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Flaubert in Egypt: A Sensibility on Tour

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  444 ratings  ·  45 reviews
At once a classic of travel literature and a penetrating portrait of a “sensibility on tour,” Flaubert in Egypt wonderfully captures the young writer’s impressions during his 1849 voyages. Using diaries, letters, travel notes, and the evidence of Flaubert’s traveling companion, Maxime Du Camp, Francis Steegmuller reconstructs his journey through the bazaars and brothels of ...more
Paperback, 230 pages
Published March 30th 1996 by Penguin Books (Penguin Classics) (first published 1849)
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Francis Steegmuller (translator and editor), probably doesn't take enough credit for this book - and Flaubert probably too much.
In 1949/50 Gustave Flaubert (at the time 27) and Maxime Du Camp (a little younger, I think) made their grand tour of Egypt, before heading on to Beirut, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Greece and Italy. Flaubert kept a diary, which he embelished a number of years later, filling on some detail. He also writes letters, mostly to his mother, but also to a friend, Louis Bouilhet.
“Women of Algiers” is one of my favorite paintings, but there is no denying that it depicts harem as nothing more than a bordello. Same with Flaubert: for him, Egypt is nothing more than a bordello. The dude never married, and he loved visiting prostitutes. Here are his words:

“I love prostitution, and for itself, too, quite apart from its carnal aspects. My heart begins to pound every time I see one of those women in low-cut dresses walking under the lamplight in the rain […]. The idea of prosti
RK Byers
May 12, 2011 rated it liked it
this guy was a pig! he was worse than Henry Miller! not only that, he kept referring to Egypt as "the Orient". ...more
Jan 29, 2008 rated it liked it
I probably wouldn't have enjoyed this book very much if I hadn't been here in Egypt. It really is just a collection of travel notes and observations, but when read in it's proper setting, it provides an interesting perspective on Egyptian culture and history.
It's amazing how some things simply remain in this seemingly fast moving world. All the monuments and buildings described in this book are still here, and life in Egypt doesn't seem to have changed much since Flaubert made his journey.
Dec 20, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
Flaubert, famous for Madame Bovary, took a trip to Egypt when in his late 20s. Penguin has published excerpts from his journal and letters to his parents in this volume. I thought that because it was about travel through the eyes of a very gifted writer, that maybe he would verbalize some of what I love about foreign countries, foreign sites and foreign experiences. He did offer some beautiful descriptions of places, and exciting moments, but for the most part he offered stories about being lewd ...more
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UGHHH. Sometimes you should never read something personal by an author because you're going to find out they're repugnant as human beings. Flaubert seems chipper and makes jokes about people being beaten, raped and otherwise trod upon. There is so much more that is wrong with this travelogue through Egypt, but I'd rather just leave it at that. The occasional nice turn of phrase or observation does not make up for all the terrible trash in this book. ...more
Jan 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
i dont love traveling but i respect how uninterested he was in getting to know anyone new
Sarah Mcgrath
Dec 28, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The interesting observations on life in Egypt in the 19th century don't make up for the repeated accounts of Flaubert's encounters with local prostitutes (including a fifteen year old, who if I understood the French correctly was also a victim of FGM), and his colonial attitude when describing the native people. Perhaps that's why it was free on Audible. ...more
Nov 13, 2012 rated it liked it
I found out about this book when it was mentioned in a story on NPR about how the trip generated the first photographs of Egypt. Flaubert in Egypt is fascinating, raw, and frequently raunchy account of the author’s travels in Egypt and surrounding areas in 1849-50. From the outside this may sound like an old school salacious read a la 50 Shades, but if you can get past the naughty stuff there is a lot that one can take away from Flaubert’s accounts. For the student of history, one will find a vi ...more
Mar 26, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: audiobooks
Whitepower and colonization... Okay this is 1849, but seriously, add a warning to the book or something. This white european travels to Egypt like it's conquered land, fucks 15 yo teenagers with no remorse whatsoever, shoots at dogs, describes "niggers" and slavery as they are the most normal thing. No questioning. Describing the ass of a 12 year old, or the sex of a prostitute with the same neutral descriptive tone he uses for sand and trees. He has no interest in arabic culture, food or people ...more
Aug 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing
obscure. an interesting historical perspective for a generation growing up in a globalized world.
Sep 25, 2018 rated it did not like it
Read if you're interested in analyzing the representation of "non-Western" culture through the eyes of a white European male. The sex scenes are particularly illustrative (and nauseating). ...more
Mary George
Sep 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A first person account of Egypt, written by a provincial Frenchman, whose descriptive settings and touristy escapades are well worth the read – if, that is, the reader’s puritanical instinct to gasp at his nighttime encounters is kept to a minimum.

I purchased this book after reading an essay by William Styron. Styron, himself, was no stranger to the sex scene, and his writing about Flaubert had me curious.

