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Produced by Dagny, John Bickers and David Widger


By Gustave Flaubert


For half a century the housewives of Pont-l'Eveque had envied Madame
Aubain her servant Felicite.

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.

Madame Aubain had married a comely youth without any money, who died in
the beginning of 1809, leaving her with two young children and a number
of debts. She sold all her property excepting the farm of Toucques and
the farm of Geffosses, the income of which barely amounted to 5,000
francs; then she left her house in Saint-Melaine, and moved into a less
pretentious one which had belonged to her ancestors and stood back of
the market-place. This house, with its slate-covered roof, was built
between a passage-way and a narrow street that led to the river. The
interior was so unevenly graded that it caused people to stumble. A
narrow hall separated the kitchen from the parlour, where Madame Aubain
sat all day in a straw armchair near the window. Eight mahogany chairs
stood in a row against the white wainscoting. An old piano, standing
beneath a barometer, was covered with a pyramid of old books and boxes.
On either side of the yellow marble mantelpiece, in Louis XV. style,
stood a tapestry armchair. The clock represented a temple of Vesta;
and the whole room smelled musty, as it was on a lower level than the

On the first floor was Madame's bed-chamber, a large room papered in a
flowered design and containing the portrait of Monsieur dressed in the
costume of a dandy. It communicated with a smaller room, in which there
were two little cribs, without any mattresses. Next, came the parlour
(always closed), filled with furniture covered with sheets. Then a hall,
which led to the study, where books and papers were piled on the shelves
of a book-case that enclosed three quarters of the big black desk.
Two panels were entirely hidden under pen-and-ink sketches, Gouache
landscapes and Audran engravings, relics of better times and vanished
luxury. On the second floor, a garret-window lighted Felicite's room,
which looked out upon the meadows.

She arose at daybreak, in order to attend mass, and she worked without
interruption until night; then, when dinner was over, the dishes cleared
away and the door securely locked, she would bury the log under the
ashes and fall asleep in front of the hearth with a rosary in her hand.
Nobody could bargain with greater obstinacy, and as for cleanliness,
the lustre on her brass sauce-pans was the envy and despair of other
servants. She was most economical, and when she ate she would gather up
crumbs with the tip of her finger, so that nothing should be wasted of
the loaf of bread weighing twelve pounds which was baked especially for
her and lasted three weeks.

Summer and winter she wore a dimity kerchief fastened in the back with a
pin, a cap which concealed her hair, a red skirt, grey stockings, and an
apron with a bib like those worn by hospital nurses.

Her face was thin and her voice shrill. When she was twenty-five, she
looked forty. After she had passed fifty, nobody could tell her
age; erect and silent always, she resembled a wooden figure working


Like every other woman, she had had an affair of the heart. Her father,
who was a mason, was killed by falling from a scaffolding. Then her
mother died and her sisters went their different ways; a farmer took her
in, and while she was quite small, let her keep cows in the fields. She
was clad in miserable rags, beaten for the slightest offence and finally
dismissed for a theft of thirty sous which she did not commit. She took
service on another farm where she tended the poultry; and as she was
well thought of by her master, her fellow-workers soon grew jealous.

One evening in August (she was then eighteen years old), they persuaded
her to accompany them to the fair at Colleville. She was immediately
dazzled by the noise, the lights in the trees, the brightness of the
dresses, the laces and gold crosses, and the crowd of people all
hopping at the same time. She was standing modestly at a distance, when
presently a young man of well-to-do appearance, who had been leaning on
the pole of a wagon and smoking his pipe, approached her, and asked her
for a dance. He treated her to cider and cake, bought her a silk shawl,
and then, thinking she had guessed his purpose, offered to see her home.
When they came to the end of a field he threw her down brutally. But she
grew frightened and screamed, and he walked off.

One evening, on the road leading to Beaumont, she came upon a wagon
loaded with hay, and when she overtook it, she recognised Theodore. He
greeted her calmly, and asked her to forget what had happened between
them, as it "was all the fault of the drink."

She did not know what to reply and wished to run away.

