Flaubert a connu Louise Colet, une fille d’Aix-en-Provence, alors un poète assez connu, à Paris en Juillet 1846. Il en est tombé immédiatement amoureux. Ils se sont séparés pour la première fois en 1848, après le décès de leur enfant (peu après sa naissance.) Hélas, on n’est jamais aimé autant qu’on le souhaite, comme le prouve une lettre qu’elle lui a écrite en Août 1846:
Soon she [Louise Colet] began to make him feel guilty, as he was not able to respond to her as she would have liked. She wanted all his thought at all hours of his waking day, and she was always accusing him of not loving her enough:
Do you know that you are cruel? You accuse me of not loving you, and you use the argument of my departures. That is wrong! Can I stay? What would you do in my place?
You talk of your grief; I believe in it, I have the proof of it, and I feel it in me, what is more. But I see another grief, a grief here at my side, which never complains, which even smiles and beside which yours, how ever deep it may be, will never be more than a sting beside a burn, a convulsion beside a death rattle. Here is the vice in which I'm held. The two women whom I most love have put in my heart a bit with two reins, by which they hold me; they pull me alternately, by love and by grief. Forgive me if this angers you again. I no longer know what to say to you; I hesitate now when I speak to you, I'm afraid to make you cry, and, when I touch you, to wound you....
I love in my own way; more or less than you? God only knows. But I love you, and when you tell me that I've perhaps done for common women what I've done for you, I've done it for no one, no one - I swear it. You're the only person for whom I've made a journey, and that I've loved enough for that, because you're the first person who has loved me as you love me. No, never before you has anyone else wept the same tears, or looked at me with such a tender and sad look. Yes, the memory of the night of Wednesday is my sweetest memory of love. It is that one, if I were to become old tomorrow, that would make me regret life.
But what terrified him most of all was her insistence, from the very beginning of their relationship, on wanting a child by him. Scarcely three weeks after their first night together, he reproached her with this 'idée fixe' in an unpublished portion of a letter:[18)
You consider complacent!y, in the sublime egoism of your love, the hypothesis that a child might be born. You want it, admit it, you wish it as a link that would unite us more, like an inevitable contract that would rivet one to the other our two destinies. Oh! it must be because it is you, my dear and too tender friend, that I don't bear you a grudge for a desire so frightful for my happiness.