Existence would seem to hold much for a man who unhesitatingly recognised that ‘the sea, Hamlet and Mozart’s Don Giovanni are the three finest things in creation’. (Had Flaubert added Vermeer’s View of Delft, the list would have passed any committee of immortals.) At the same time, the rich meticulous texture of his novels, and their conscious aestheticism, suggest an artist who took more than a consolatory pleasure in living. Yet, at the end of the day, his conclusions on life were no less sombre than Büchner’s or Ibsen’s.
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