Presently he began to speak of the harvest and of the notables of the
village; his father had left Colleville and bought the farm of Les
Ecots, so that now they would be neighbours. "Ah!" she exclaimed. He
then added that his parents were looking around for a wife for him, but
that he, himself, was not so anxious and preferred to wait for a girl
who suited him. She hung her head. He then asked her whether she had
ever thought of marrying. She replied, smilingly, that it was wrong of
him to make fun of her. "Oh! no, I am in earnest," he said, and put his
left arm around her waist while they sauntered along. The air was soft,
the stars were bright, and the huge load of hay oscillated in front of
them, drawn by four horses whose ponderous hoofs raised clouds of dust.
Without a word from their driver they turned to the right. He kissed her
again and she went home. The following week, Theodore obtained meetings.

They met in yards, behind walls or under isolated trees. She was not
ignorant, as girls of well-to-do families are - for the animals had
instructed her; - but her reason and her instinct of honour kept her from
falling. Her resistance exasperated Theodore's love and so in order
to satisfy it (or perchance ingenuously), he offered to marry her. She
would not believe him at first, so he made solemn promises. But, in a
short time he mentioned a difficulty; the previous year, his parents had
purchased a substitute for him; but any day he might be drafted and the
prospect of serving in the army alarmed him greatly. To Felicite his
cowardice appeared a proof of his love for her, and her devotion to him
grew stronger. When she met him, he would torture her with his fears and
his entreaties. At last, he announced that he was going to the prefect
himself for information, and would let her know everything on the
following Sunday, between eleven o'clock and midnight.

When the time grew near, she ran to meet her lover.

But instead of Theodore, one of his friends was at the meeting-place.

He informed her that she would never see her sweetheart again; for,
in order to escape the conscription, he had married a rich old woman,
Madame Lehoussais, of Toucques.

The poor girl's sorrow was frightful. She threw herself on the ground,
she cried and called on the Lord, and wandered around desolately until
sunrise. Then she went back to the farm, declared her intention of
leaving, and at the end of the month, after she had received her
wages, she packed all her belongings in a handkerchief and started for

In front of the inn, she met a woman wearing widow's weeds, and upon
questioning her, learned that she was looking for a cook. The girl
did not know very much, but appeared so willing and so modest in her
requirements, that Madame Aubain finally said:

"Very well, I will give you a trial."

And half an hour later Felicite was installed in her house.

At first she lived in a constant anxiety that was caused by "the style
of the household" and the memory of "Monsieur," that hovered over
everything. Paul and Virginia, the one aged seven, and the other
barely four, seemed made of some precious material; she carried them
pig-a-back, and was greatly mortified when Madame Aubain forbade her to
kiss them every other minute.

But in spite of all this, she was happy. The comfort of her new
surroundings had obliterated her sadness.

Every Thursday, friends of Madame Aubain dropped in for a game of
cards, and it was Felicite's duty to prepare the table and heat the
foot-warmers. They arrived at exactly eight o'clock and departed before

Every Monday morning, the dealer in second-hand goods, who lived under
the alley-way, spread out his wares on the sidewalk. Then the city would
be filled with a buzzing of voices in which the neighing of horses, the
bleating of lambs, the grunting of pigs, could be distinguished, mingled
with the sharp sound of wheels on the cobble-stones. About twelve
o'clock, when the market was in full swing, there appeared at the front
door a tall, middle-aged peasant, with a hooked nose and a cap on the
back of his head; it was Robelin, the farmer of Geffosses. Shortly
afterwards came Liebard, the farmer of Toucques, short, rotund and
ruddy, wearing a grey jacket and spurred boots.

Both men brought their landlady either chickens or cheese. Felicite
would invariably thwart their ruses and they held her in great respect.

At various times, Madame Aubain received a visit from the Marquis de
Gremanville, one of her uncles, who was ruined and lived at Falaise on
the remainder of his estates. He always came at dinner-time and brought
an ugly poodle with him, whose paws soiled their furniture. In spite of
his efforts to appear a man of breeding (he even went so far as to raise
his hat every time he said "My deceased father"), his habits got the
better of him, and he would fill his glass a little too often and relate
broad stories. Felicite would show him out very politely and say: "You
have had enough for this time, Monsieur de Gremanville! Hoping to see
you again!" and would close the door.

