs, Paris, Le Livre de poche classiques, 2011, p. (...)
  • 72 Gustave Flaubert, L’Éducation sentimentale, édition de Stéphanie Dord-Crouslé, Paris, Garnier-Flamm (...)
  • 73 Gustave Flaubert, Hérodias, dans Trois Contes, édition de Pierre-Marc de Biasi, Paris, Garnier-Flam (...)

26Le Château des cœurs, for example, features two fashionably dressed clockwork automata, one with a “lorgnon dans l’œil”70, which dance and exchange inanities. In Salammbô, however, the memories return in all their horror. Flaubert represents Moloch as the ultimate automaton, with inbuilt furnace, rapidly moving arms, and three eyes, but also as a dissected cadaver, “avec sa poitrine d’homme où bâillaient des ouvertures”71. Shards of broken glass, clothed wax statues, dismembered limbs, glass globes resembling huge, throbbing eyeballs – all are more resonant of Hoffmann than of ancient Carthage. Memories of the Sandman are reinforced by the novel’s repeated references to bleeding or burning eyes, and to empty eye-sockets whose contents have been pecked out by birds. Though much muted, the memory persists in L’Éducation sentimentale, where, for example, as Madame Arnoux’s son lies close to death, his rasping cough sounds like the mechanism of a mechanical toy, his breathing makes a metallic whistling noise, and “les globes de ses yeux saillissaient”72. Horrific eyes and dismembered bodies abound in La Légende de saint Julien l’Hospitalier and Hérodias, where Olympie seems to resurface in Hérodias’s immobile face, half-closed eyes and painted lips, and in her whirling dance that comes to an abrupt halt : “elle tourna [...] frénétiquement [...]. Elle tournait toujours [...] et s’arrêta, brusquement”73.

  • 74 Un cœur simple, dans ibid., p. 45.
  • 75 Roland Barthes, « L’Effet de réel », Communications, 1968, 11, p. 84-89.
  • 76 Un cœur simple, op. cit., p. 50.
  • 77 Ibid., p. 75.
  • 78 Ibid., p. 76.

27Familiar elements also return in Un cœur simple, where Félicité has the characteristics of a mechanical doll : “toujours silencieuse, la taille droite et les gestes mesurés, [elle] semblait une femme en bois, fonctionnant d’une manière automatique”74. Moreover, in the light of Hoffmann’s tale the barometer hanging above Madame Aubain’s piano seems an object fraught with menace rather than an archetypal example of the effet de réel, as Roland Barthes claimed75. Un cœur simple, however, marks a shift : while memories of L’Homme au sable persist, their horrifying elements appear to have been conquered and undone. The saintly Félicité is the antithesis of the Sandman : it is she who throws sand into the eyes of the terrifying bull ; she saves the lives of children rather than torturing them ; and unlike Olympie, she escapes dismemberment : “une seconde de plus il l’éventrait”76. Hoffmann’s sinister, eye-eating birds with their hooked beaks are transformed into the benign figure of Loulou, from whose glass eye there emanates not a destructive, fiery beam, as so often elsewhere, but a transfigurative “grand rayon lumineux qui la [Félicité] mettait en extase”77. Although she does lose her sight, Félicité’s eyes are neither pecked out nor burned away. And although the parrot’s body is worm-eaten and disintegrating, Félicité ignores its detaching wing and spilling innards : “elle le baisa au front, et le gardait contre sa joue”78. Rather than horror, it engenders enduring love.

28But if Flaubert appears to have made peace with his troubling memories in Un cœur simple, Bouvard et Pécuchet confirms Freud’s observation that “we can never give anything up ; we only exchange one thing for another”. Once again familiar traumatic elements are reconfigured, this time into the anatomical model bought by the two clerks :

  • 79 Gustave Flaubert, Bouvard et Pécuchet, édition de Claudine Gothot-Mersch, Paris, Gallimard, coll. « (...)

Cela ne ressemblait point à un cadavre, mais à une espèce de joujou, fort vilain, très propre et qui sentait le vernis. [...] Le mannequin [...] reposait sur le flanc ; et les muscles de la face étant décrochés, l’œil faisait une saillie monstrueuse, avait quelque chose d’effrayant79.

  • 80 Ibid., p. 122.

29As the shiny mannequin comes apart, disturbing memories from Flaubert’s distant past – cadaver, dismemberment, monstrous eye-socket, mutilation, horror – continue to resonate with the constantly displaced features of Hoffmann’s Sandman tale. Bouvard and Pécuchet soon tire of the mannequin – “le bonhomme en carton les assommait, malgré leurs efforts pour s’y intéresser”80 – and they nail it back into its box. Flaubert’s memories cannot be shut away, however, and must haunt him to the end.

Haut de page

Notes

1 Brouillons, I, fol. 84v. All references to the Madame Bovary manuscripts are to the online transcriptions by the Centre Flaubert, Université de Rouen. URL : http://flaubert.univ-rouen.fr/bovary/index.php.

2 Der Sandmann (1816), first translated into French in 1829, had several XIXth century French translations. Which of them Flaubert read is not known, but all references in this article are to E.T.A. Hoffmann, L’Homme au sable, in Contes fantastiques, vol. I, translated by Henry Egmont, Paris, Camuzeaux, 1836.

3 Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary, édition de Jacques Neefs, Paris, Le livre de poche classique, 2019, p. 427.

4 Ibid., p. 240.

5 Ibid., p. 100.

6 E.g. “Ses lèvres brûlantes recontrèrent des lèvres glacées ! – Le froid contact de la main d’Olympie l’avait pénétré d’une secrète horreur !” L’Homme au sable, op. cit., p. 298. Emma’s hand is “tout inerte et froide comme la main d’un cadavre.” Brouillons, VI, fol. 125v.

7 Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 78. An earlier version of the description of Emma’s hands has the mechanical term “articulations” rather than the more medical “phalanges”. Brouillons, I, fol. 53.

8 Olympie plays “avec une habileté remarquable”. L’Homme au sable, op. cit., p. 295. In Emma’s case, “Quant au piano, plus les doigts y couraient vite, plus il [Charles] s’émerveillait. Elle frappait sur les touches avec aplomb, et parcourait du haut en bas tout le clavier sans s’interrompre.” Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 109.

9 L’Homme au sable, op. cit., p. 300.

10 Brouillons, I, fol. 172. Emma carries out many other actions “machinalement”: see e.g. Brouillons, I, fol 199v; III, fols. 46v, 270v; IV, fols. 43, 122.

11 Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 449.

12 L’Homme au sable, op. cit., p. 297.

13 Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 314. Cf. p. 200, where Emma “tourna sur ses talons, tout d’un bloc comme une statue sur un pivot”. Olympie is described as “cette figure de cire” and “la belle statue”. L’Homme au sable, op. cit., p. 299, and p. 290.

14 Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 193. In Brouillons, V, fol. 28v the words “machine inerte” occur when Emma and Léon exchange confidences.

15 Brouillons IV, fol. 129.

16 Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 279.

17 Ibid., p. 291.

18 L’Homme au sable, op. cit., p. 265.

19 He is “immobile comme un mannequin” (Brouillons, III, fol. 126) and is compared to a mechanical jack-in-the-box (Brouillons, IV, fol. 18v).

20 Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 152.

21 “il avait le buste si roide et immobile, que toute la partie vitale de sa personne semblait être descendue dans ses deux jambes, qui se levaient en cadence, à pas marqués, d’un seul mouvement.” Ibid., p. 221. Cf. L’Homme au sable, op. cit., p. 300 :“ son pas […] est singulièrement mesuré, chaque mouvement semble répondre à l’impulsion d’un rouage monté.”

22 Brouillons, III, fol. 72v.

23 Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 153.

24 L’Homme au sable, op. cit., p. 310. See also p. 306.

25 Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 123. Cf. p. 200, where Emma “tourna … comme une statue sur un pivot”.

26 Ibid., p. 311. Even the phrase “jetait les yeux” takes on new meaning in the context of the bleeding eyes that Spallanzani throws at Nathanael. L’Homme au sable, op. cit., p. 305. Flaubert also writes “ses yeux [...] tombèrent sur lui”, and “prunelles égarées” (Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 354, and 408).

27 Ibid., p. 312.

28 Ibid.

29 L’Homme au sable, op. cit., p. 310-311.

30 Brouillons, IV, fol. 191v. Binet’s monstrously magnified profile echoes Hoffmann’s horrifying description of Coppelius with his “tête difforme de grosseur”. L’Homme au sable, op. cit., p. 261. Emma’s eyes produce the opposite optical effect, reflecting a diminished image of Charles, who sees himself “en petit jusqu’aux épaules” (Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 100.)

