The Temptation of Saint Anthony – Flaubert

Presentation: Odilon Redon and The Temptation of Saint Anthony

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Part I: Background and Analysis of Odilon Redon’s “The Temptation of Saint Anthony”

Odilon Redon (1840-1916) was born in Bordeaux, France, and studied art in Paris. (Cotter, 2005) Redon was an avid reader of Decadent era authors Baudelaire, Edgar Allan Poe, and Flaubert in his youth, spending much of his time in solitude. In Paris, he developed an individual style, becoming best known for his charcoal sketches and lithography. His art, heavily inspired by his childhood in the countryside as well as gothic folklore, was distinct in that “instead of choosing between imagination and mimesis, fantasy and nature, Redon deployed one to get the other” (Hauptman, 24). When describing his artistic philosophy, Redon writes: “It is only after making an effort of will to produce a meticulous depiction of a blade of grass, a stone, a branch, a bit of old wall, that I feel almost tormented to create something imaginary” (25). Gustave Flaubert’s novel “The Temptation of Saint Anthony” is characterized by a scintillating imagery of all things fantastical, serving to illustrate an intense religious and moral critique: due to this, it is not surprising that it caught Redon’s artistic taste.

When The Temptation of Saint Anthony was published, Redon was immediately shaken by the intense characters and images described by Flaubert. He commented on the novel: “It is a literary marvel and a mine for me” (Dickey). In 1888, Redon decided to release a collection of ten lithographs[1] illustrating Flaubert’s novel. The novel easily resonated with Redon’s style: as an artist concerned with nature, the grotesque and the fantastic, Flaubert’s supernatural scenes were a treasure trove of artistic inspiration. As art historian Stephen F. Eisenman comments, “Like Flaubert, Redon saw himself as unique, an accident, a monster, and all the more remarkable an artist for these very reasons” (Eisenman, 25).


Cover of Lithograph Collection, “The Temptation of Saint Anthony: Illustrations” By Odilon Redon. (MoMA)

In the collection of lithographs “The Temptation of Saint Anthony”, Redon transposes certain images of the text into black and white marks on paper. Each image is captioned with a direct quote from Flaubert’s novel, describing the exact scene being illustrated. His images “read like anagrams,” inviting the viewer to “create order out of the apparent chaos” (Eisenman, 25).


“Saint Anthony: Beneath her long hair, that covered her face, I thought I recognized Ammonaria.” To Gustave Flaubert, 1889. (Wilder, 2012).

In the image above, Redon depicts Ammonaria, the virgin who suffers martyrdom in his hallucination of Alexandria. This image was not in the original portfolio “The Temptation of Saint Anthony,” but published later in a larger volume of prints titled “Dedicated to Gustave Flaubert” in 1889. Redon created ten separate proofs of this image, highlighting its importance. (The Fitzwilliam Museum) This image truly exhibits Redon’s mastery in the use of light and shadow, as well as an ability to capture Flaubert’s scene in a moment in time. Eisenman describes this piece as an “odd stillness which obscures the exact nature of the depicted action. Is the tormentor bringing back the flagellum or casting it forward? Does the woman recoil from the blows or turn expectantly to receive them? Do we receive an ambient of pain or desire?” (216) These questions immediately bring up Flaubert’s thematic concerns of sin, guilt, violence, and self-inflicted pain.

Decadence can be “described as a series of refusals: of the visible world, of religious faith, of love, of community, of nature,” causing artists to turn instead to “the exquisite refinements of sensation.” (Hauptman, 23).  Odilon Redon is invariably presented as an artist of this era, a creator of those soul-wrenching images that touch upon these refusals. Incidentally, Decadent Joris-Karl Huysmans, prior to the release of Au Rebours, writing at the time, reviewed the collection of Lithographs in his work “Le Salon” of 1879:

“Another artist has recently come forward and offered to France the painting of the fantastic; I wish to speak of M. Odilon Redon. Here is the nightmare transposed into art. Plunged into a macabre milieu, imagine somnambulistic characters, twisted with fear, having a vague kinship to those of Gustave Moreau,  and perhaps you will have an idea of the bizarre talent of this most singular artist.” (Eisenman, 102)

Huysman was so roused by this collection, that he later “paid homage to Odilon Redon in his classic novel Au Rebours, in which the main character Des Esseintes collects prints by Redon… A move that helped catapult Redon into the mainstream [of the Decadent movement].” Huysman’s praise did not go unreciprocated; after reading Au Rebours, Redon released a lithograph titled “Des Esseintes,” depicting this antihero of decadence in black and white (Dickey).

There is a certain darkness that defines Redon’s depictions of St. Anthony’s visions. Unlike the past artistic interpretations of the Temptation of Saint Anthony, these sketches plumb specific moments of the sensual, phantasmagorical experience of Saint Anthony’s night in the desert. In the image below, Redon captures the moment in which Anthony questions the Devil on the purpose of God. The chalk-white face of the Devil is cocked at an unnerving angle, appearing to stare intently at something behind the spectator. The inscrutability of the Devil’s expression captures the ambiguity of his aims; is he merely challenging Saint Anthony’s beliefs, or is there a stronger reason behind his critiques, perhaps rooted in truth?


“Saint Anthony: What Is the Purpose of All This? The Devil: There Is No Purpose!”, by Odilon Redon from his “The Temptation of Saint Anthony” (Dickey).

The hair and shadow behind the Devil melts into the shaded figure of Saint Anthony, in contemplation behind the Devil. While the Devil’s facial features are clearly defined, Anthony’s expression is blurred in gray shading. Emile Hennequin, a young admirer of Redon’s, accurately captured this unsettling quality in his description of the collection as “a treasure of dreams and suggestions which should be used cautiously.” These dreams and suggestions seem to lie in the obscure expressions of Flaubert’s characters.


“And in the same disc of the sun shines the face of Jesus Christ,” Odilon Redon. Plate X in The Temptation of Saint Anthony, 1888. Lithograph. (Wilder).

The tenth and final image of Redon’s original collection is the depiction of the last scene of The Temptation of Saint Anthony: “Even in the midst thereof, and in the very disc of the sun, beams the face of Jesus Christ. Anthony makes the sign of the cross, and resumes his devotion” (Faubert, 191). And thus, the novel is finished, leaving us with a vast sense of contradiction; is the nightmare truly over? Can Anthony go back to his previous life of ascetiscism, even after this night of unholy terrors and religious challenge? Redon illustrates this jarring image of Jesus Christ as a sun in the midst of a brooding, explosion-like black shadow. This intense black radiating from the sun inevitably taints the image with a feeling of mystery and uncertainty, a feeling akin to what the reader is left with at the end of the novel.