She opened it gladly for Monsieur Bourais, a retired lawyer. His bald
head and white cravat, the ruffling of his shirt, his flowing brown
coat, the manner in which he took snuff, his whole person, in fact,
produced in her the kind of awe which we feel when we see extraordinary
persons. As he managed Madame's estates, he spent hours with her in
Monsieur's study; he was in constant fear of being compromised, had a
great regard for the magistracy and some pretensions to learning.

In order to facilitate the children's studies, he presented them with
an engraved geography which represented various scenes of the world;
cannibals with feather head-dresses, a gorilla kidnapping a young girl,
Arabs in the desert, a whale being harpooned, etc.

Paul explained the pictures to Felicite. And, in fact, this was her only
literary education.

The children's studies were under the direction of a poor devil employed
at the town-hall, who sharpened his pocket-knife on his boots and was
famous for his penmanship.

When the weather was fine, they went to Geffosses. The house was built
in the centre of the sloping yard; and the sea looked like a grey spot
in the distance. Felicite would take slices of cold meat from the lunch
basket and they would sit down and eat in a room next to the dairy. This
room was all that remained of a cottage that had been torn down.
The dilapidated wall-paper trembled in the drafts. Madame Aubain,
overwhelmed by recollections, would hang her head, while the children
were afraid to open their mouths. Then, "Why don't you go and play?"
their mother would say; and they would scamper off.

Paul would go to the old barn, catch birds, throw stones into the pond,
or pound the trunks of the trees with a stick till they resounded like
drums. Virginia would feed the rabbits and run to pick the wild flowers
in the fields, and her flying legs would disclose her little embroidered
pantalettes. One autumn evening, they struck out for home through the
meadows. The new moon illumined part of the sky and a mist hovered like
a veil over the sinuosities of the river. Oxen, lying in the pastures,
gazed mildly at the passing persons. In the third field, however,
several of them got up and surrounded them. "Don't be afraid," cried
Felicite; and murmuring a sort of lament she passed her hand over the
back of the nearest ox; he turned away and the others followed. But when
they came to the next pasture, they heard frightful bellowing.

It was a bull which was hidden from them by the fog. He advanced towards
the two women, and Madame Aubain prepared to flee for her life. "No,
no! not so fast," warned Felicite. Still they hurried on, for they could
hear the noisy breathing of the bull behind them. His hoofs pounded the
grass like hammers, and presently he began to gallop! Felicite turned
around and threw patches of grass in his eyes. He hung his head, shook
his horns and bellowed with fury. Madame Aubain and the children,
huddled at the end of the field, were trying to jump over the ditch.
Felicite continued to back before the bull, blinding him with dirt,
while she shouted to them to make haste.

Madame Aubain finally slid into the ditch, after shoving first Virginia
and then Paul into it, and though she stumbled several times she
managed, by dint of courage, to climb the other side of it.

The bull had driven Felicite up against a fence; the foam from
his muzzle flew in her face and in another minute he would have
disembowelled her. She had just time to slip between two bars and the
huge animal, thwarted, paused.

For years, this occurrence was a topic of conversation in Pont-l'Eveque.
But Felicite took no credit to herself, and probably never knew that she
had been heroic.

Virginia occupied her thoughts solely, for the shock she had sustained
gave her a nervous affection, and the physician, M. Poupart, prescribed
the salt-water bathing at Trouville. In those days, Trouville was
not greatly patronised. Madame Aubain gathered information, consulted
Bourais, and made preparations as if they were going on an extended

The baggage was sent the day before on Liebard's cart. On the following
morning, he brought around two horses, one of which had a woman's saddle
with a velveteen back to it, while on the crupper of the other was a
rolled shawl that was to be used for a seat. Madame Aubain mounted the
second horse, behind Liebard. Felicite took charge of the little
girl, and Paul rode M. Lechaptois' donkey, which had been lent for the
occasion on the condition that they should be careful of it.

