Abstract

Flaubert’s Parrot’s primary subject is Gustave Flaubert’s life story stripped of its canonical elements, projected from various points of view and reconstructed out of odd and often misleading evidence. It is as entertaining as it is caustic and as engrossing as it is transgressive. Yet, behind this fascinating story, posing as a parodic biography and subversive history, stands a mysterious narrator. His story may be glimpsed periodically in-between the off-key narratives of Flaubert’s life, yet little transpires beyond the mere rudiments of that plot. In my chapter I will attempt to read the narrator instead of reading his narrative. I will assume that Geoffrey Braithwaite, the narrator, has a particular purpose in his constant attempts to undermine the conventional biographies of the French writer, and the supposedly objective facts of his life. As it is common in Julian Barnes’s novels, rewritings undertaken by postmodern characters are closely linked with an effort to shift responsibility. Braithwaite conceals himself underneath his obsession with Flaubert, attempting to delete, rather than construct the image of the self (that is: his self) through his writing. When he does get around to telling the ‘pure story’ of his private grief, it fades into elaborate metaphors and religiously repeated bons mots. The chapter will attempt to reconstruct the half-deleted aspects of the narrator’s consciousness out of the debris of apocryphal history and depersonalized preoccupations. Finally, it will suggest that the postmodernist depiction of consciousness consists in shifting the burden of the creating process onto the reader.

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