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Sentimental Education

Gustave Flaubert

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full title ·  Sentimental Education

author · Gustave Flaubert

type of work · Novel

genre · Realist fiction

language · French

time and place written · Croisset, France; 18641869

date of first publication · November 1869

publisher · Michel Lévy Frères

narrator · An omniscient third-person narrator tells the story.

point of view · Third-person omniscient

tone · Flaubert intended Sentimental Education to provide a satirical view of the bourgeoisie, and this satirical tone permeates the novel. Although the narrator remains distant and simply recounts actions as they happen, Flaubert’s clear recounting of the often vapid society he writes about provides ample opportunity for mockery.

tense · Simple past

setting (time) · The mid-1800s

setting (place) · Primarily Paris, with forays into Nogent-sur-Seine and Fontainebleau

protagonist · Frédéric Moreau

major conflict · Frédéric pines for the married, unattainable Madame Arnoux, sacrificing any possibility of a meaningful relationship or fulfilled ambition so he can pursue her at every opportunity.

rising action · Frédéric develops various schemes to win Madame Arnoux. Each time he is unsuccessful, he shifts his interest to pursuing other women, embarking on unwise alliances and making repeated attempts to raise his social status.

climax · Since the impossibility of Frédéric’s search for love is one of the main themes of the novel, there is no one clear climax. There are several anticlimaxes, including Frédéric’s desperate attempt to stop the Arnouxes from leaving Paris, Frédéric’s too-late arrival in Nogent to win over Louise, and the disastrous final attempt by Madame Arnoux to give herself to Frédéric.

falling action · After Frédéric fails to stop the Arnouxes from leaving Paris, the novel jumps ahead many years, during which time Frédéric moves on from his life, which had so far been spent in pursuit of Madame Arnoux. During this jump, he travels and has love affairs, although he is unfulfilled.

themes · The endless search for love; the elusive purpose of art; the capriciousness and vacuity of society; the perceived influence of fate and luck

motifs · Departures and separations; ribbons; mist

symbols · Parallel lines; roses; Madame Arnoux’s white hair

foreshadowing

 · The appearance of new women often foreshadows Frédéric’s attempts to become romantically involved with them. He spots Madame Arnoux on the boat at the beginning of the novel and vows to pursue her. He crosses paths with Rosanette several times and eventually decides to pursue her. He schemes to win over Madame Dambreuse after realizing she is his ticket into the society he aspires to.
 · The images that recur throughout the novel serve as foreshadowing as well. For example, the image of parallel lines suggests that Frédéric will never fully connect with Madame Arnoux. The pervasive mist suggests the lack of clarity with which Frédéric will ever pursue any one goal. And the roses, swiftly discarded from the carriage by Madame Arnoux, point to Frédéric’s unending lack of true romantic fulfillment.

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