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Frédéric sets out desperately to find the twelve thousand
francs needed to save Madame Arnoux. He tells Madame Dambreuse he needs
the money to help Dussardier, who he claims has stolen something.
He rushes to the Arnouxes’ house, but they’ve already left. He looks
for Regimbart, who tells him that the lawsuit has already gone through.
Regimbart pities Madame Arnoux.
Frédéric returns to Rosanette, who looks at Pellerin’s
portrait of her dead baby and cries. Frédéric, wondering what will
happen to Madame Arnoux, also cries. Madame Dambreuse finds out
from Regimbart’s wife that Frédéric has given her money to Madame Arnoux,
and cries. Then she vows revenge. She doesn’t let on to Frédéric
that she knows what he did. Instead, she has him invite Deslauriers
over, saying she must consult him about a legal matter.
Madame Dambreuse tells Deslauriers about the debts the Arnouxes
owe her, the debts that Frédéric had once convinced Dambreuse to
temporarily forgive. Deslauriers, looking for his own revenge against
Madame Arnoux for refusing his advances, tells Madame Dambreuse
to sell the debts at auction. He will have an agent buy them and
then prosecute the Arnouxes.
In November, Frédéric sees a sign on the Arnouxes’ door
declaring that all the furniture and other possessions are going
up for sale. He finds out that Senecal has ordered the sale. He
hurries home and accuses Rosanette of being responsible, but she
denies it. They argue, and he leaves her.
One day, as Madame Dambreuse and Frédéric are riding in
their carriage, Madame Dambreuse decides to visit the sale rooms. Inside,
she goes straight for the auction of the Arnouxes’ possessions.
Frédéric is horrified to see such familiar objects treated so haphazardly.
Madame Dambreuse taunts him by buying something. Frédéric leaves
Frédéric returns to Nogent, hoping to still marry Louise.
But he arrives just as Louise is marrying Deslauriers. He returns
to Paris. There is fighting in the streets, and Frédéric sees Dussardier
get killed by a policeman, who he then recognizes as Senecal.
Frédéric travels and lives several years idly, having
affairs and not working. One day in March 1867,
Madame Arnoux enters his study. She has been living in Brittany.
They renew their declarations of love for each other and take a
walk, reminiscing about their past. Back home, she takes off her
hat, and Frédéric is shocked to see that her hair is white. He covers
up his shock by flattering her. He thinks she has probably come
here to give herself to him, and he is uninterested. They run out
of things to say, and she leaves.
Frédéric and Deslauriers, reunited, discuss their lives
and their friends. Madame Dambreuse has married an Englishman. Louise left
Deslauriers for a singer. Martinon is a senator, Hussonnet has earned
total control of the press and theatres, Cisy has eight children,
and Pellerin has become a photographer. Neither friend knows what
has happened to Senecal. Frédéric speculates that Madame Arnoux,
recently widowed, is in Rome with her son. Deslauriers tells Frédéric
he saw Rosanette recently in a shop, with an adopted child. She
is now fat. He reveals in his description that he had briefly been
her lover once Frédéric left her, and Frédéric pretends not to mind.
Deslauriers explains to Frédéric what “calf’s head” refers
to: in England, some independents parodied a ceremony practiced
by the Royalists by eating calves’ heads and drinking wine out of
the skulls. In France, revolutionaries had started the same secret
The two friends reminisce about their past, particularly
an incident when they were much younger and went to see a woman
called La Turque, who ran a brothel. Deslauriers and Frédéric snuck
over to the brothel, but Frédéric became immediately overwhelmed
by the women, and the friends run away. They agree that this is
their happiest memory.
Frédéric’s endless infatuation with Madame Arnoux leads
to the definitive end of his relationships with Rosanette, Madame
Dambreuse, and Louise. He leaves Rosanette to try to stop Madame Arnoux
from leaving and accuses her of being behind the sale of the Arnouxes’
belongings, grandly cutting all ties to her by telling her he’s
never loved anyone but Madame Arnoux. His wild claims prompt Rosanette
to tell him to go to her—and this seems to be the command Frédéric
has been waiting for. Unable to take definitive action on his own,
Frédéric now has someone else telling him to do it; but it is too
late, since Madame Arnoux is already gone. Frédéric, foolishly believing
that Madame Dambreuse will never find out about his attempt to save
Madame Arnoux, is blindsided by Madame Dambreuse’s cruelty in facilitating
the sale of the Arnouxes’ belongings, and he leaves her too. Alone
now, he makes a last-ditch effort to win Louise, but he is too late.
His love for Madame Arnoux has finally cost him every other woman
in his life.
Madame Arnoux’s final visit to Frédéric marks the end
of their strange affair and reveals the limits of Frédéric’s feelings
for her. Frédéric has always managed to rekindle his love for her
whenever she crossed his path; when she visits him after several
years of absence, he feels great delight and easily extols his happiness
and love once more. However, her white hair kills any possibility
of continued romantic feelings. Her drastically changed physical
appearance is a revelation: although he loves Madame Arnoux, he
loves the Madame Arnoux who existed many years ago. This aging,
struggling, unhappy woman no longer interests him; in fact, he thinks that
becoming her lover will be annoying. He continues declaring his
love, but he is speaking to a memory, not the actual woman before
him. All along, he has believed Madame Arnoux to be beyond human,
almost a religious figure, and his easy dismissal of her demonstrates
that he wants her on a pedestal, as a dream, not as a woman in all
her flawed, real, aging, human glory.
The final line of chapter 6, “And
that was all,” marks the end of a protracted phase of Frédéric’s
life, but it has historical resonance as well. Madame Arnoux makes
her final visit to Frédéric in 1867; in 1870,
France’s Second Empire ends. When Frédéric and Deslauriers reminisce
about better days in chapter 7, their nostalgia
mirrors some of the nostalgia the French had for more peaceful times. Although
the layers of historical references are beyond what appears explicitly
in Flaubert’s text, this general idea of parallel endings—the end
of an era for Frédéric as well as for France—gives Frédéric’s love
story a grander context than it would have on its own. The parallel
works in two ways: it gives a personal context to political events,
and it intensifies the importance of political events in individual
Ace your assignments with our guide to Sentimental Education!