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.