Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
A Sentimental Education, Flaubert’s third novel, furthered the author’s reputation for realism through its depiction of the recent past, specifically the events of 1848. The novel also had another realistic twist in its autobiographical underpinnings: The basis for Frédéric’s infatuation with Madame Arnoux is Flaubert’s idealization of Madame Maurice Schlésinger (Elisa Foucault), whom he had met while on vacation at Trouville, when he was only fourteen. Madame Schlésinger, the wife of a music editor and then twenty-six years old, became for Flaubert the model of an ideal but distant woman.
A Sentimental Education follows its hero Frédéric Moreau over a period of many years, from his youth and its romantic aspirations through a series of lessons in life in which Frédéric is exposed to the decidedly unromantic side of a number of lifestyles. Political idealism, brotherhood, high society, finance, and the art world are all demystified as Frédéric learns more about each segment of society. Gradually, his ideals are eroded, leaving him only with disillusionment. When he gets together with his old childhood friend, Deslauriers, at the end of the novel, they relive their schoolboy days, including one incident in particular when they went to a brothel. In the closing words of the novel, the two men decide that these were the best times they had ever had. The nostalgia for their lost youth and innocence is poignant, yet at the...
(The entire section is 795 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In 1840, the boat down the Seine to Nogent has among its passengers Frederic Moreau, who is returning home after finishing his course at the Collège de Sens and who has the prospect of a long vacation before beginning his law studies in Paris. Seeing on the boat an older man whose conversation is eagerly followed by a group of admirers, Frederic draws closer to hear what is being said. In a most worldly fashion, Monsieur Arnoux is holding forth on the subject of women. He notices Frederic in the circle, and after he finishes speaking, he introduces himself to the young man and the two promenade for some time on deck. Arnoux invites Frederic to call on him when he arrives in Paris.
Frederic then goes up to the first-class deck to sit and reflect on his homecoming. There he sees an attractive woman knitting; Frederic thinks she is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. She is a little older than he and has a demure manner; she never once looks directly at him, though they are alone on the deck. Frederic moves several times to see her from different angles. Finally she drops her ball of yarn, and Frederic retrieves it; her murmur of thanks is pleasant to hear. A few minutes later, a little girl approaches, and he knows the child is the woman’s daughter. Then Arnoux appears on deck and Frederic learns that the woman is his wife. When the boat docks, he watches them drive away.
Madame Moreau, a widow, is glad to see her son; she has placed...
(The entire section is 1451 words.)