City Walk – Towards Flaubert’s Tomb, Cimetière Monumental de Rouen
Visiting a writer’s grave.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
So harmonious, these living arrangements of the dead. The Delhi Walla is at the Monumental Cemetery in Rouen, the home of Gustave Flaubert, the creator of Madame Bovary.
In this city, a street, an avenue and more than one café are named after this novelist. His father’s house, where he spent his childhood, now exists as a museum. His grand statue stands in the city centre.
I’m looking for Flaubert’s tomb, however. He died more than hundred years ago. Like the town itself, the cemetery is small and it cannot be difficult to trace the path to the burial grounds of the Flaubert family. Indeed, there are boards pointing the direction to the destination.
It is a cold blue sky. There is no one else here at this time of the day, save for a couple walking hand in hand.
Two tombs, looking exactly alike, are bent against each other. They remind of stories of doomed lovers—Juliet and her Romeo perhaps.
One tomb in the Jewish section of the graveyard commemorates the life of an Auschwitz survivor.
A vast number of tombs appear to be in various stages of neglect. Some are covered with green moss. A notice board warns to the families of the buried that if they do not take a proper care of the graves of their relations, then those spaces could be reused to bury the newly dead.
Finally, here is Flaubert. The novelist stands at one corner of his family graveyard. A marble wreath is placed at the base of his tombstone.
In one scene in Madame Bovary, towards the tragic end of the novel, her husband is depicted crying beside her grave. Standing beside Flaubert’s grave, I, too, try to feel melancholy. But the emotion evades me. I slowly make a return journey, this time taking a different path, and passing through a different set of graves, though they look similar to the ones I earlier saw.
At one point during the slow walk, I reach a corner where one could see the business towers of Rouen (see photo 10 below) as well as its famous cathedral–the graveyard is on a hill. From here, Rouen looks like a faraway world. Flaubert’s unfortunate heroine is dead but so many unhappy Madame Bovarys might still be living in his city, I wonder, just as there might be many Madame Bovarys in Paris, in New York, and also in Delhi.
Perhaps Flaubert will never die.
Here lives the tormentor of Madame Bovary
How many of today’s young students can apply themselves to learning of Madame Bovary’s plight? It requires far longer then the two minute maximum concentration most today can conjure up, unless there are rapidly changing images or heavy audio stimuli. I am grateful for the struggles I conquered to read it in French as a teenager, for the tragic tale has stayed with me for over half a century.
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