I’ve just finished it, and to the reviewers whose sensibilities are offended by the broth
Gary Reger
Aug 09, 2020 rated it liked it
In Egypt Flaubert hoped to find and experience the decadent. Napoleon had been and gone when the young Flaubert arrived, planning on adventures notably sexual in nature. His letters home to his mother did not reveal his motivations, but they are here in his travel journals from this trip. The conceit that holds the story together as he moves along the Nile is the search for a courtesan named Kuchuk Hanim, a dancer and, its is implied, a sexually available and highly accomplished prostitute. I ha ...more
Frederick Gault
May 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Before becoming famous Flaubert traveled the length of the Nile keeping a journal. This was perhaps the time where he developed the realistic style that characterized the "first novel". The voyage is interesting because this was a time when slavery was common, the iconic tourist attractions in Egypt were often still mostly buried in sand and Flaubert liberally availed himself of the diseased flesh pots of what was then called The Orient. He wrote frankly of all of the above when he wasn't musing ...more
Aug 05, 2022 rated it it was amazing
I read this 30 years ago and found it extraordinarily beautiful. Each sentence part of a beautifully planned mosaic. Of course I was young and "Orientalism" wasn't quite a thing yet. I'm reading the comments other readers made. Were I to read this now, I might not give it five stars but I am going to be true to the me who read this long ago. I don't remember my reactions to his bordello life, just the writing itself. ...more
Geoff Balme
Dec 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
It is sometimes difficult to imagine this fellow is responsible for some of the most impressive novels of western lit. Nothing much seems to point to his being either particularly observant or a devoted worker. Still travel literature of the era are fascinating for the perhaps unspoiled nature of the Egyptian antiquities being studied.
ellen grace
Oct 19, 2022 rated it did not like it
bisexuals can be racist too!
Maria João
Mar 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Flaubert's travel notes and personal letters on Egypt are an absolute delight!
For those who haven't been in this magnificent country, this book will enhance even further the notion one has of the historical remains that still lay there, against the test of time, waiting for a visit. Additionally, all the mystique around the Arab culture and religion, with its peculiarities and sometimes contradictions, when viewed and described through a XIX century magnifying glass, are even more romantic and s
Nov 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
I read this on the flight back, and it was especially meaningful being in egypt and visiting the places he was writing about...he trip was a bit different though...i'd say it was 50% brothels, 30% shopping, 10% moping around and 10% site seeing...he did capture the essence of luxor perfectly though! :

"When we arrived off Thebes our sailors were drumming on their darabukehs, the mate was playing the flute, Khalil was dancing with his castanets: they broke off to land.

It was then, as I was enjoyin
Steve Gordon
Mar 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"....A week ago I saw a monkey in the street jump on a donkey and try to jack him off - the donkey brayed and kicked, the monkey's owner shouted, the monkey itself squealed - apart from two or three children who laughed and me who found it very funny, no one paid any attention." I've always enjoyed travelogues by great writers - Goethe and Steinbeck come to mind, and I have always enjoyed Flaubert's works... so I thought, this might be an interesting read. And then I get to this passage, and...l ...more
Dec 21, 2009 rated it liked it
As per the title: Flaubert's journals/letters/remarks on his travels in "the Orient". Strangely fascinated, totally sensualized, hopelessly eurocentric, Flaubert is an interesting adventurer in a land he doesn't comprehend, despite his many investigations. Not a bad read, I guess, but if it weren't for a class I would never have picked this one up. I should note that the editor has done a lousy job, and it seems rather piecemeal and splotchy, with spliced in letters from others, and no real cent ...more
Jun 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
A steamy travelogue of Gustave Flaubert's jaunt through egypt told via the letters he wrote to his mother and his lover.
There are plenty of prostitutes, pimps, transvestites, homo-sexuals among its breezy pages - to whet anyone's appetite. If you are looking for the descriptive sun-rise/sun-downer type of travelogue, this will not satisfy you. A great, romping read.
Charles Dee Mitchell
Mar 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: letters
On two occasions, the editor inserts some of Flaubert's writings on Egypt done before his trip. They are absurd, 19th cent French romanticism that almost make Victor Hugo seem restrained. In his actual travel notes, Flaubert becomes a realist, selecting visual details, providing rapid character sketches, and inserting, as the subtitle says, his sensibility into what he experiences. ...more
Aug 07, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: memoirs
I liked this book at the beginning - Flaubert is a masterful and entertaining writer. However, his accounts of the grotesque and the debauched got pretty repetitive. There are a few moments of introspection, but also a lot of orientalist nonsense. I was expecting more from one of my favorite authors.
Apr 15, 2015 rated it liked it
Structurally, a fascinating and innovative book; Steegmuller does an incredible job of curating material, and shaping a narrative. The content is occasionally great -- far bawdier than I would have imagined, much to my enjoyment -- but many of the passages are stylistically and revelatory of neither Egypt nor Flaubert.
Jul 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Interesting and shocking facts from travel notes about Egypt mid 1880s. Book is well edited in the way notes are put together. It's clear in the notes of Flaubert and his friend Maxime that the same event/ moment could be viewed and described differently from one person to another. Cover photo is pretty but it could have definitely been better to get something related to Egypt itself. ...more
R.L. Swihart
Jun 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
Probably my first Flaubert. I enjoyed it then and would probably enjoy a re-read. Funny thing is: I put off reading more of Flaubert for some while. I eventually went on to read his letters with George Sand, Sentimental Education, and Madame Bovary. I hope to read his letters soon.
Jan 02, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
eh... not great, not bad, a bit disjointed, not a great travel book by any stretch.
Lukas Evan
Mar 20, 2015 rated it liked it
Gustave sure loved himself some prostitutes.
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Gustave Flaubert is counted among the greatest Western novelists. He was born in Rouen, Seine-Maritime, in the Haute-Normandie Region of France.

Flaubert's curious modes of composition favored and were emphasized by these peculiarities. He worked in sullen solitude, sometimes occupying a week in the completion of one page, never satisfied with what he had composed, violently tormenting his brain fo

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