5. Witnessing the birth of life

Bénédicte Percheron

Gustave Flaubert, La Tentation de Saint Antoine (1874), Paris, Charpentier, p.  295-296.

Insects that no longer have stomachs continue to eat; dried up ferns begin to bloom again; missing limbs grow back. Finally, he notices little globular lumps as big as the head of a pin and surrounded with cilia. They are vibrating.


O joy! Joy! I have beheld the birth of life! I have seen the beginning of motion! The blood in my veins is racing so hard that they are fit to burst! I long to fly, to swim, to bark, to bellow, to howl! Would that I had wings, a carapace, a shell; that I could breathe out smoke, wield a trunk, make my body writhe, split myself apart all over, be in everything, emanate odours, grow like plants, flow like water, vibrate like sound, shine like light, squatting upon all forms, penetrate each atom, get to the very bottom of matter—be matter itself!’

Unlike Edgar Quinet, who begins his story with the origins of life, Flaubert ends his work on this episode. The book ends not with Quinet’s cell but with Haeckel’s moneron. He does not use the scientific term in his text. But the manuscripts reveal that he probably consulted a review of Haeckel’s work: an article by Charles Martins, ‘La création du monde organisé d’après les naturalistes anglais et allemands de la nouvelle école’, which appeared in La Revue des deux mondes, 15 December 1871 (p. 764 – 787). In this article, the author offered  a preliminary analysis of Haeckel’s Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte (1868). The word ‘moneron’ (‘monère’), invented by Haeckel, is also used in manuscript N.a.f. 23671 (manuscript held at the Bibliothèque nationale de France), and is assigned the French masculine gender as in Martins’ article.   The description — ‘Le monère’, ‘petites masses gélatineuses de la grosseur d’une tête d’épingle’ (little globular lumps as big as the head of a pin)  — appears to be copied directly from Martins’s article.

Redon-sans-légende “Partout des prunelles flamboient” [estampe], Odilon Redon,  La Tentation de Saint Antoine (Gustave Flaubert), Paris, s.n., 1888, planche IX.

Citer ce billet
biolog (2018, 19 novembre). 5. Witnessing the birth of life. Biolographes. Consulté le 22 avril 2024, à l’adresse https://doi.org/10.58079/m1qw

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