Part 2: Discussion Questions (Part 2 of The Temptation of Saint Anthony, pg. 115-191)

1. When the Goddess of Idean appears, the faithful band of followers begins a worshipping frenzy, which quickly transforms into a scene of self-flaggellation, and the sacrifice of a lamb:  “She is sorrowful, let us be sorrowful! Our suffering is necessary in order to please her! Thereby your sins will be remitted. Blood purifies all– flings its red drops abroad like blossoms!” (134). While he says nothing of this, when the lamb is being sacrificed, Anthony is “siezed with horror.”

Why does he seem to recognize the slaying of the lamb as a more barbaric sacrifice than self-flagellation? Does this serve to point out the hypocrisy of his beliefs? Is he unable to see fault or sin in self-inflicted pain?

2. Caught in a whirlwind of these indulgent pagan Gods, Anthony laments sorrowfully of the “souls that may have been lost to these false Gods.” (141) Hilarion in response, states: “But luxury, in its greatest fury, has all the disinterestedness of penitence. The frenzied love of the body accelerates the destruction thereof– and proclaims the extent of the impossible by the exposition of the body’s weaknesses.” Hilarion seems to accept that by putting a premium on the body, degeneracy is inevitable. However, is the appreciation and celebration of the physical, the exposition to sensory pleasures, not also a means for vulnerability? How does this challenge Anthony’s idea of vulnerability? If one can commit penitence through the flesh, why can one not commit sin through the flesh?

3. The Devil tells Anthony: “But evil and good concern only thee– even like the night and day, pleasure and pain, death and birth, which are relative only to one corner of space, to a special centre, to a particular interest.” He pushes even further, stating: “The knowledge of things come only to thee through the medium of thy mind. Even as a concave mirror, it deforms the objects it reflects, and thou hast no mean whatever of verifying their exactitude.” (168) The Devil’s assertions go back to Plato’s Theory of Forms– essentially, he seems to tell Anthony that he will always be chained inside the cave, living in a subjective reality.  Have all of Anthony’s ant-temptation thoughts and actions throughout the nightmare been in vain? Is the presence of his doubt a confirmation that he has already inherently been tempted? How does this relate back to Hilarion’s accusation of his chastity as corruption?

4. At the very end of the novel, an intertwining of Lust and Death occurs, creating a fantastical creature: “It is a skull, crowned with roses, dominating the torso of a woman nacreously white. Below, a shroud starred with specks of gold forms something of a tail, and the whole body undulates, after the fashion of a gigantic worm erect on end.” (178) Anthony recognizes this creature as “The Devil yet again, under his twofold aspect: The spirit of fornication, and the spirit of destruction.” (179) Why does Flaubert choose to introduce a fusion of Lust, a temptation, and Death, a fear, into a depiction of the Devil? Does this portray Anthony’s greatest want and his greatest terror?

5. The final line of the novel is ” Anthony makes the sign of the cross, and resumes his devotions.”  (191) Why does he so swiftly back to devotion after this nightmare? Is Flaubert taking an “easy way out,” so to speak, or is this a way for him to leave the reader on edge?

 – E.P.
Bibliography/Works Cited:
Flaubert, Gustave. The Temptation of Saint Anthony. New York: Random House, 1992. Print.
Hauptman, Jodi, and Odilon Redon. Beyond the Visible: The Art of Odilon Redon. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2005. Print.
Eisenman, Stephen, and Odilon Redon. The Temptation of Saint Redon: Biography, Ideology, and Style in the Noirs of Odilon Redon. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1992. Print.
Wilder, Courtney. “Explorations in Darkness and Light: Odilon Redon.” The Getty Iris., n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.
Dickey, Colin. “The Redemption of Saint Anthony.” Rev. of Odilon Redon’s “The Temptation of Saint Anthony” Public Domain Review (2012): n. Web. 21 Feb. 2014.
Cotter, Holland. “Mind of a Writer, Hand of an Artist.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 27 Oct. 2005. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.
“Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.” Lithography in the Nineteenth Century. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.
Odilon Redon. Odilon Redon: Interactive Exhibit. N.d. Museum of Modern MoMA. Web.
“The Fitzwilliam Museum : À Gustave Flaubert.” The Fitzwilliam Museum News. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.

[1] Sketches created by writing in greasy crayon on slabs of stone and then printing them with rolled-on ink. The word is so called from the Latin for stone,litho, and mark, graph. (Met Museum)

Presentation: The Learned Dreamer: Temptations, pt. 2

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The Temptation of St. Anthony by Bosch

The Learned Dreamer

Michael Foucault says of The Temptation of Saint Anthony, “It may appear as merely another new book to be shelved alongside all the others, but it serves, in actuality, to extend the space that existing books can occupy” (Foucault xxvii). Indeed, the characters with which St. Anthony interacts throughout the temptations are brought to life through the vigorous study of other texts. Flaubert is in conversation, then, with ideas and archetypes from throughout the centuries. The theatrical nature of the work allows Flaubert’s characters, such as the Queen of Sheba or King Nebuchadnezzar, to be seen as reenactments of older characters. The dreamlike quality of the visions makes the characters seem like products of St. Anthony’s unconscious, smoky figurines crafted in an instant by the incredible power of the dreaming mind. However, as Foucault notes, the figurines are actually sculpted through vigorous studying on Flaubert’s part: “fantasies are carefully deployed in the hushed library” (Foucault xxvi). Taking a closer look at some of the characters and concepts in The Temptation of St. Anthony will enhance our appreciation for Flaubert’s attention to detail and his desire to participate in the textual universe of the library.


Orientalism is the constructed imagine of “Eastern” people and society by those in the “West.” The concept is elaborated on in Edward Said’s Orientalism, which goes into detail about the construction, its ancient roots, and its contemporary effects: “The Orient was almost a European invention, and had been since antiquity a place of romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences… the main thing for the European visitor was a European representation of the Orient…” (Said 1). Because the characters and visions in Flaubert’s work are vivified through the imaginative power of St. Anthony’s subconscious (using his vast textual knowledge as a basis), so too is the Orient an actual place in the book with personified representatives. Just as the Devil is a constructed, personified representative of all that is evil in the world, so too is the Queen of Sheba the Orient personified, with all its lust and luxury. The Queen of Sheba, though in the first half of the book and not the second, has important reverberations throughout the text because she is everything that St. Anthony, as a Western ascetic, is supposed to hate. Still, she is everything he wants, his mirage, his unreal oasis in the driest desert of his fast: “And he sees before him… clad in robes of green… camels’ heads with halters of red silk… precious glimmering things are laid upon the ground… a woman so splendidly clad that she radiates light about her” (Flaubert 36). What Flaubert has done here is masterful—his recreation of the Queen of Sheba has the precise, seemingly arbitrary detail reminiscent of ancient texts (12 camels, 268 golden beads, 6 wise eunuchs, etc.) because she is a product of reading those texts and therefore her image bares a shimmer of what she is made of. Still, for St. Anthony in the state he is in, her presence is tantamount to reality: “There is a natural brown spot upon her left cheek” (Flaubert 57). In this moment of the text, the Queen of Sheba occupies two spaces. First, she is the personification of the Orient of luxury, of desire, a thousand year old parchment that St. Anthony has read again and again sitting alone in a library. But heat, and fasting, and pain, and doubt make the mind play tricks. She is, second, a woman standing in front of him and he has never wanted something so much in his life and there has never been anything more real.

