Prism(s): Essays in Romanticism
In October 1876 Gustave Flaubert was engaged in writing what would become perhaps his most well-known and successful piece of short fiction, "A Simple Heart." This narrative dissects the life of an innocent servant woman, ironically named Felicity, who rransfers her love and spiritual devotion from object to object until she finally settles, afrer life's many disappointments, on a stuffed and tattered parrot as the incarnation of her god of love. The horror of Flaubert's story can be located in his dark and cynical portrayal of love and spiritual devotion as a form of fetishism, a mad scramble for apparently random substitute objects to compensate for the original wound in the psyche, the primordial fall we all supposedly make from a sense of original wholeness and self-sufficiency within the individual ego into psychic fragmentation. Felicity's pathetic stuffed parrot functions as a fetish, while fetishism-or the displacement of the sexual object by a metonymic substitute-stands in Flaubert as the originating source of both love and religious worship.