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Sentimental Education

Gustave Flaubert

Important Quotations Explained

Part Three, Chapters 5–7

Key Facts

1.
A man like Deslauriers was worth all the women in the world.

Frédéric renews his affection for his friend Deslauriers after a troubling encounter with Arnoux and some of Arnoux’s acquaintances. Frédéric has been spending a great deal of time at Arnoux’s shop, believing that Madame Arnoux lived above, but Arnoux has just revealed that Madame Arnoux actually lives someplace else. At a bar, Pellerin and Regimbart complain about Arnoux, and Frédéric defends him out of respect for Madame Arnoux. The whole thing tires him, and when he receives a letter from Deslauriers, he is relieved that a true friend will be arriving soon. However, Frédéric’s devotion to his friend is short-lived. Just before Deslauriers arrives, Frédéric is invited to dinner at the Arnouxes’ house, and he abandons his friend without a second thought. The dinner he attends marks his first encounter with Madame Arnoux since he spotted her on the ship when he sailed from Paris to Nogent.

This is not the only time Frédéric devotes himself to Deslauriers only to then leave him for something or someone better, almost always a woman. Deslauriers is Frédéric’s fallback plan, the person he turns to when other people have disappointed him or when he needs encouragement and support. Deslauriers remains loyal to him, even though Frédéric hurts him so often. Later in the novel, however, he will stop being so accommodating and begin exacting his revenge, lying to and betraying Frédéric.

2.
Frédéric had expected to feel paroxysms of joy; but passions wilt when they are transplanted, and, finding Madame Arnoux in a setting which was unfamiliar to him, he had the impression that she had somehow lost something, suffered a vague degradation, in short, that she had changed. The calm of his heart astounded him.

The quotation appears when Frédéric returns to Paris after receiving his uncle Barthelemy’s entire fortune and finds the Arnouxes living in a new home. Madame Arnoux has been living in Frédéric’s imagination for many months, and until he received his fortune, he had declared himself over her and contemplated staying in Nogent. His fortune, which renews his dreams and ambitions, also renews his ardor for Madame Arnoux, and he expects to be overwhelmed with love and relief to see her again. His reaction is much different than he had expected. In her new surroundings, she seems like a different person, and Frédéric leaves disappointed and disparaging of her. Angry at her for how she has changed and angry at himself for having spent so much time thinking about her, he believes he has been foolish and dismisses her as bourgeois. Of course, this is not the final word in Frédéric’s feelings for her, but it takes him a while to get past this initial shock.

Frédéric’s reaction foreshadows his ultimate dismissal of Madame Arnoux at the end of the novel. Frédéric is so infatuated with her that she becomes inhuman—his relentless admiration has turned her into a perfect specimen of womanhood in his mind. The image he has of her never gains texture: she is always the beautiful young woman he first spotted on the boat as he sailed from Paris to Nogent. As humans do, she ages, but Frédéric dismisses this out of hand. Only at the end of the novel, when he sees her white hair, does he accept that she has become someone different from the woman who has occupied his mind. Just as her new surroundings make her seem different and therefore unacceptable to him, her “new” hair—that is, her new humanness—leads Frédéric to ultimately reject her.

3.
Women’s hearts were like those desks full of secret drawers that fit one inside another; you struggle with them, you break your fingernails, and at the bottom you find a withered flower, a little dust, or nothing at all! Perhaps he was afraid too of finding out too much.

This quotation shows Frédéric’s disdain for Madame Dambreuse as well as his disdain for women in general. Madame Dambreuse has just revealed that she knows all about Frédéric’s past affairs with Rosanette and Madame Arnoux, and that she is sure he no longer sees either of them, while Frédéric realizes he knows nothing about her. He knows, however, that Madame Dambreuse is wrong, since he is still heavily involved with Rosanette and still in love with Madame Arnoux. He is no longer in love with either Madame Dambreuse or Rosanette, and the energy and attention both women require have exhausted him. He believes that, at heart, women have little meaning—inside, they are nothing more than wilted flowers or dust. However, the final line of this quotation reveals his fear of finding out differently. Frédéric falls in love easily, but his love is weak—as soon as he gets to know a woman beneath her surface beauty, he loses interest. When he finds out too much, his love disappears. This line foreshadows his ultimate dismissal of Madame Arnoux, which happens only when he finally sees her for the woman she truly is.

4. Neither of them could think of anything more to say. In every parting there comes a moment when the beloved is already no longer with us.

Madame Arnoux visits Frédéric after several years of separation and proves willing to give herself to him. Frédéric, uninterested, refuses her, and they say goodbye for good. This quotation describes the final moments that they spend together. They have said goodbye many times over the years, but in every case it was somehow fraught with emotion. This time, for the first time, they simply wait out their final moments quietly. This is their true goodbye, the one that will not be followed by another meeting, or another desperate search. The line “In every parting . . .” is not Frédéric’s thought; rather, it is Flaubert weighing in on the situation, looking down on his characters and commenting on what the moment means. This is not the only time Flaubert’s authorial voice breaks into the novel, but here it is particularly poignant since it highlights the sad finality of the moment. Madame Arnoux is right in front of Frédéric, but both she and Frédéric know that their strange affair is over for good. They are already separated, and all that remains is for Madame Arnoux to actually walk out the door.

5.
They had both failed, one to realize his dreams of love, the other to fulfill his dreams of power. What was the reason?
   “Perhaps it’s because we didn’t steer a straight course,” said Frédéric.
   “That may be true in your case. I, on the other hand, was far too rigid in my line of conduct . . . I was too logical, and you were too sentimental.”
   Then they blamed chance, circumstances, the times into which they were born.

This quotation appears near the end of the novel, when Frédéric and Deslauriers mull over their choices in life. They agree that they have both failed at what they set out to do, but their analysis of the reasons behind their failures suggests that neither man has truly achieved the ability to self-reflect. Though they have a rudimentary understanding of where they went wrong—Deslauriers should have been more flexible; Frédéric should have been less sporadic—they are unable to transfer this basic observation into true lessons learned. In other words, they realize that they haven’t ended up where they had once hoped to, but they fail to turn their many experiences into a valuable education that they can draw from to improve their lives. As soon as they target the root of their problems—being too logical and too sentimental—they quickly move away from the personal and blame fate and chance. They recognize their weaknesses, but they fail to take responsibility for their choices and their lives. The title of the novel, Sentimental Education, seems to therefore be ironic, since no education has truly been achieved on any significant level.

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