The Buddha

Mary Orr advocates for a reading of Temptation that gives more credit to Flaubert for his portrayal of certain characters that draw from Southeastern Asian religions, such as the Buddha. Orr, too, recognizes the mastery of Flaubert’s character portrayals through the mind of St. Anthony, but for different reasons: “Antoine’s reading of them provides a much more dynamic model than critical theories of text—source hunting, genetic criticism, intertextuality—for how to read the ideas of his age” (Orr 115). I think it’s hard to deny the presence of an intertextual space existing upon which stands the stage of Temptation, to me it seems the work upon which all of the figures are based. Still, I agree with the goal of her paper, which is “to shock and shift ‘writerly’ critical positions to ‘readerly’ ones” (Orr 116). In other words, to understand that Temptation is less about authorship than it is about readership, reception, and the imagination of the subconscious. When the Buddha gives his traditional narrative of undergoing torments to purify himself of desire, St. Anthony interjects, “I also endured all that in other days!” (Flaubert 125). Buddha, here, does not even seem to notice what St. Anthony is saying. The interjections read like scribbled annotations in the margins of a book. Their interaction has been made real and established as an intertextual relationship, but the give and take, the substance behind real human interactions, can not take place with a book. The siren call of the Queen of Sheba, Buddha’s inspiring story of his hardships—they play their record on repeat for all to hear. St. Anthony can insert his experiences, proclaim his desire, and try to relate to what he has read but his words fall on ears long buried.


Hilarion, on the other hand, is someone St. Anthony knew, a disciple and former student. His presence is intermingled with that of the entirely textual figures like the Buddha. His interactions with St. Anthony, while also imagined, are based on memories. Memories are records of real interactions with give and take and unique, customized reactions. Hilarion is there with St. Anthony in part to mock him, and to grow and feed on the pain. After the Buddha disappears, Hilarion remarks, “Thou hast even now beheld the belief of many hundreds of millions of men” (Flaubert 126). This can be read as mocking St. Anthony’s experience, which is far from unique. Laurence Porter, in his paper about the role of the devil in various 19th-century texts, casts Hilarion as a foil to St. Anthony: “Flaubert underlines the fact that Hilarion has emerged from the saint’s preconscious” (Porter 327). Porter goes on to say that Hilarion changes throughout the text, becoming more and more a reflection of St. Anthony’s subconscious perception of his biggest weakness: “Initially the disciple represents an apparently harmless, and even admirable disguised form of Saint Anthony’s pride in his intellect and desire to influence others…he risks becoming infatuated with his own singularity, at the expense of his devotion to God” (Porter 327). This argument is compelling to me because it rejects the tempting idea that maybe the Queen of Sheba’s beauty or one of the various feasts or hordes of wealth is St. Anthony’s biggest issue. No, Hilarion, because he is real to St. Anthony, a person who looks back unlike the texts St. Anthony has developed relationships with, the disciple is the most likely to judge St. Anthony and deliver the most unique criticism that only he can deliver.

Discussion Questions

1. “The souls of the Gods are attached to their images… Those possessing the beauty of forms might seduce. But the others… those of loathsome or terrible aspect… how can men believe in them?” (Flaubert 117). At times ascetic and aesthetic ideals seem drastically opposed, in other instances they are difficult to distinguish. After all, Temptation, a book about the feverish dreams of a desert dwelling saint was Oscar Wilde’s favorite. On page 117, Flaubert unites the Platonic, the ascetic, and the aesthetic with an observation about the necessity of beauty to attract believers. How does the concept of beauty function here and what are its philosophical implications? How would Oscar Wilde read this?

2. “I also endured that in other days!” (Flaubert 124) St. Anthony’s comments to certain figures, like the Buddha, often border on marginalia. To me, these are the most distinctively “readerly” moments in Temptations. How do moments like these function, and how do they contrast/work with more theatrical elements of Flaubert’s work?

3. “Anthony dreams of the Mother of Jesus. She speaks: Thou didst emerge from the Orient, and didst take me, all trembling with the dew, into thy arms, O Sun! Doves fluttered upon the azure of thy mantle… and I abandoned myself wholly to thy love, delighting in the pleasure of my weakness. Alas! Alas—Why didst thou depart, to run upon the mountains?” (Flaubert 137) In a book full of the weird, this may have been the most bizarre moment for me. What is going on here? I might read it as a blending of the Christian tradition with Greco-Roman myths, where a beautiful young woman will be seduced or taken by a god in the form of a bull or a ray of light. Is this simply a feverish dream? Foucault and others say the dream is carefully constructed… what then is a passage like this so carefully constructed to do?

4. “Aye! The love of death is strong. Many an anchorite has succumbed to it.” (Flaubert 174) Suicide and the lure of death is one of the strongest temptations for St. Anthony. On 174, the philosophy of suicide and self-destruction is discussed, and it is reminiscent of Freud’s death drive. How does psychology function here and how does it interact with literature and theater? Does St. Anthony’s psychology somehow shape his readings, point his questions, or aid in the conjuring of the characters?

5. “Anthony thinks he sees a caterpillar between two leaves: it is a butterfly that takes flight.” (Flaubert 189) Many concepts are at play in the final pages. Nirvana, the constant flux of the universe, pantheism, release, etc. What is the meaning of the ending of the book? In other words, what exactly has occurred in the final pages? Has St. Anthony reached Enlightenment? Have his perspectives evolved? How much has he changed since the start of the book?


Flaubert, Gustave, Lafcadio Hearn, Michel Foucault, and Marshall C. Olds. The Temptation of St. Anthony. New York: Modern Library, 2001. Print.

Orr, Mary. “Antoine, Reader of His Age: The Textual Tentation and Its Intertexts of Science.” Dix-Neuf 15.1 (2011): 115-26. Print.