The road was so bad that it took two hours to cover the eight miles.
The two horses sank knee-deep into the mud and stumbled into ditches;
sometimes they had to jump over them. In certain places, Liebard's mare
stopped abruptly. He waited patiently till she started again, and talked
of the people whose estates bordered the road, adding his own moral
reflections to the outline of their histories. Thus, when they
were passing through Toucques, and came to some windows draped with
nasturtiums, he shrugged his shoulders and said: "There's a woman,
Madame Lehoussais, who, instead of taking a young man - " Felicite could
not catch what followed; the horses began to trot, the donkey to gallop,
and they turned into a lane; then a gate swung open, two farm-hands
appeared and they all dismounted at the very threshold of the

Mother Liebard, when she caught sight of her mistress, was lavish with
joyful demonstrations. She got up a lunch which comprised a leg of
mutton, tripe, sausages, a chicken fricassee, sweet cider, a fruit tart
and some preserved prunes; then to all this the good woman added polite
remarks about Madame, who appeared to be in better health, Mademoiselle,
who had grown to be "superb," and Paul, who had become singularly
sturdy; she spoke also of their deceased grandparents, whom the Liebards
had known, for they had been in the service of the family for several

Like its owners, the farm had an ancient appearance. The beams of the
ceiling were mouldy, the walls black with smoke and the windows grey
with dust. The oak sideboard was filled with all sorts of utensils,
plates, pitchers, tin bowls, wolf-traps. The children laughed when they
saw a huge syringe. There was not a tree in the yard that did not have
mushrooms growing around its foot, or a bunch of mistletoe hanging in
its branches. Several of the trees had been blown down, but they had
started to grow in the middle and all were laden with quantities of
apples. The thatched roofs, which were of unequal thickness, looked like
brown velvet and could resist the fiercest gales. But the wagon-shed was
fast crumbling to ruins. Madame Aubain said that she would attend to it,
and then gave orders to have the horses saddled.

It took another thirty minutes to reach Trouville. The little caravan
dismounted in order to pass Les Ecores, a cliff that overhangs the bay,
and a few minutes later, at the end of the dock, they entered the yard
of the Golden Lamb, an inn kept by Mother David.

During the first few days, Virginia felt stronger, owing to the change
of air and the action of the sea-baths. She took them in her little
chemise, as she had no bathing suit, and afterwards her nurse dressed
her in the cabin of a customs officer, which was used for that purpose
by other bathers.

In the afternoon, they would take the donkey and go to the
Roches-Noires, near Hennequeville. The path led at first through
undulating grounds, and thence to a plateau, where pastures and tilled
fields alternated. At the edge of the road, mingling with the brambles,
grew holly bushes, and here and there stood large dead trees whose
branches traced zigzags upon the blue sky.

Ordinarily, they rested in a field facing the ocean, with Deauville on
their left, and Havre on their right. The sea glittered brightly in the
sun and was as smooth as a mirror, and so calm that they could scarcely
distinguish its murmur; sparrows chirped joyfully and the immense canopy
of heaven spread over it all. Madame Aubain brought out her sewing,
and Virginia amused herself by braiding reeds; Felicite wove lavender
blossoms, while Paul was bored and wished to go home.

Sometimes they crossed the Toucques in a boat, and started to hunt for
sea-shells. The outgoing tide exposed star-fish and sea-urchins, and the
children tried to catch the flakes of foam which the wind blew away. The
sleepy waves lapping the sand unfurled themselves along the shore that
extended as far as the eye could see, but where land began, it was
limited by the downs which separated it from the "Swamp," a large meadow
shaped like a hippodrome. When they went home that way, Trouville, on
the slope of a hill below, grew larger and larger as they advanced, and,
with all its houses of unequal height, seemed to spread out before them
in a sort of giddy confusion.

When the heat was too oppressive, they remained in their rooms. The
dazzling sunlight cast bars of light between the shutters. Not a sound
in the village, not a soul on the sidewalk. This silence intensified the
tranquility of everything. In the distance, the hammers of some calkers
pounded the hull of a ship, and the sultry breeze brought them an odour
of tar.

