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.