Porter, Laurence M. “The Devil as Double in Nineteenth-Century Literature: Goethe, Dostoevsky, and Flaubert.” Comparative Literature Studies 15.3 (1978): 316-35. JSTOR.

Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New York: Vintage, 1979. Print.


“The Temptation of St Anthony (Bosch Painting).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 15 Feb. 2014. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.

–Presentation by SVZ

The Poisonous Pen: The Subtle Perversity of Flaubert’s Temptation of St. Anthony

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The Temptation of St. Anthony is a profoundly disturbing text, for reasons which I will attempt to make clear. I find Flaubert’s work to be a far more “poisonous” work than À Rebours. I make this claim for two main reasons: first, because of St. Anthony’s status as a saint and the religious underbelly of his very carnal desires; second, because the manner in which it is written is far more successful at pulling the reader into the story and thereby encouraging them to share the temptations and doubt of St. Anthony.

I had little knowledge of the story of St. Anthony before reading Flaubert’s work: what I most certainly did not expect from the paintings I had seen was the degree to which St. Anthony was complicit in his torment. The first chapter, ironically entitled “The Holy Saint”, makes the depths of St. Anthony’s internal torment clear. He describes himself as “wretched”(9); whines about how everyone “blamed him” (9), he tells how he “ceased to fear God” (11).

The following passage is even more contentious: “This is such a delightful life—to twist palm branches in the fire to make shepherds’ crooks, to turn out baskets and fasten mats together, and then to exchange all this handiwork with the Nomads for bread that breaks your teeth! Ah! wretched me! will there never be an end of this? But, indeed, death would be better! I can bear it no longer! Enough! Enough!” He stamps his foot, and makes his way through the rocks with rapid step, then stops, out of breath, bursts into sobs, and flings himself upon the ground.” (8) This is far more than an innocent saint being tormented by Satan. This language almost parallels a temper tantrum, even making me think of various times in Monsieur Venus when Jacques Silvert would ‘act out’ and rebel against Raoule’s control; St. Anthony’s words betray his immense internal torment. He is questioning his faith on a very profound level; he is bored by his contemplation of God. He is doing what he believes he should do, morally and spiritually, and yet it bores and frustrates him. As troubling as this expression of doubt is, what follows is far more poisonous: “The night is calm; multitudes of stars are palpitating; only the crackling noise made by the tarantulas is audible” (14).  St. Anthony’s cry for help has no immediate answer. A moment later he perceives the shadow of a cross, but as he is raging against his monastic life God gives him no sign to confirm his faith. The night is empty, with only natural features (stars and tarantula) being perceived. There is a clear sense transmitted in this phrase that St. Anthony is alone.

From this tantrum, the ‘holy saint’ proceeds to use passages from the Bible itself to justify his anger and doubt. The profundity of this blasphemy is absolutely astounding: “”Suppose I take—the ‘Acts of the Apostles’—yes, no matter where!

“And he saw the heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending, as it were a great linen sheet let down by the four corners from heaven to the earth–wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts; and creeping things of the earth and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him: ‘Arise, Peter! Kill and eat!’

Then the Lord desired that his apostle should eat of all things? …while I….” (14-15)

Again and again St. Anthony uses quotations from the Scriptures to prove that his anger at his condition is justified, to make an exception for himself in the moral code he believes to be true: if Peter can eat red meat, why can’t St. Anthony? If Ezechias can delight in worldly goods and in particular luxuries, why can’t St. Anthony? In these passages, it is fairly clear that St. Anthony is not being tempted by demons, as he is elsewhere in the work. He is tempting himself. He is twisting the Bible itself in order to justify his resentment and boredom.

Another profound and critical passage follows shortly after:

“Then the two shadows formed behind him by the arms of the cross, suddenly tlengthen and project themselves before him. They assume the form of two great horns. Anthony cries out:

Help me! O my God!

The shadows shrink back to their former place.

‘Ah!….it was an illusion….nothing more. It is needless for me to torment my mind further! I can do nothing!–absolutely nothing.” (16-17)

Anthony cries out for God’s help, and it seems that he receives it–the horns disappear immediately following his cry for divine intervention. And yet it appears that Anthony’s call for help was merely the continuation of a habit, or for appearance’s sake, because he does not even consider that the apparition of the horns has been banished by God. Instead, he remarks that “it was an illusion”.

The number of such distressing passages, even confined to the first few chapters, are too many to discuss here: I will remark on only a few: “I will have a chamber hollowed out for me in the rock, and lined with plates of bronze, and I will come here from time to time to feel the gold sinking down under the weight of my heel; I will plunge my arms into it as into sacks of grain. I will rub my face with it, I will lie down up on it!” (27), St. Anthony exclaims. St. Anthony is rapturous at the contemplation of such wealth, to an irrational extent–he doesn’t think about what he could do or buy with all these riches; he contents himself with fantasizing about it, almost sexualizing it as he repeatedly imagines plunging his body into it and covering himself with it.

Anthony himself recognizes, soon after these various fantasies, that his torment is self-inflicted and comes from some failing within himself: “Am I, then, accursed? Ah! no; it is my own fault! I allow myself to be caught in every snare! No man could be more imbecile, more infamous! I should like to beat myself, or rather to tear myself out of my own body! I have restrained myself too long!”(28). Here he fully shifts the agency off of any divine forces, good or evil, and onto himself.

I will discuss only one more passage:

” ‘Again I have allowed myself to be deceived! Why these things? They come from the rebellion of the flesh. Ah! wretch!’

He rushes into his cabin and seizes a bunch of thongs with metallic hooks attached to their ends, ,strips himself to the waist, and, lifting his eyes to heaven, exclaims:

‘Accept my penance, O my God: disdain it not for its feebleness. Render it sharp, prolonged, excessive! It is time, indeed!–to the work!’

He gives himself a vigorous lash–and shrieks.

‘No! No!–without mercy it must be.’

He recommences.

‘Oh! oh! oh! each last tears my skin, rends my limbs! It burns me horribly! Nay!–it is not so very terrible after all!–one becomes accustomed to it. It even seems to me…’

Anthony pauses.

‘Continue, coward! Continue! Good! good! –upon the arms, on the back, on the breast, on the belly–everywhere! Hiss, ye thongs! bite me! tear me! I would that my blood could spurt to the stars!–let my bones crack! –let my tendons be laid bare! O for pincers, racks and melted lead! The martyrs have endured far worse; have they not, Ammonaria?’

The shadow of the Devil’s horns reappears.

‘I might have been bound to the column opposite to thine,–face to face–under thy eyes–answering thy shrieks by my sighs; and our pangs might have been interblended, our souls intermingled.’

He lashes himself with fury.

