Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Paris. France’s leading city functions as the setting for the novel on several levels. First, it exists on the purely physical level. Gustave Flaubert—who was once, like Frédéric early in the novel, a young law student in Paris—uses realistic details and names of streets, boulevards, monuments, and other landmarks to describe Frédéric’s life in Paris, meticulously reproducing the city of the pre-Haussmann 1840’s. Readers can map out Frédéric’s walks or carriage rides through Paris to the Latin Quarter, where he studies law; the Seine River, which runs through the heart of Paris; the Champs-Élysées; the Bois de Boulogne, where Frédéric engages in a duel; and Montmartre, where Madame Arnoux lives.

These physical descriptions of Paris are filtered through Frédéric’s mind and colored by his imagination and emotional states. For example, when he walks through the streets with Madame Arnoux, the great love of his life, the chilly, foggy, wet day is for him delightful. When his mood is downcast, descriptions of the city darken. A walk through the Jardin des Plantes, a botanical garden with a museum of natural history, located on the Left Bank, serves as a catalyst for Frédéric’s imagination, and the actual scene disappears as he envisions Madame Arnoux and himself traveling to faraway lands. In fact, at times, everything he sees in Paris reminds him of her.

Other elements of the Parisian setting include cafés, drawing rooms, boudoirs, apartments, and gardens. As Frédéric visits these places, descriptions indicate not only what he sees but also how he feels about what he sees.

Paris is, in addition, a city of politics and revolution during the 1840’s. Flaubert carefully researched each political event and its location before integrating it into the novel. Descriptions of barricades in the streets or of the attack on the Palais Royal, in the heart of Paris,...

(The entire section is 796 words.)