The serious innocence in a young girl’s face on an ancient postcard reminded us of poor disregarded Félicité in Flaubert’s short story ‘A simple heart’ or ‘Le coeur simple’:
“For half a century the housewives of Pont-l’Évêque had envied Madame Aubain her servant Félicité.
For a hundred francs a year, she cooked and did the housework, washed, ironed, mended, harnessed the horse, fattened the poultry, made the butter and remained faithful to her mistress–although the latter was by no means an agreeable person.”
So very begins Gustave Flaubert’s sublime tale of love and endurance in Normandy, in which we follow the tragic Félicité. Her capacity for love is infinite yet never returned.
Unwanted for herself she suffers, until she finally experiences a pure joy that would be incomprehensible to those around her.
The short but passionate life of Gustave Flaubert
A thousand reviews and numerous biographies have poured over Gustave’s life, his letters, his friends letters and even the meaning of his parrot.
They can describe and suggest but no-one is exactly sure how a man who led an apparently bourgeois life, with polished silver on the table and the leisure to become a ‘man of letters’, came to write about the human condition with such exquisite clarity.
Gustave never relies on mawkish sentimentality to move his readers, he chooses to quietly describe actions and the effects of those actions. Through these truths he uncovers the casual corruption, the unrewarded hero and the thoughtless lover in us all.
Perhaps only a broken heart could have written Madame Bovary and The Simple Heart. But it was poorly treated epilepsy and syphilis that killed him.
Just three years after completing the story of Félicité, on 8 May 1880 Gustave died. He was 58.
Pont-l’Évêque is now rarely the end of a journey. Major roads meet and turn to Caen,
Lisieux, Rouen and Deauville, the big blue signs for Pont-l’Évêque announcing ‘we are almost there’.
An old postcard of St Michael’s church gave us a welcome excuse to stop and look around.
Our match suggests a misleading lack of change. The church is currently undergoing a refresh. However photos inside the church (below) reveal just how much restoration was needed after 1944.
Once the focus of intense battles and exhausting bravery after D-Day, Pont-l’Évêque is again the tidy home of house-proud Normans frequenting the boulanger on Rue Saint-Michel.
There is a feeling of quiet industry that Félicité would recognise behind the cheerfully painted timber houses and the magnificent floral displays that decorate Place Jean Bureau.
Pont-l’Évêque is also of course the home to a rather famous cheese, probably the oldest Norman cheese still being made.
Known for hundreds of years as Angelot (angel) fromage Pont-l’Évêque is a delicious, creamy and aromatic speciality of the region…
It is better tasted than described, we strongly suggest you hunt some down.
- Here is a useful link to read about the DSO citation for Lt Col Luard, for the capture of Pont-l’Évêque in 1944.