‘What! what! again. Take that!–But how strange a titillation thrills me! What punishment! what pleasure! I feel as though receiving invisible kisses; the very marrow of my bones seems to melt! I die!'” (35-36)

This is a fairly clear example of masochism, and shows that St. Anthony’s desire to be a martyr derives far less from love for God and the Christian faith and much more from some latent enjoyment of pain, both physical and mental. He calls out to God and, as he does throughout the work, follows the rituals of devout Christianity to an extreme degree, but his devotion is obviously superficial. Even as he beats himself, he rhapsodizes about the pain in a way highly similar to the way he earlier fantasized about luxurious goods and red meat. This pseudo-sexual nature is only underlined by the way in which Anthony remembers Ammonaria and dreams about sharing pain (and probably pleasure) with her.

What is so profoundly disturbing and perhaps even ‘poisonous’ about Flaubert’s work is that, due to its subject material and its form, it forces the reader to share Anthony’s tremendous internal torment. We ourselves are not sure what to think–one minute he is clearly torturing himself, both physically and mentally, and he is at the same time the tormentor and the victim. At moments we undoubtedly feel pity for St. Anthony, and this is encouraged by Flaubert’s text, as it occasionally conjures up actual demons or images of the Devil to torment St. Anthony. At other times St. Anthony’s beatitude is far more in question as his rage against God and profound doubt is spotlighted. The subtitle of the work taps into this disturbing undercurrent of doubt and a state of existential crisis: “A revelation of the soul”. Whose soul? Is it a revelation of the falsity of St. Anthony’s devotion? Or is it a revelation of some fundamental fault in the soul in general, in humanity’s souls, an inevitable predisposition to moral decay? This is the profound, thought-provoking, and ‘poisonous’ question at the center of The Temptation of St. Anthony.

–Paloma (1610)

Wilde as Des Esseintes reading Flaubert?

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As before I started to read Gustave Flaubert’s The Temptation of Saint Anthony I heard that this was one of the favorite books of Oscar Wilde, who would ask for it during his imprisonment from 1895 to 1897 (as far as I understand, with no successful results though), I took up this prose-poem wondering what might be the reasons why Wilde was attracted to this book so much that he would feel a strong urge to immerse himself in it even during his imprisonment. Thus, this reading response is a speculation resulting from such wonderings.

Harford Montgomery Hyde in The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1962) describes the cell at Pentonville where Wilde had to spend the first term of his imprisonment as “bare and repellent as it was possible to make it,” a space where prisoners were not allowed to have anything that “might break the monotony of the cell wall.” (Montgomery Hyde, 278) When one imagines the conditions that Wilde was confined to live in and the mental suffering that the writer might have experienced as a result of the state he was in, it would be hardly surprising that Wilde might have been able to identify himself with Saint Anthony as he was depicted by Gustave Flaubert from the very first pages of The Temptation of Saint Anthony – a hermit who would contemplate his existence and pass by every day by grievous but somewhat relieved exclamation: “Another day! another day gone!” (Flaubert 10) It is not hard to imagine Wilde quietly agonizing: “What solitude! what weariness!—will this never end? Surely death were preferable! I can endure it no more! Enough! enough!” (Flaubert 14-15) Wilde would not even have as much freedom as Saint Anthony had, who attempted to escape his suffering to some extent through the amusement of “arranging everything in my hut.” (Ibid.) Similar mundane routine would not be unfamiliar to Wilde. In his case, however, “arranging everything” would by no means be an amusement. On the contrary, it would be enforced by strict and regular examinations of the arrangements in his prison cell by the guards under whose strict surveillance the writer was. It did not give him freedom of amusement but rather robbed him of yet another kind of freedom of expression, which later, as H.Montgomery Hyde points out, would developed into a nervous habit of the writer to arrange all the things symmetrically. (Montgomery Hyde 278)

As Montgomeny Hyde indicates, during the first three months of his incarceration Wilde would have an access only to three books – a Bible, The Prayer Book, and a hymn-book. (Ibid 278) Without further examination of the materials related to Wilde, it is difficult to judge to what extent Wilde might have felt the inclination to question the religious scripts accessible or to claim that the writer identified himself with Saint Anthony and perpetually struggled with his own temptations in identic way. It is also hard to imagine that self-pity and a masochistic inclination to torture himself even more by read over and over such statements as – “Assuredly there is no human being in a condition of such unutterable misery!” (Flaubert 19) – made by Saint Anthony, which might seem to be Wilde’s own voice imprinted in the book, were only reasons why the writer wished to have an access to Flaubert’s work.

Rather than struggling with temptations, it seems more likely that Wilde, a widely known dandy and a great admirer of the beauty, would be suffocating in the horrible reality of his existence in the prison as he was deprived of all that he could not exist without. Thus, one could imagine that, not unlike Des Esseintes in À rebours, Wilde would be searching for a possibility not only to enter “into complete intellectual communion” with Flaubert or, perhaps, even Saint Anthony, but also “soar up, more so than with other books, high above this petty existence of which he was so weary.” (Huysmans 146) The Temptation of Saint Anthony for Wilde would be also a means to escape the death of his own imagination and emotional world that he might have been feeling insistently creeping closer. One can easily imagine that Wilde would be able to channel the thoughts of Des Esseintes during the ventriloquist’s performance of the dialogue between the Chimera and the Sphinx: “It was to him that this voice, as mysterious as an incantation, was speaking; it was to him that it was describing its feverish craving after the unknown its unattained ideal, its need to escape the horrible reality of existence, to pass beyond the confines of thought, to cast about, without ever arriving at a certainty, in the misty reaches that lie beyond art!” (Ibid 88-89)

It seems that it would be Des Esseintes, the character that “poisoned” Dorian Grey, which would perfectly verbalize Wilde’s relationship to The Temptation of Saint Anthony: “in reading them [such books as The Temptation of Saint Anthony], he who had engendered them, because they had then been in a spiritual state analogous to his own. Indeed, when the period in which a man of talent is condemned to live is dull and stupid, the artist is haunted, unknowingly perhaps, by a yearning for a different era. —He recalls memories of beings and things, which he personally has never known, and the time comes when he breaks violently out of his prison of his century” and wander “in complete freedom in a different period with which – as an ultimate self-deception – he imagines he would have been more in harmony.” (Ibid 147)


Hyde, Harford Montgomery. The Trials of Oscar Wilde. New York: Dover Publications, 1962.

Other texts cited are the ones that are used in our class.

