Discuss the moment of compassion and understanding that passed between Madame Aubain and Félicité in A Simple Heart.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The moment of compassion and understanding that emerges between Madame Aubain and Felicite happens when both of them meet going in opposite directions on the path of spirituality.  Felicite had started to emerge on this path of spirituality and religious faith in Christianity.  Her learning in this developed as she helped Virginie learn her lessons for her Confirmation.  Something settled inside Felicite, and she became more fervently devoted to religion and religious expression.  To a large extent, it was this emergence in her own soul that enabled her to take a form that was completely different than the world around her.  When Virginie dies, Madame Aubain is inconsolable.  She slips into a world of despair.  While Virginie is equally distraught by Virginie's death, she approaches it with her spirituality as a guide for her, proving to be one of the strongest tests of her faith up to this point.  She keeps a vigil by the body and prepares it for burial.  While Madame Aubain cannot be reached by anyone, Felicite uses her lessons of spirituality and religious identity to keep Madame Aubain from slipping into an unreachable place.

It is a moment in time for both. Throughout the text, Madame Aubain had been on a different plane than Felicite.  As the narrative advances, Felicite's true nature begins to emerge and she is able to not only weather the particular challenges placed upon her, but also triumph over them with a specific grace and unique manner all her own.  The fact that Madame Aubain, someone who used to treat Felicite with coldness and detachment, now can only be reached by her is highly significant.  The embrace between them is a moment where pain of this world and the love found in another mesh into one singular instant:

It was the first time in their lives, Mme. Aubain's nature not being expansive. Félicité was as grateful as though she had received a favor, and cherished her mistress from that moment with the devotion of an animal and a religious worship.

This becomes the seminal moment in their relationship.  It also marks the point where Flaubert ascends in making Felicite closer to a saint in that she becomes convinced that her belief in religion allowed her to become closer to Madame Aubain and to place death in its proper context.  From this point on, Felicite's "joy" of life is expressed through religious zeal and spirituality.  To this end, the moment between both Madame Aubain and Felicite is the instant where this ascension starts.