Literature includes politics, and not vice versa. This isn't a fashionable view, neither with writers nor politicians, but you will forgive me. Novelists who think their writing an instrument of politics seem to me to degrade writing and foolishly exalt politics. No, I'm not saying they should be forbidden from having political opinions or from making political statements. It's just that they should call that part of their work journalism. The writer who imagines that the novel is the most effective way of taking part in politics is usually a bad novelist, a bad
journalist, and a bad politician.
Du Camp followed politics carefully, Flaubert sporadically. Which do you prefer? The former. And which of them was the greater writer? The latter. And what were their politics? Du Camp became a lethargic meliorist; Flaubert remained 'an enraged
liberal'. Does that surprise you? But even if Flaubert had described himself as a lethargic meliorist, I should make the same point: what a curious vanity it is of the present to expect the past to suck up to it. The present looks back at some great figure of an earlier century and wonders, Was he on our side? Was he a goodie? What a lack of self-confidence this implies: the present wants both to patronise the past by adjudicating on its political acceptability, and also to be flattered by it, to be patted on the back and told to keep up the good work. If this is what you understand by Monsieur Flaubert not being 'interested enough' in politics, then I'm afraid my client must plead guilty.