Decay, privation, indulgence and imagination in “Against Nature” and “The Temptation of Saint Anthony”

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Both Anthony and Des Esseintes exchange the comforts and pleasures of normal existences for the privation of a solitary life. In place of the decay that surrounds them–what they perceive as an overindulgence of the senses–they choose salutary asceticism. But although they deny themselves pleasures of the body, the imagination is unfettered. In Des Esseintes’ case, this is by design: he thinks the pleasures of the city, his prior bibulousness and lecherousness, to be tawdry and decadent. In the isolation of his hermitage more refined and valuable pleasure, that brought about by dint of the imagination, can be achieved. Anthony’s isolation, though, is undertaken with the purpose of denying himself all pleasure. He cannot establish a hierarchy of pleasures in the manner of Des Esseintes because he is of the mind that pleasure itself is decadent. Des Esseintes eschewed the indulgences of Paris for a purer pleasure, but Anthony sequesters himself so that he might escape all comforts–those both of the body and the imagination. But in both instances, an argument can be made that the only exchange present is not that of decay for enrichment, probity, or whatever can be understood as the antithesis of decay, but that of one form of decay, wanton indulgence of the senses, for another, what Hilarion calls the “banquets, perfumes, naked women, and […] applause of multitudes” generated by the imagination.

Travel, Des Esseintes, believes, is “pointless” (Huysmans 18). Why leave the house when a richer, more fulfilling experience of travel could be achieved via the imagination? Instead of the “vulgar reality of actual experience,” Des Esseintes chooses “imaginary pleasures in every respect similar to the real ones” (Huysmans 18, 19). The implication here, of course, is that what Des Esseintes calls the “reality of actual experience” is a decadent indulgence: the pleasure of this sort of experience is that from which Des Esseintes flees. The alternative he espouses, the employment of the imagination, he holds up as the purer, correct method of achieving pleasure. His plight, however, suggests that the indulging of the imagination is no less decadent than the indulging of the body and its senses. Des Esseintes is, after all, concerned only with himself in much the same way he was before rejecting a life of debauchery. In his hermitage he indulges his intellect and imagination; in Paris he indulged his lust. In both cases decay is the result.

At least in the eyes of Hilarion, Anthony too fails to escape the decay of overindulgence. He has removed himself to the top of a mountain where he lives with the most extreme abstemiousness–all but the necessities for existence have been given to the poor and others in need–and so has accomplished a state of privation far more complete than Des Esseintes, who lives in comparative luxury. And yet according to Hilarion, Anthony’s imagination offers him splendor; he is a “hypocrite” whose “chastity is but a more subtle form of corruption” (Flaubert 48). Anthony holds that “man must retreat from material thing” and that “all action is degrading,” but Hilarion sees it differently. Anthony is dissatisfied with the world but his only response to is retreat to a lonely hut. Instead of confronting the world’s decay, Anthony removes himself to the solitude of his imagination. This, Hilarion seems to think, is another form of decay: the decay of being human. How can Anthony “repel the caress of a dog” or “frown upon the smile of a child?” (Flaubert 48). The world beckons, but Anthony arranges himself so that the only world he encounters is his own. As is the case in “Against Nature,” the trajectory of events suggests that to reject one form of decay is to invite the arrival of another. Decay is natural and necessary.


-BPB (640)


The Multiplicity of Language in Temptation of St. Anthony

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While the Decadent novels we have read so far have celebrated multiplicity in a variety of ways (Rachilde’s gender inversions; Des Esseintes’ synaesthetic experiences; Dorian Gray’s self-conception as a “multiform creature”), Flaubert’s Saint Anthony grapples with it in an effort to distinguish the real from the illusory. Anthony associates artifice with Satan, as when he asserts his imperviousness to temptation: “Besides, do I not know all his [Satan’s] artifices?” (18). Similarly, Anthony attributes his visions at the end of Part I to a “strange play of light,” and Flaubert describes them as “images” and “paintings” (22). By contrast, Anthony considers the divine to be the real, drawing a distinction between the illusions of Satan and the miracles of God. (Interestingly, Anthony at one point seems to equate miracles with the scientific manipulation of nature, when he attributes Solomon’s resistance of the Queen of Sheba to his knowledge of science (17).)

Yet, Anthony’s distinction between miracles and illusions begins to break down as he experiences more visions. When Anthony suddenly sees a feast appear in front of him, he thinks of Jesus’ miraculous production of loaves and fish, directly associating an illusion with a miracle: “‘Instead of one which was there, lo! there are many!…It must be a miracle, then, the same as our Lord wrought!’” (25). Although he then recognizes the feast as an illusion, he is deceived by the seemingly miraculous cup, which continuously generates more and more gold and jewels (26-27). Even Anthony’s speech becomes infected with the multiplicity of the never-ending pile of jewels:

What! how! Staters, cycles, dariacs, aryandics! Alexander, Demetrius, the Ptolemies, Caesar!—yet not one of them all possessed so much! Nothing is now impossible! no more suffering for me! how these gleams dazzle my eyes! Ah! my heart overflows! how delightful it is! yes—yes!—more yet! never could there be enough! Vainly I might continually fling it into the sea, there would always be plenty remaining for me. Why should I lose any of it? I will keep all, and say nothing to any one about it; I will have a chamber hollowed out for me in the rock, and lined with plates of bronze, and I will come here from time to time to feel the gold sinking down under the weight of my heel; I will plunge my arms into it as into sacks of grain. I will rub my face with it, I will lie down upon it! (27)

Just as the cup continuously produces more and more jewels, Anthony spouts out repetitions of the same words and phrases. “Staters, cycles, dariacs, aryandics!” merely lists various names of coins; “Alexander, Demetrius, the Ptolemies, Caesar!” similarly lists various rulers. In both cases, each addition to the list does not add meaning but rather provides an empty effect of crazed multiplication. When Anthony asserts, “Vainly I might continually fling it into the sea, there would always be plenty remaining for me,” he might as well be referring to his reserve of effusive but empty phrases as to his pile of gold. By the end of the outburst, his thoughts extend in one elongated sentence, as if his phrases multiply to the point where it seems like the sentence will never end (“I will keep all…into sacks of grain”). Yet, just as the cup only produces illusory gold, the multiplication of Anthony’s language produces a frenzied rant rather than anything substantive or meaningful.

The multiplicity of language relates to Anthony’s later vision of the queen of Sheba. In contrast to Anthony’s prior visions, which either featured illusory objects or experiences described in narration (i.e. when he becomes Nebuchadnezzar), the queen of Sheba is a named character in the narrative who speaks and takes action. In a sense, she seems more “real” than the other illusions due to her aesthetic presence as a character. Furthermore, she herself provides descriptions that rival those of the narration, as when she describes her domain (40-42). The queen of Sheba wields language to entice Anthony, creating an imaginary world out of her description.

