Flaubert’s Mad Saints: the Blood Lust of Saint Antoine and Saint Julien l’Hospitalier

I’d like to compare two hagiographic-esque Flaubert tales and their main characters. There is of course Saint Antoine and his temptation that we read in class, but there is also another saint that Flaubert describes in similar terms: Saint Julien. Although La légende de saint Julien l’hospitalier and La tentation de saint Antoine vary completely in style from each other, there is one instance that is eerily reminiscent of the other. The legend of Saint Julien represents an extremely problematic young man; cursed at a young age by an Oedipal prophecy; Julien leaves his family home for fear of killing his parents. Julien is psychologically unstable and dangerous, however there is no mention of this in the original hagiography of the saint. Flaubert assigns Julien (a true historical figure but also his character) an insatiable blood lust. Julien hunts animals with fury, and is famously represented in Flaubert’s climactic scene surrounded by “trembling [animals] with a look of appeal in their eyes, they gathered around Julian, but he did not stop slaying them; and so intent was he on stretching his bow, drawing his sword and whipping out his knife, that he had little thought for aught else.” (Saint Julien). We can juxtapose this with Antoine who meets “[…] all of his enemies one after another. He recognizes people whom he had forgotten.  Before killing them, he outrages them. He rips them open, cuts their throats, knocks them down, drags the old men by their beards, runs over children, and beats those who are wounded.” After Antoine has gone on a sickening killing spree we then see him gruesomely “steeped [in blood] up to his middle. He steps into it, sucks it up with his lips, and quivers with joy at feelings it on his limbs and under his hard, which is quite wet with it.” (Saint Antoine). What can we make of these mad saints?

We spoke today in class of Flaubert’s “psychological realism” or what he calls “psychic projection”, in other words the state of being outside of oneself. It is a “a defense mechanism that attributes one’s own shameful feelings to being outside oneself.” (Flaubert Encyclopedia 79) We can then attribute to both Antoine and Julien instances of psychic projections—hallucinations and behaviors that are extensions of their own personalities. Flaubert is exploring his characters unconscious as he is so famously known for doing. Can we attribute Flaubert’s own psychological issues to the way his characters act? Do these episodes of fury and madness derive from his own epileptic episodes, which some scholars determined were hysteric? One thing is sure, Flaubert represents saints in a totally backwards way than what a modern Christian society would expect. This is obviously Flaubert’s personal dialectic choice within his text and pertaining to his characters, but why make such a choice? Why take men of god and make them psychologically deranged?

-MCR

The stained glass window in the Cathédrale de Rouen that inspired Flaubert to write his “Trois Contes” This one specifically is St. Julien:

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Filed under Week 7 reviews: Flaubert, Temptation of Saint Anthony

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