At his worst he recalls Flaubert at his worst - in L’Education Sentimentale.What on earth did Wilson have against Sentimental Education?
That was July 1922 - Wilson did rather well laying hands on a copy of the book under review (published on Groundhog Day, Joyce's birthday) - but at least by 1938, in The Triple Thinkers, Wilson's opinion had improved: Flaubert's book is now "one of his most remarkable books" and "rather underestimated." He doesn't add, "by my younger self."
Tho he does say later in the essay that it "is likely, if we read it in youth, to prove baffling and even repellent." (Evidently.) Here Wilson gets it right:
... Flaubert's novel plants deep in our mind an idea which we never quite get rid of: the suspicion that our middle-class society of manufacturers, businessmen and bankers, of people who live on or deal in investments, so far from being redeemed by its culture, has ended by cheapening and invalidating all the departments of culture, political, scientific, artistic and religious, as well as corrupting and weakening the ordinary human relations: love, friendship, and loyalty to cause - till the whole civilization seems to dwindle.If that sounds to you like a treatment that's been done before, I would respectfully submit that Flaubert did it first, and perhaps best.
... The title of Wilson's book in fact comes from an aside in a letter to Louise Colet: "what is an artist if he is not a triple thinker?"