She even claims that she herself can change form: “All the women thou hast ever met…all the imaginations of thy desire thou hast only to ask for them! I am not a woman: I am a world” (42). With this declaration, she seems to announce herself as a product of language, a changeable and multiple entity. Indeed, we know that she is a product of language, in the sense that she is an illusion on par with the narrated illusion about Nebuchadnezzar.  Yet, then we must question how to distinguish her from Anthony himself, or any of the creations inhabiting Flaubert’s novel. Are there levels of ontology within the text, or does this question merely point to the artificiality of the novel itself? However, if we register some discomfort at the idea that the queen of Sheba is just as “real” as Anthony, then we should also begin to think about how we distinguish our own ontology from that of the fictional characters. Just as the distinction between the miraculous and the illusory breaks down, the multiplicity of language potentially blurs the distinction between the real and the aesthetic.


Word Count: 872

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The Temptation of Saint Anthony–presentation

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Life of Flaubert

Gustave Flaubert was born on December 12th 1821 to Achille-Cleophas Flaubert, a distinguished doctor, and Anne Justine Caroline. He grew up in Rouen in Northern France. In 1841 he was sent against his will to study law in Paris but it was there he began to make influential friends and move in literary circles, which stimulated his writing. He never married and it is likely that his relationship with the poet Louise Colet, which lasted from 1846 to 1854 was his only serious romantic relationship. Flaubert died on May 8th 1880 probably as a result of his syphilis.

Epilepsy or Religious Vision?

One night in 1844 Flaubert was riding in a cabriolet with his brother and another cabriolet was approaching them from down the road. As the other cabriolet passed an inn on the side of the road their bright lights crossed and Flaubert, upon seeing this was overcome by an extreme attack. He described it “like being swept away in a torrent of flames…sudden lightning…an instantaneous irruption of memory…a letting go of its entire contents…it seems like everything in your head is going off at once like a thousand fireworks (Wall 79).” Flaubert’s family hoped this was a one-time scare but over the course of the next two weeks he experienced four further attacks. Considering what we know today it is likely that Flaubert suffered from epilepsy, but medical knowledge of the day could not identify the cause of Flaubert’s attacks. In any case, Flaubert would not have approved of attaching a medical explanation to his malady. He called these instances his “nervous attacks” and once he realized he could survive them he began to experiment with his condition and it prompted in him an affinity for extreme varieties of religious experience and ecstatic visions.  He claimed to have experienced genuine mystical experiences at various stages of his life. Concerning these hallucinations he said, “On my great days of sunshine I have sometimes glimpsed a state of the soul superior to life itself and for which glory would be irrelevant and happiness itself of no consequence (Unwin 10).” Given the significance Flaubert lends to religious mystical hallucinations, it is no surprise that this is the premise for The Temptation.

Sexual Exploits

For health reasons, Flaubert retired to his family home in Le Croisset, a suburb of Rouen, and he supposedly lived quietly and devoted himself to writing to the point where he was known as the Hermit of Croisset. But Flaubert was also one of the best-travelled men of his generation and he practiced “sexual tourism.” He documented his travels in the Middle East from 1849-1851 and he described his sexual exploits there in his letters to his friend Louis Bouihlet. The coarseness with which he talks about these intimate experiences is shocking and reflects his grotesque, carnal and physical view of life. It is believed that it was during this time that he contracted syphilis.

The Writing of The Temptation of Saint Anthony

 The Temptation of Saint Anthony                                              The Temptation cover (1895).jpg

The inspiration for The Temptation most likely comes from a painting Flaubert saw by Breugel depicting the temptations of Saint Anthony. It is said that nothing else in the museum interested him but that painting completely fascinated him. Another more humble inspiration for The Temptation is that as a child Flaubert used to attend a sort of puppet show depicting the life of Saint Anthony.

Flaubert finished the first manuscript of The Temptation in 1849, which he read to his friends Maxime Du Camp and Louis Bouilhet who subsequently advised him to throw it into the fire and forget about it. He worked on the second version in 1856 after he finished Madame Bovary. In the second version Flaubert made some changes to the first version, shortened it and made it less romantic but it was virtually the same work. He would have published it then but he was afraid of experiencing the same backlash he had received from Madame Bovary. In 1857, after Madame Bovary was published, Flaubert and his publisher were tried for an “outrage to public morals and religion.” Even though the case was finally acquitted the enmity and misunderstanding Flaubert experienced left him disenchanted. So Flaubert put down The Temptation again and began writing Salammbo. The third version of The Temptation, which he published in 1974 while he was writing Bouvard et Pechuhet, was entirely rewritten and had been reduced to a third of the size of the first work. It was a lot less romantic and emotional and much more intellectual and abstract. Some significant changes include a pig which was Anthony’s companion in the first two versions but was cut out of the third version and the description of a Greek landscape in the beginning of the third version which isn’t in the other two versions.

The Temptation essentially represents Flaubert’s unattainable dream of what he wanted his works to be- silky, supple, delicate, spontaneous, harmoniously revealed through rapturous phrases, but also what they must never be if they were to see the light of day. Although The Temptation was eventually published it is likely that Flaubert really viewed it as a personal work for his own benefit. The Temptation existed before any of Flaubert’s other essential works and it was repeated as a kind of ritual purification exercise, a temptation to overcome before each of his major texts. It is suspended over all his works. It possesses all the excess imagery and somber prose and abundance that he had to repress in his other texts for the sake of clarity. Flaubert said about The Temptation, “I plunged furiously into Saint Anthony and began to enjoy the most terrifying exaltation. I have never been more excited (Bloom 46).”

Flaubert and Religion

Flaubert had a somewhat cruel outlook on human folly and failure but he saw it as a way of better perceiving emotions and states of mind without sentimentality to contaminate it. He maintained the uniqueness of every emotion and sensation and he thought it was his duty to apprehend these things attentively and alertly.

Given the contemplative ascetic dimension to his approach it is not surprising that there is a mystic quality to his writing. He was fascinated with religion and even though he didn’t believe in god he transferred the idea of mystical contemplation to his writing as an alternative. The 19th century saw the general disenchantment with religion but Flaubert’s work is filled with saints, monks and mystics, and the history of religion. For Flaubert, modern life used the quest for eternal transcendent truth to replace the quest for god.

This complicated relationship that Flaubert had with religion can be seen by the way he approaches religion in The Temptation. He cites many biblical inconsistencies that are starting points for the widespread undermining of religious authority but he also shows respect for the religious perspective in general for the way it offers entry into a world that enhances every day reality.

