Yesterday evening, in the backyard, elbow-deep in the Mexican sage and yellow daylilies, this sentence returns to me:
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.
Besides its grace and effortlessness, there’s another aspect worth considering, namely, what it doesn’t represent. Flaubert says nothing at all about Felicite striding down a path or a street to church, yet we perceptive readers, see her gliding through town, as if Flaubert describes the cobblestone street upon which she walks. He says nothing at all about Felicite stepping smartly through the house, first taking care of this chore, then that. Yet we insightful readers see her boiling water, snapping sheets, and sweeping floors, as if Flaubert were penning verbs for the giddy pleasure of it. And he says nothing at all about the hearth, yet we richly imaginative readers, with eyes behind our eyes, know it’s sootlessly and spotlessly clean — I wager my parrot on it! Now, I know that “realism” has many different meanings. But under at least one conception, Flaubert, the great modern realist, is still wholly subject to Georgia O’Keefe’s motto.
Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only be selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things.