Flaubert's Parrot  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Flaubert's Parrot is a novel by Julian Barnes that was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1984. The novel recites amateur Flaubert expert Geoffrey Braithwaite's musings on his subject's life, and his own, as he tracks a stuffed parrot that once inspired the great author.

Plot summary

The novel follows Geoffrey Braithwaite, a widowed, retired Englishman, visiting France and the Flaubert landmarks therein. While visiting various small museums related to Flaubert, Geoffrey encounters two incidences of people claiming to have the stuffed parrot which sat atop Flaubert's writing desk for a brief period, whilst writing Un coeur simple. While trying to differentiate which is authentic Geoffrey ultimately learns that, in fact, (n)either could be genuine, and Flaubert's parrot could be one of fifty (Une cinquantaine de perroquets!, p. 187) stored away in a major French museum.

Although the "main focus" of the narrative is tracking down the parrot, many chapters exist independently of this plotline, consisting of Geoffrey's reflections e.g. Flaubert's love life and how it was affected by trains, animal imagery in Flaubert's works and the animal with which he himself was identified (usually a bear).


One of the central themes of the novel is a figurehead of Postmodernism: subjectivism. For example, the novel provides three sequential chronologies of Flaubert's life: the first is optimistic (citing his successes, conquests, etc), the second is negative (citing the deaths of his friends/lovers, his failures, illnesses etc.) and the third compiles quotations written by Flaubert in his journal at various points in his life. The attempts to find the real Flaubert mirror the attempt to find his parrot, ie. apparent futility. This theme recurs when addressing Emma Bovary's eyes, which are assigned three different colours by Flaubert.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Flaubert's Parrot" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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