In the late autumn of 1849, Gustave Flaubert, the renowned French novelist, along with his friend Maxime Du Camp, embarked on an extraordinary journey to Egypt, a land rich in history and mystique. This voyage was not only a search for exotic inspiration but also a pivotal moment in Flaubert’s life, which later influenced his literary creations. Among the numerous encounters during their Egyptian adventure, one particular meeting stands out: their visit to Artin Bey, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs.
A Gracious Welcome by Artin Bey
Artin Bey, known for his oriental graciousness, received Flaubert and Du Camp warmly. This meeting is vividly captured in Henri Troyat’s biography of Flaubert, “Flaubert.” Troyat describes how Artin Bey extended exceptional hospitality to the French travelers, promising them assistance for their journey through Egypt. In a gesture of generosity, he offered them a carriage and horses, a significant facilitation for travelers during that era. This encounter with Artin Bey was not just a mere episode of hospitality but also a reflection of the cultural and diplomatic openness of Egypt at the time.
The Armenian Connection: Henri Troyat and Artin Bey
Interestingly, both Artin Bey and Henri Troyat, the biographer of Flaubert, shared Armenian heritage. Troyat, born Levon Aslan Torossian (later Tarasyan), was of Armenian descent. His parents had fled Russia following the upheaval of the 1917 Revolution and settled in France. This background perhaps added a layer of understanding and insight as Troyat chronicled the meeting between Flaubert, Du Camp, and Artin Bey.
The Influence of the Egyptian Journey on Flaubert’s Work
Flaubert’s Egyptian journey, with its rich tapestry of experiences and encounters, including the meeting with Artin Bey, profoundly influenced his later work. The sights, sounds, and cultures he absorbed during his travels found echoes in his literary creations. Flaubert was known for his meticulous detail and immersive narrative style, attributes that were undoubtedly enriched by his Egyptian sojourn.
The meeting with Artin Bey was a testament to the cross-cultural exchanges and mutual respect that characterized such journeys in the 19th century. It also highlights the interconnectedness of histories and cultures, as seen through the shared Armenian heritage of Artin Bey and Henri Troyat. Flaubert’s Egyptian journey, detailed beautifully by Troyat, remains a fascinating chapter in the novelist’s life, offering insights into the experiences that shaped one of the literary giants of the 19th century.