Gustave Flaubert (1821 to 1880-France) spent thirty years working on The Temptation of Saint Anthony before the final version was published in 1872, longer than any of his other works. His Madame Bovary (1857) is nearly always listed among the ten best novels of all times. I personally prefer his Sentimental Education (1869). His few short stories show a very different side of Flaubert and are must reading for lovers of that form.
As I began to work my way through The Temptation of Saint Anthony (as translated by M. Walter Dunne) my first reaction was "this is really a weird book" by a man truly obsessed with what he is writing about.
It was inspired by a painting Flaubert saw of the temptations suffered by a third century saint, an anchorite, who lived in complete isolation on a mountain top in Egypt. Written to a large extent as if it were a play, it depicts the fleshly temptations and the intellectual doubts that the devil sent to Anthony one night in the form of an incredible dream.
There are a lot of historical and religious references in this book. Flaubert, a Catholic, had his own issues and temptations and I think this book stems in part from that.
I really enjoyed The Temptations of Saint Anthony. It is not what you might expect of the author of Madame Bovary. I found it a wonderful almost compulsive work that I am glad I have now read. As I began to the book my first thought was "this is really a weird book". As I ended it my thought was "wow, weirder than it was at the start".
I hope in 2012 to reread Sentimental Education and read for the first time his novel set in Carthage, Salammbo.
Please share with us your experience with Flaubert, beyond Madame Bovary.