Brown, Frederick 1934-

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Brown, Frederick 1934-


Born December 23, 1934, in New York, NY; son of Samuel and Shirley Brown. Education: Yale University, B.A., 1956, Ph.D., 1960.


Home—New York, NY. Office—Department of French, State University of New York, Stony Brook, NY 11790.


Writer, educator. University of Texas, Austin, instructor, 1960-62, assistant professor of French, 1962-63; State University of New York—Binghamton, assistant professor of French and general literature, 1963-65; State University of New York—Stony Brook, assistant professor, 1965-68, associate professor, 1968-72, professor of French, beginning 1972. Program officer in French, African-American Institute, New York, NY, 1964-65.


Modern Language Association of America, American Association of University Professors.


Fulbright Foundation fellow, 1956-57; Guggenheim Foundation fellow, 1970-71; Notable Book Award, New York Times, 2006, Top Ten Biographies list, Booklist, 2006, and nominee, National Book Critics Circle award for biography, 2007, for Flaubert: A Biography.


An Impersonation of Angels: A Biography of Jean Cocteau, Viking (New York, NY), 1968.

(Translator, with Roger Shattuck) Various Occasions: Essays and Speeches of Paul Valery, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1970.

Pere Lachaise: Elysium as Real Estate, Viking (New York, NY), 1973.

Theater and Revolution: The Culture of the French Stage, Viking (New York, NY), 1980.

Zola: A Life, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1995.

Flaubert: A Biography, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to professional journals.


Frederick Brown is a professor of romance languages whose written works demonstrate his avid interest in France of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Brown's Zola: A Life is a comprehensive biography of the French writer and political activist Emile Zola, who died under suspicious circumstances in 1902. Brown's is the first English-language biography of Zola to make wide use of Zola's correspondence and diaries, some of which are only now being published. To quote a New York Times Book Review critic, Brown's accomplishment is "the best biography of Zola ever."

Running to 888 pages and addressing not only Zola but his personal, political, and artistic milieu, Zola received numerous enthusiastic reviews when it was first published in 1995. "Brown's biography is thorough and detailed, the fruit of years of scholarship," wrote John Gross in the Wall Street Journal. "It is also enormously readable: The story sweeps you along." In the New York Times Book Review, Geoffrey Strickland noted: "If Zola is to receive proper justice, it can only be through the closest possible examination of his career and of the far from transparent relationship between the novelist and the man. Frederick Brown's new biography … performs this service extremely well, and is likely to be regarded as the most authoritative for many years."

Critics were particularly impressed with the way in which Brown's book covers the turbulent times in which Zola lived. According to Peter Collier, writing in the Times Literary Supplement: "As Brown traces the fortunes of Zola and his family and friends, we become increasingly embroiled in the complex and fascinating interplay of money, politics, history and culture in France during the nineteenth century, with its turmoil of massacres and revolutions and its frantic race for industrial and colonial growth." Gross too commended Brown for a work that "strikes a commendable balance between inner and outer worlds, between the conflict-ridden private man and (for all its intermittent setbacks) the victorious public career." New Republic contributor Eugen Weber declared that Brown's "bulky biography covers both life and works, it teems with details, it outlines and discusses publications and relationships. The deliberate tour can become tedious, the crowded trees sometimes conceal the forest, but the persistent reader reaps rewards."

Public reception of Zola was favorable as well. The book proved popular enough that Johns Hopkins University Press reprinted it one year after its first publication. Weber called the work "judicious, clear, well-written, well-constructed, full of information and good sense." In the Washington Post Book World, Victor Brombert observed: "To do justice to Emile Zola calls for a combination of skills. The narrative flow must bring out the permanent features of a psychological portrait, and it must be set against the cultural scene and complicated political drama of late 19th-century France. Above all, the personal and the public life must cast light on the literary achievements in a manner that transcends the anecdotal. On all these counts, Frederick Brown's biography is an impressive achievement."

After a decade-long hiatus from publishing, Brown, in 2006, published Flaubert: A Biography, a book as dense and weighted in research as it is brief in title. Marking the 150th anniversary of the publication of Flaubert's masterpiece, Madame Bovary, Brown's biography uses "an extensive array of primary and secondary sources—with special attention given to newly available correspondence by Flaubert himself," according to reviewer Tim Davis, who further felt that "Brown offers a vivid and accurate account of Flaubert's life and work." Brown traces the course of Flaubert's life from his childhood in Rouen, to his travels in the Middle East and his return to Normandy, his turbulent years in Paris during the 1848 revolution, and his increasing fame among other writers of the era, such as George Sand, Victor Hugo, and Ivan Turgenev. Adam Thorpe, writing in the Guardian Online, found the biography "scrupulously neutral, echoing Flaubert's own method." Thorpe further noted that the biography was solidly based on "the gritty stuff of primary documents," and went on to praise the "giddily wide-ranging field of reference." However, Thorpe also felt that the exacting detail of Brown's account of the people in Flaubert's life "obscures the true extent of Flaubert's self-imposed solitude" during the four and a half years he spent composing Madame Bovary. For Spectator writer Caroline Moore, Brown's neutral, unobtrusive style was a success: "[Brown] draws extensively and deeply upon Flaubert's own writings, rather than flourishing his own formulations, so that Flaubert is not pigeon-holed in shallow paradox. As a result, the reader is given room to shift opinions; inconsistencies are allowed to breathe, and come alive." New Criterion reviewer Eric Ormsby similarly noted: "As Brown demonstrates, there were many … Flauberts, and he gives indelible portraits of them all. He is particularly astute on Flaubert's friendships, which formed so central a part of his life."

