Tuesday, 7 January 2014


Some thoughts on two Gustaves 
Detail from The woman in Blue - Corot

I have been reading recently the novels of  Gustave Flaubert. 
There are two reasons for this

The first is that I have always enjoyed his writing and therefore I need no excuse to revisit the worlds of Madame Bovary (1856),  Sentimental Education (1869) or Salammbo (1862)

Detail from Salome by F. von Stuck

The second reason is that I am currently working on a short novel set in Napoleon's Egypt. Which brings me to Flaubert in Egypt - a classic of travel literature, wonderfully capturing the young writer's impressions during his 1849 voyage to the 'Orient'

Women of Algiers - Eugene Delacroix (1834)

Flaubert's journal takes us through the bazaars and brothels of Cairo, down the length of the Nile and to the fabled Red Sea.

With revolution on the streets in Egypt today, this dip back into the middle of the 19th century is a timely reminder of the magic (and endemic poverty) of that once great country. Since I spent part of my childhood in Alexandria  I feel for the Egyptian people now fighting for their freedom from Mubarak's grotesque, tyrannical regime

Which, in a roundabout way, brings me to another Gustave - the French painter Gustave Moreau

This wonderful painting by Moreau was painted in 1876 and is called the Tatooed Salome

It has long been one of my favorite paintings but I had forgotten about it until I began research for my new novel - the true story of a young French girl from Carcassonne who became Napoleon's mistress during his occupation of Egypt

Moreau was born in 1826 and became one of the period's most successful artists, specializing in rich, exotic, often 'Oriental' subjects

I am also very fond of this beautiful water color of Delilah which, in my view, appears to anticipate the reclining figures and rich textures of another great French master, Matisse

As a writer (as well as a painter) I find increasingly that art is a very productive source of ideas for my novels, particularly one set in the exotic palaces of Cairo and Alexandria under Napoleon

I will tell you, therefore, over the next few months how I get on with my new book!

Mike Healey

No comments: