“Why write these pages? What are they good for?” begins Flaubert’s unfocused, rambling first-person story, “Memoirs of a Madman”, written when he was 15.
The answer, I think, was to get lots of bad writing out of his system so he could go on to become one of the great 19th-century novelists. Another story, “Biblomania”, is more tightly focused, and does actually have a narrative, about a fanatical Spanish book-collector who can hardly read; it feels like a rejected draft by Poe. “November” is the story of a young man’s sentimental longings, his virginity-loss and then his ageing and death. Would these stories be of interest if they weren’t by Flaubert? Probably not. But then, they are by Flaubert.