Other reviewers found Brown's biography a major achievement. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, James Wood commented: "Because Flaubert, like his details, is so visible and invisible, he needs to be cleaned of the glaze of his renown every so often and shown afresh; and he needs to be treated by someone who has himself a good eye for detail. Frederick Brown is the right candidate." Wood felt Brown's resulting work "will clearly be the Life for this generation." Similarly, Booklist contributor Bryce Christensen called Flaubert a "landmark biography," and a Kirkus Reviews critic termed the book "a profound look at an important French literary era, told with verve and wisdom." In a starred review, a Publishers Weekly contributor declared: "At last, a biography commensurate with the outsize personality and genius of Gustave Flaubert." The same reviewer further praised Flaubert as a "tantalizing, penetrating study," as well as a book that was "rich, full of passion and tragedy, [and] overflowing with keenly portrayed characters." For Moore, the book was a "superb biography, not least because it gives us the portrait of a man embedded in his country and his age even as he rebels against its values and mores." Similarly, reviewer Stephen Amidon concluded: "What ultimately emerges from this exhaustive but never exhausting biography is a portrait of an artist in a state of constant war against the bourgeois qualities stamped indelibly on his soul."



America, September 25, 2006, Peter Heinegg, "Gustave: Singular, Suffering Genius," review of Flaubert: A Biography, p. 33.

Booklist, February 15, 2006, Bryce Christensen, review of Flaubert, p. 32; June 1, 2006, Donna Seaman, "Top 10 Biographies," p. 30.

Books, November, 1969, review of An Impersonation of Angels: A Biography of Jean Cocteau.

Commentary, February, 1981, review of Theater and Revolution: The Culture of the French Stage, pp. 84-87.

Harper's, December, 1981, review of Theater and Revolution, pp. 68-71.

Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2006, review of Flaubert, p. 168.

Library Journal, February 15, 2006, Erica Swenson Danowitz, review of Flaubert, p. 118.

Los Angeles Times, January 21, 2007, Josh Getlin, "Book Critics Circle Nominees Declared."

New Criterion, May, 2006, Eric Ormsby, review of Flaubert, p. 66.

New Republic, July 31, 1995, Eugen Weber, review of Zola: A Life, pp. 36-41.

New Statesman & Society, February 16, 1996, review of Zola, pp. 39-40.

New York Review of Books, December 4, 1980, review of Theater and Revolution, pp. 37-39; March 21, 1996, review of Zola, pp. 41-45; May 25, 2006, Julian Barnes, review of Flaubert, pp. 12-15.

New York Times Book Review, September 28, 1980, review of Theater and Revolution, p. 12; June 4, 1995, Geoffrey Strickland, review of Zola, p. 10; December 3, 1995, "100 Notable Books of the Year," p. 27; April 16, 2006, James Wood, "The Man behind Bovary," review of Flaubert.

Observer, March 17, 1996, review of Zola, p. 14.

Publishers Weekly, March 13, 2006, review of Flaubert, p. 51.

Spectator, June 3, 2006, Caroline Moore, "Portrait of the Invisible Man," review of Flaubert.

Times Literary Supplement, December 19, 1980, review of Theater and Revolution, p. 1445; May 3, 1996, Peter Collier, review of Zola, pp. 4-5; September 1, 2006, Victor Brombert, review of Flaubert, p. 5.

Town & Country, August, 2006, Ted Loos, review of Flaubert, p. 70.

Wall Street Journal, May 9, 1995, John Gross, review of Zola.

Washington Post Book World, June 11, 1995, Victor Brombert, review of Zola, p. 5.

ONLINE, (February 22, 2007), Tim Davis, review of Flaubert.

Guardian Online, (July 29, 2006), Adam Thorpe, review of Flaubert.

Houston Chronicle Online, (March 31, 2006), Charles Matthews, review of Flaubert., (April 15, 2006), Stephen Amidon, "The Rake of Rouen," review of Flaubert., (June 3, 2006), Andrew Crumey, review of Flaubert.

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Brown, Frederick 1934-

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