There are also clear similarities and differences between Flaubert and Saint Anthony. Flaubert gives Saint Anthony many of his own doubts and beliefs and both Saint Antony and Flaubert have the capacity for heightened imaginary experience, which is both glorious and monstrous. Saint Anthony was a man of deep faith who had much to lose. Flaubert had nothing to lose because he had no faith. Flaubert wanted to make Anthony reach the position, which he found himself in, of utter and complete skepticism where he could come to no conclusion, therefore, the final temptation is the longing for ultimate truth.

Flaubert and his Critics

Critics focus on Flaubert’s misanthropy, and they say that his fascination with stupidity and grotesqueness contaminates his art. Flaubert has a pretty cruel outlook on human folly compared to the optimistic prose of the time. Nineteenth century French literature is a period of great epics, which on a whole describe the ascent of mankind and were inspired by a fundamentally positive attitude towards humanity, but Flaubert wished to denigrate man and reveal his weaknesses. He wanted to show how man has always been ignorant and blinded by his vanity when in actually there was nothing stable and therefore man was doomed to fail. The Temptation of Saint Anthony might have been a response to the quest for totalitarianism that was an obsession in France at the time and through The Temptation Flaubert demonstrated the absurdity of this view and also the degree to which writing was a personal enterprise for him. Not surprisingly, this made people uncomfortable and Flaubert was described by Henry James as “almost insanely excessive (Unwin 16).”

Other critics thought Flaubert’s writing was a boring and monotonous succession of grotesques. Maxime Du Camp said ““We listened to the words of the sphinx, the chimera, the queen of Sheba, of Simon the magician…A bewildered, somewhat simpleminded, and, I would even say, foolish Saint Anthony sees, parading before him, different forms of temptation (Bloom 46).” But Flaubert’s friends were enthralled by the book citing its “richness of his visions” (François Coppee), its forests of shadows and light” (Victor Hugo) and its “hallucinatory mechanism” (Hippolyte Taine) (Bloom 46).

Flaubert’s Ambiguities

Flaubert held art at supreme value, yet he mused that art might be no more than a joke or a harmless obsession without meaning. His writings put into question the novelist’s apparent judgments on the world and he writes in such a way as to challenge the very novelistic authority upon which his narrative depends.

The paradoxical nature of Flaubert’s writings can be found in his uncompromising attempt to raise creativity to a higher plane but also the ambivalence that was the defining characteristic of his stance as a writer.

Flaubert’s cult of impersonality ran counter to contemporary expectation that works of literature should reveal its author’s opinions and personality. His writing was a strategic activity designed to accommodate the ambiguity of his position.

Discussion questions:

1. “It was by my order that this multitude of holy retreats was constructed…I have cured the sick from far off; I have cast out demons; I have passed the river in the midst of crocodiles; the Emperor Constantine wrote me three letters….But what works have I not accomplished! For thirty years and more I have been dwelling and groaning unceasingly in the desert! Assuredly there is no human being in a condition of such unutterable misery! (Flaubert, 18)”

How does Flaubert view Saint Anthony? Does he see Saint Anthony as admirable or pathetic? There are many similarities and differences between Flaubert and Saint Anthony so does Flaubert see himself in Saint Anthony or is he mocking him?

2. “He extends his hand to seize the loaf. Other loaves immediately present themselves to his grasp. For me!…all these! But… Anthony suddenly draws back. Instead of one which was there, lo! There are many!…It must be a miracle, then, the same as our lord wrought!…Yet for what purpose? Ah! All the rest of these things are equally incomprehensible! Demon, begone from me! Depart! Begone! He kicks the table from him. It disappears. (Flaubert, 25)

How is Anthony so sure at this point that these visions are from the devil who is out to get him? Why can’t the appearance of fresh bread be perceived as a miracle for someone who has shown devotion to god? As opposed to some of the temptations Saint Anthony sees later, there is nothing wrong with eating loaves of bread. Anthony is a holy man yet he rejects the idea that a miracle would be bestowed upon him. What does this say about his mindset and his relationship with religion that he is so sure the bread is a trick and not a miracle?

3. “He rushes into his cabin and seizes a bunch of things with metallic hooks attached to their ends, strips himself to the waist, and, lifting his eyes to heaven, exclaims:

Accept my penance, O my God: disdain it not for its feebleness. Render it sharp, prolonged, excessive! It is time, indeed!—to the work!

He gives himself a vigorous lash—and shrieks.

No! no!—without mercy it must be.

He recommences (Flaubert, 35).”

What is the purpose of Flaubert’s writing style, of Saint Anthony’s narration spliced by third person narration? Why does Flaubert use the structure of a play, utilizing divisions into dialogues and scenes, scene descriptions and blocking directions, if there was never any indication that he intended it to be performed? What does he gain from using this style and how does this style effect our perception or understanding of The Temptation?

4. “Anthony, from afar off, reads all these thoughts upon his brow. They penetrate his brain, and he becomes Nebuchadnezzar…He feels a sudden pain in his hand—a pebble has accidentally wounded him—and he finds himself once more in front of his cabin (Flaubert, 34)”

“He flings down the torch in order to embrace the glittering heap, and falls flat upon the ground. He rises to his feet. The place is wholly empty (Flaubert, 27).”

What causes Saint Anthony to snap out of his hallucinations? When he becomes Nebuchadnezzar and subsequently turns into a beast it is a pebble that pierces his hand that causes him to awake from the reverie and he finds himself back in front of his cabin. When the gold and jewels start pouring out of the cup he is brought back to reality when he falls. Is it just by accident that these hallucinations end or is there significance to the points at which he returns back to reality? Is there a common theme to the seemingly incidental occurrences that jolt him out of his hallucinations?

5. “Hypocrite! Burying thyself in solitude only in order the more fully to abandon thyself to the indulgence of thy envious desires…Thy chastity is but a more subtle form of corruption, and thy contempt of this world is but the impotence of thy hatred against it! (Flaubert, 48)”

How does Flaubert’s approach to religion compare to the Huysmans’ or Wilde’s? Huysmans and Wilde seem to consider religion as a path to decadence but Flaubert seems to see religion and decadence in irreconcilable tension, their ideals being completely opposing.


Bloom, Harold. Gustave Flaubert. New York: Chelsea House, 1989. Print.

Flaubert, Gustave, Lafcadio Hearn, Michel Foucault, and Marshall C. Olds. The Temptation of St. Anthony. New York: Modern Library, 2001. Print.

Starkie, Enid. Flaubert: The Master; a Critical and Biographical Study (1856-1880). New York: Atheneum, 1971. Print.

Unwin, Timothy A. The Cambridge Companion to Flaubert. New York: Cambridge UP, 2004. Print.

Wall, Geoffrey. Flaubert. Barcelona: Paidós, 2003. Print.