I have to admit that even though I went to church when I was a kid and I kind of understand some forms of American (Protestant) Christianity, stories of faith, especially Catholic faith are, not exactly lost on me but, a bit of a struggle for me imaginatively.
This collection is sort of like the Simpsons episode with the triptych of Bible stories. The first story involves an understanding of visions of faith and symbols in the material world, the second story is the telling of the life of a saint as gleaned from the stained glass windows in a cathedral, and the third is a retelling of Saint John the Baptist and Salome in the court of Herod.
So there you have it.
So why read it or not? It’s short. It’s Flaubert and not Madame Bovary. But for me, I have had the Julian Barnes’s novel Flaubert’s Parrot in my collection a long time and wanted to pair these together and knock off two for one.
I also mentioned in a previous review that I am leery and suspect of books dealing with “tales” instead of stories, but I think I get it with these stories. They are definitely tales….in the sense that there’s something legendary and fablish about them. Each deals with forms of faith and divinity that cannot be explained from an outsider’s perspective as far as I can tell at all.
So I will end this by simply saying, I more or less liked these, am interested in reading Madame Bovary sometime soon, and am always rewarded by taking on a kind of challenge and doing my best with it.
Here’s some clips:
“A Simple Heart” – the one with the parrot
Presently he began to speak of the harvest and of the notables of the village; his father had left Colleville and bought the farm of Les Ecots, so that now they would be neighbours. “Ah!” she exclaimed. He then added that his parents were looking around for a wife for him, but that he, himself, was not so anxious and preferred to wait for a girl who suited him. She hung her head. He then asked her whether she had ever thought of marrying. She replied, smilingly, that it was wrong of him to make fun of her. “Oh! no, I am in earnest,” he said, and put his left arm around her waist while they sauntered along. The air was soft, the stars were bright, and the huge load of hay oscillated in front of them, drawn by four horses whose ponderous hoofs raised clouds of dust. Without a word from their driver they turned to the right. He kissed her again and she went home. The following week, Theodore obtained meetings.
They met in yards, behind walls or under isolated trees. She was not ignorant, as girls of well-to-do families are–for the animals had instructed her;–but her reason and her instinct of honour kept her from falling. Her resistance exasperated Theodore’s love and so in order to satisfy it (or perchance ingenuously), he offered to marry her. She would not believe him at first, so he made solemn promises. But, in a short time he mentioned a difficulty; the previous year, his parents had purchased a substitute for him; but any day he might be drafted and the prospect of serving in the army alarmed him greatly. To Felicite his cowardice appeared a proof of his love for her, and her devotion to him grew stronger. When she met him, he would torture her with his fears and his entreaties. At last, he announced that he was going to the prefect himself for information, and would let her know everything on the following Sunday, between eleven o’clock and midnight.
When the time grew near, she ran to meet her lover.
But instead of Theodore, one of his friends was at the meeting-place.
He informed her that she would never see her sweetheart again; for, in order to escape the conscription, he had married a rich old woman, Madame Lehoussais, of Toucques.”
“The Legend of Saint Julian, the Hospitalier”
Julian’s father and mother dwelt in a castle built on the slope of
a hill, in the heart of the woods.
The towers at its four corners had pointed roofs covered with
leaden tiles, and the foundation rested upon solid rocks, which
descended abruptly to the bottom of the moat.
In the courtyard, the stone flagging was as immaculate as the
floor of a church. Long rain-spouts, representing dragons with
yawning jaws, directed the water towards the cistern, and on each
window-sill of the castle a basil or a heliotrope bush bloomed, in
A second enclosure, surrounded by a fence, comprised a
fruit-orchard, a garden decorated with figures wrought in
bright-hued flowers, an arbour with several bowers, and a mall
for the diversion of the pages. On the other side were the kennel,
the stables, the bakery, the wine-press and the barns. Around
these spread a pasture, also enclosed by a strong hedge.
Peace had reigned so long that the portcullis was never lowered;
the moats were filled with water; swallows built their nests in
the cracks of the battlements, and as soon as the sun shone too
strongly, the archer who all day long paced to and fro on the
curtain, withdrew to the watch-tower and slept soundly.
Inside the castle, the locks on the doors shone brightly; costly
tapestries hung in the apartments to keep out the cold; the
closets overflowed with linen, the cellar was filled with casks of
wine, and the oak chests fairly groaned under the weight of
And finally: “Herodias”
“The great banqueting-hall was filled with guests. This apartment had three naves, like a basilica, which were separated by columns of sandalwood, whose capitals were of sculptured bonze. On each side of the apartment was a gallery for spectators, and a third, with a facade of gold filigree, was at one end, opposite an immense arch at the other.
The candelabra burning on the tables, which were spread the whole length of the banqueting-hall, glowed like clusters of flaming flowers among the painted cups, the plates of shining copper, the cubes of snow and heaps of luscious grapes. Through the large windows the guests could see lighted torches on the terraces of the neighbouring houses; for this night Antipas was giving a feast to his friends, his own people, and to anyone that presented himself at the castle.
The slaves, alert as dogs, glided about noiselessly in felt sandals, carrying dishes to and fro.
The table of the proconsul was placed beneath the gilded balcony upon a platform of sycamore wood. Rich tapestries from Babylon were hung about the pavilion, giving a certain effect of seclusion.
Upon three ivory couches, one facing the great hall, and the other two placed one on either side of the pavilion, reclined Vitellius, his son Aulus, and Antipas; the proconsul being near the door, at the left, Aulus on the right, the tetrarch occupying the middle couch.
Antipas wore a heavy black mantle, the texture of which was almost hidden by coloured embroideries and glittering decorations; his beard was spread out like a fan; blue powder had been scattered over his hair, and on his head rested a diadem covered with precious stones. Vitellius still wore the purple band, the emblem of his rank, crossed diagonally over a linen toga.”