31 The word “sinistre” appears multiple times in the drafts of Madame Bovary but is absent from the final version.

32 Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 256.

33 Ibid.

34 Ibid. Note that the words “Vous êtes un monstre !” leap out at Rodolphe from a letter sent him by a previous mistress. (E.g. Brouillons, IV, fol. 228v.) This detail was deleted before publication.

35 L’Homme au sable, op. cit., p. 262 ; Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 230. Lheureux, too, emits “son petit sifflement habituel” when ensnaring Emma (ibid., p. 292).

36 Note that the whole of Yonville seems on fire after Emma’s death. Ibid., p. 477.

37 E.g. Brouillons, IV, fol. 105. The detail does not appear in the published novel.

38 Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 77.

39 In Brouillons IV, fol. 205v, the debris includes “des éclats de verre”.

40 Brouillons, VI, fol. 137v.

41 Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 287.

42 Brouillons, IV, fol. 105v. Mocking, diabolical laughter is also a common feature of L’Homme au sable.

43 Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 266.

44 Ibid., p. 458.

45 Brouillons, V, fol. 229.

46 Ibid., fol. 230.

47 Ibid.

48 L’Homme au sable, op. cit., p. 277.

49 Ibid., p. 302.

50 Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 165.

51 See Brouillons, II, fol. 88.

52 L’Homme au sable, op. cit., p. 278.

53 Ibid., p. 307.

54 Cf. the narrator’s comment about the inadequacy of literary depiction : “le poète n’en peut saisir les rapports secrets que comme les reflets obscurs d’une glace dépolie.” Ibid., p. 279.

55 Birgit Roder, A Study of the Major Novellas of E.T.A. Hoffmann, New York, Camden House, 2003, p. 68-69.

56 Brouillons, I, fol. 213.

57 Brouillons, VI, fol. 134v.

58 Ibid., fol. 134.

59 Brouillons, III, fols. 41, 42, 43, 45. In the published text the blood spurts onto “la glace”. Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 216.

60 L’Homme au sable, op. cit., p. 290-291.

61 Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 445.

62 Brouillons, VI, fol. 255v.

63 Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 124.

64 Brouillons, I, fols. 243v and 222v. One of Emma’s extravagances is to have new panes of coloured glass in her front door. Brouillons, IV, fol. 133.

65 Gustave Flaubert, Correspondance, II, edited by Jean Bruneau, Paris, Gallimard, 1980, II, p. 697.

66 Sigmund Freud, “The Uncanny”, in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, XVII, translated by James Strachey, London, Hogarth Press, 1955, p. 241.

67 Correspondance, II, op. cit., p. 376.

68 L’Homme au sable, op. cit., p. 264.

69 Sigmund Freud, “Creative Writers and Daydreaming” [1908], in The Penguin Freud Library, XIV, edited by Albert Dickson), London, Penguin, 1985, p. 133.

70 Gustave Flaubert, Le Château des cœurs, Œuvres complètes, II, edited by Bernard Masson, Paris, Seuil, 1964, p. 343.

71 Gustave Flaubert, Salammbô, édition de Jacques Neefs, Paris, Le Livre de poche classiques, 2011, p. 188.

72 Gustave Flaubert, L’Éducation sentimentale, édition de Stéphanie Dord-Crouslé, Paris, Garnier-Flammarion, 2013, p. 379.

73 Gustave Flaubert, Hérodias, dans Trois Contes, édition de Pierre-Marc de Biasi, Paris, Garnier-Flammarion, 1986, p. 139.

74 Un cœur simple, dans ibid., p. 45.

75 Roland Barthes, « L’Effet de réel », Communications, 1968, 11, p. 84-89.

76 Un cœur simple, op. cit., p. 50.

77 Ibid., p. 75.

78 Ibid., p. 76.

79 Gustave Flaubert, Bouvard et Pécuchet, édition de Claudine Gothot-Mersch, Paris, Gallimard, coll. « Folio », 1991, p. 119-120.

80 Ibid., p. 122.

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Anne Green, « Madame Bovary and the Sandman : Flaubert’s Uncanny Memories », Flaubert [En ligne], 22 | 2019, mis en ligne le 16 décembre 2019, consulté le 29 février 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/flaubert/3932

Haut de page

Auteur

Anne Green

King’s College London

Haut de page