Gustave Flaubert

Novelists should thank Flaubert the way poets thank spring: it all begins again with him. There is really a time before Flaubert and a time after him. Flaubert decisively established what most readers and writers think of as modern realist narration, and this influence is almost too familiar to be visible. We hardly remark of good prose that it favors the telling and brillant detail; that it privileges a high degree of visual noticing; that it maintains an unsentimental composure and knows how to withdraw, like a good valet, from superfluous commentary; that it judges good and bad neutrally; that it seeks out the truth, even at the cost of repelling us; and that the autor’s fingerprint on all this are, paradoxically, traceable but not visible. You can find some of this in Defoe or Austen or Balzac, but not all of it until Flaubert.

James Wood: How Fiction Works

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