A Simple Heart

A Simple Heart Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Gustave Flaubert's A Simple Heart. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Gustave Flaubert

Gustave Flaubert was born in Rouen, France, where his father worked as a surgeon at the local hospital. During his youth, he was fascinated by literature but reportedly not very committed to his studies. When Flaubert was a teenager, he met and fell in love with an older woman named Eliza Schlésinger, who would inspire his first notable piece of writing: Memoirs of a Madman. In 1841, Flaubert entered law school in Paris, but left due to his debilitating seizures and general lack of affection for the city city. Flaubert’s seizures would affect him for the rest of his life and cause him to spend a great deal of time at home, but he was nonetheless able to spend many months of his young adulthood traveling with his lifelong friend, Maxime du Camp. The two men went to Greece and Egypt in the 1840s, a trip that inspired Flaubert’s early body of work. In 1850, Flaubert returned to France, moved back to his family’s estate, and began writing Madame Bovary, the book for which he is most famous, and which would take him six years to complete. Due to the novel’s alleged impropriety, and particularly because of its depiction of adultery, the French government sued Flaubert’s publisher. However, the government’s case was ultimately unsuccessful, and Flaubert went on to write several more novels and satirical works as well as a play called Le Candidat. Though Flaubert had a romantic relationship with a French poet named Louise Colet for seven years, he never married or had children. The publication of Madame Bovary as a full novel (rather than the serialized form in which it was originally printed) brought Flaubert considerable success. After a period of poor health, he died at age 58 from complications of a stroke.
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Historical Context of A Simple Heart

The July Revolution is the historical event most clearly related to “A Simple Heart,” and it is even directly mentioned in the narrative (The narrator remarks that “one night, the driver of the mail-coach arrived in Pont-l’Eveque with news of the July Revolution”). The July Revolution, which is also referred to as “The Second French Revolution” and “Three Glorious Days,” was a political event that occurred in the year 1830 in France. When French King Charles X attempted to challenge civil liberties established in the Charter of 1814, the nation erupted in protest. These protests culminated in “Three Glorious Days” of violent demonstrations between July 27th and 29th. Ultimately, the French bourgeoisie (upper middle-class) achieved a significant victory as a result of these three days of demonstrations: the removal of King Charles X from the throne, and the establishment of King Louis-Phillipe in his stead. King Louis-Phillipe’s reign, known as “the July Monarchy,” established voting rights for greater numbers of French citizens, but it was marked by frequent political unrest. Though Félicité and her community are not directly impacted by the events of the July Revolution, Flaubert takes care to demonstrate the presence and influence of the victors of the conflict—the French bourgeoisie—throughout the novella, and chronicles Théodore’s attempts to avoid serving in the military (an obligation often taken more seriously during periods of violent social conflict). Flaubert also describes the arrival of the Baron de Larsonniere, a new local government official, in the town of Pont-l’Eveque, an event that was likely precipitated by the shuffling of political positions that occurred as a result of the July Revolution.

Other Books Related to A Simple Heart

“A Simple Heart” is often associated with the other two novellas in the 1877 collection in which it was originally published, Three Tales: “The Legend of Saint Julian Hospitator” and “Herodias.” In terms of Flaubert’s careful prose style and methods of social critique, it is also related to its predecessor Madame Bovary, Flaubert’s 1857 masterwork of realist fiction. In terms of literary tradition, Flaubert’s work is often linked to that of his contemporaries, Émile Zola and Honoré de Balzac. Both of these writers penned multi-volume series that explored society through more critical lenses than their literary predecessors. Zola’s series, Les Rougon-Macquart, and particularly its 1885 novel about French coalminers, Germinal, is particularly related to Flaubert’s concerns about socioeconomic hierarchies in “A Simple Heart.” Similarly, Balzac’s La Comédie humaine (“The Human Comedy”) and its most famous installment—Le Père Goriot—exhibits the same interest in deconstructing social mores as Flaubert’s fiction does. Today, Flaubert’s influence can be seen in a range of later writers, including the 20th century European writer Franz Kafka and the contemporary Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, both of whom demonstrate a clear commitment to a Flaubertian realism and social critique.
Key Facts about A Simple Heart
  • Full Title: “A Simple Heart”
  • When Written: 1877
  • Where Written: Rouen, France
  • When Published: 1877
  • Literary Period: Late Romanticism; Early Realism
  • Genre: Literary realism
  • Setting: France (primarily in the town of Pont-l’Eveque)
  • Climax: After a long, difficult life, Félicité dies in a moment of religious ecstasy.
  • Antagonist: N/A
  • Point of View: Third-person (limited)

Extra Credit for A Simple Heart

Claim to Fame. Though Flaubert was certainly not the world’s first novelist, he is generally credited as the creator of the “modern” novel. This distinction is commonly attributed to the fact that Flaubert wrote about the lives of his protagonists with an eye toward realism and precise attention to language, avoiding the melodrama and verbosity of popular writers like Charles Dickens.

Not Quite Quiet. According to James Wood’s New York Times article “The Man Behind Bovary,” “Flaubert loved to read aloud.” In fact, he once read the entirety of his novel The Temptation of Saint Anthony aloud to his friends for 32 hours.