The principal diversion consisted in watching the return of the
fishing-smacks. As soon as they passed the beacons, they began to ply
to windward. The sails were lowered to one third of the masts, and with
their fore-sails swelled up like balloons they glided over the waves and
anchored in the middle of the harbour. Then they crept up alongside of
the dock and the sailors threw the quivering fish over the side of the
boat; a line of carts was waiting for them, and women with white caps
sprang forward to receive the baskets and embrace their men-folk.

One day, one of them spoke to Felicite, who, after a little while,
returned to the house gleefully. She had found one of her sisters, and
presently Nastasie Barette, wife of Leroux, made her appearance, holding
an infant in her arms, another child by the hand, while on her left was
a little cabin-boy with his hands in his pockets and his cap on his ear.

At the end of fifteen minutes, Madame Aubain bade her go.

They always hung around the kitchen, or approached Felicite when she
and the children were out walking. The husband, however, did not show

Felicite developed a great fondness for them; she bought them a stove,
some shirts and a blanket; it was evident that they exploited her.
Her foolishness annoyed Madame Aubain, who, moreover did not like the
nephew's familiarity, for he called her son "thou"; - and, as Virginia
began to cough and the season was over, she decided to return to

Monsieur Bourais assisted her in the choice of a college. The one at
Caen was considered the best. So Paul was sent away and bravely said
good-bye to them all, for he was glad to go to live in a house where he
would have boy companions.

Madame Aubain resigned herself to the separation from her son because
it was unavoidable. Virginia brooded less and less over it. Felicite
regretted the noise he made, but soon a new occupation diverted her
mind; beginning from Christmas, she accompanied the little girl to her
catechism lesson every day.


After she had made a curtsey at the threshold, she would walk up the
aisle between the double lines of chairs, open Madame Aubain's pew, sit
down and look around.

Girls and boys, the former on the right, the latter on the left-hand
side of the church, filled the stalls of the choir; the priest stood
beside the reading-desk; on one stained window of the side-aisle the
Holy Ghost hovered over the Virgin; on another one, Mary knelt before
the Child Jesus, and behind the altar, a wooden group represented Saint
Michael felling the dragon.

The priest first read a condensed lesson of sacred history. Felicite
evoked Paradise, the Flood, the Tower of Babel, the blazing cities,
the dying nations, the shattered idols; and out of this she developed a
great respect for the Almighty and a great fear of His wrath. Then, when
she had listened to the Passion, she wept. Why had they crucified Him
who loved little children, nourished the people, made the blind see, and
who, out of humility, had wished to be born among the poor, in a stable?
The sowings, the harvests, the wine-presses, all those familiar things
which the Scriptures mention, formed a part of her life; the word of God
sanctified them; and she loved the lambs with increased tenderness for
the sake of the Lamb, and the doves because of the Holy Ghost.

She found it hard, however, to think of the latter as a person, for was
it not a bird, a flame, and sometimes only a breath? Perhaps it is its
light that at night hovers over swamps, its breath that propels the
clouds, its voice that renders church-bells harmonious. And Felicite
worshipped devoutly, while enjoying the coolness and the stillness of
the church.

As for the dogma, she could not understand it and did not even try. The
priest discoursed, the children recited, and she went to sleep, only to
awaken with a start when they were leaving the church and their wooden
shoes clattered on the stone pavement.

In this way, she learned her catechism, her religious education having
been neglected in her youth; and thenceforth she imitated all Virginia's
religious practices, fasted when she did, and went to confession with
her. At the Corpus-Christi Day they both decorated an altar.

She worried in advance over Virginia's first communion. She fussed about
the shoes, the rosary, the book and the gloves. With what nervousness
she helped the mother dress the child!

During the entire ceremony, she felt anguished. Monsieur Bourais hid
part of the choir from view, but directly in front of her, the flock
of maidens, wearing white wreaths over their lowered veils, formed a
snow-white field, and she recognised her darling by the slenderness of
her neck and her devout attitude. The bell tinkled. All the heads bent
and there was a silence. Then, at the peals of the organ the singers
and the worshippers struck up the Agnes Dei; the boys' procession began;
behind them came the girls. With clasped hands, they advanced step by
step to the lighted altar, knelt at the first step, received one by one
the Host, and returned to their seats in the same order. When Virginia's

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