“I received both volumes at eleven o’clock this morning and I’ve just finished them. In other words, my dear fellows, Manette Salomon has enraptured me for an entire day. It’s stunning, dazzling, intoxicating. I have tears in my eyes. So I must unleash these feelings on you, without pausing to sort them out first.”
So wrote Flaubert, in a letter to the brothers Edmond and Jules de Goncourt on November 13th, 1867. And his enthusiasm was certainly not unfounded, for Manette Salomon, here superbly translated for the first time into English by Tina Kover, is undoubtedly one of the greatest novels about art ever written, sitting easily between Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece and Zola’s L’Oeuvre—the latter novel Edmond de Goncourt even going so far as to say was nothing but a rewriting of Manette Salomon.
This is one of the masterpieces of European literature—a panorama of the world of the painters of France during the mid-nineteenth century—the schools, the studios, the salons—the successes and failures, the magnificent inspirations and the crushing disillusions of the artists.
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