Reading questions: Flaubert, The Temptation of Saint Anthony

  1. Gustave Flaubert’s works (especially The Temptation of Saint Anthony and his historical novel Salammbô) demonstrated for Wilde the potency of vivid literary representations of eroticism couched in terms of metaphysical longings, fears, and fantasies, creating imagery that fused sensuality and even sexual lust with a desire of the divine, and vice versa.  Pay special attention to the ways in which erotic and religious imagery merge in this novel, and how asceticism is presented.
  2. What do you think about the form of this text (often described as a prose poem or prose play, but really a mixture of play, novel, poetry)?  What are its various stylistic elements–including the many visual descriptions–and how are they mixed, combined, and paced here, and what is the overall effect of this mixture on you as a reader?
  3. Make sure you look up some information on Saint Anthony.  What (about Saint Anthony) seems to have captured Flaubert’s imagination here, and how does he present the saint (as well as his “temptation[s]”)?
  4. How can this hybrid text be seen as participating in the cultural and literary discourse of decadence we’ve been considering throughout the course?
  5. How would you compare the representation of and play with a religious topic in this text, as compared to other texts we’ve read in the course, e.g. Against Nature, Monsieur Vénus, Baudelaire’s poetry (and later on in the course, Wilde’s Salomé)?
  6. Find at least one passage that has impressed or interested you, and be prepared to talk about it in class this week.  (Voluntary, but an excellent conversation and participation starter, especially for those of you who are more on the quiet side in class.)

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