L' Education Sentimentale

by Gustave Flaubert

Paperback, 1992



Call number




Gallimard (1992), 499 pages


Frederic Moreau is a law student returning home to Normandy from Paris when he first notices Mme Arnoux, a slender, dark woman several years older than himself. It is the beginning of an infatuation that will last a lifetime. He befriends her husband, an influential businessman, and their paths cross and re-cross over the years. Through financial upheaval, political turmoil and countless affairs, Mme Arnoux remains the constant, unattainable love of Moreau's life. Flaubert described his sweeping story of a young man's passions, ambitions and amours as 'the moral history of the men of my generation'. Based on his own youthful passion for an older woman, Sentimental Educationblends love story, historical authenticity and satire to create one of the greatest French novels of the nineteenth century.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Poquette
Paris in 1840 had a population of just under a million. Just think of all the horses and carriages and people bustling around, and this was about a decade before the great transformations the city underwent during the regime of Napoleon III and his civic planner Haussmann when the great wide boulevards were established.

In 1840 Frédéric Moreau, the protagonist of Sentimental Education, was eighteen years old. The novel opens as a paddlewheel steamboat is about to depart from Paris, continuing its voyage up the Seine from Le Havre where Frédéric had gone to visit his uncle. Frédéric 's family home is in Nogent-sur-Seine, where he is now headed. As fate would have it, he encounters on board a married couple, Monsieur and Madame Arnaux, who will play a significant role in his eventual Parisian sojourn — and not for the better as it turns out.

Well born and with bright prospects ahead of him, he is sent off to Paris to attend law school. He has become obsessed with Madame Arnaux while at the same time cultivating a friendship with the husband. Frédéric 's obsession eventually interferes with his ability to concentrate on his studies, and it soon becomes apparent that his ambitions exceed his abilities. Adultery was something that men seemed to take for granted and married women in general had as ever a very dim view of it. Frédéric 's assumption that it was okay for him to be an interloper into another man's marriage was a commonplace.

The entire novel concerns itself with Frédéric 's mediocre self, his mediocre friends, and his intrigues with various women over a ten-year period and on whom he squanders three-quarters of his fortune. When he is presented with a real opportunity to advance himself, he passes up an appointment with an influential aristocrat because he finds it more important to follow Madame Arnaux into the countryside.

All of Frédéric 's various intrigues take place against a backdrop of the political, social and cultural realities of the time. We see the Revolution of 1848 from the point of view of young men who actually participated.

Flaubert's descriptions — whether they concern street fights or dinner parties, masked balls or political harangues — are vivid and quite compelling, and it is the background that actually drives the novel. Frédéric is hopeless, and one wishes that he will stop sleepwalking through his own life and make some sort of breakthrough, but it never happens. Many of his friends who also showed some promise as young men, suffer a similar lack of success, but for different reasons. As one of his friends said to him when looking back on their lives in retrospect, "I had too much logic, and you too much sentiment." This pretty much sums it up.

Sentimental Education is a fascinating artifact of its time, and an excellent example of Flaubert's Realism and his deeply ironic view of society, but in some ways it represents no advancement at all beyond Madame Bovary. It is merely another chronicle of an adulterous life, but with less drastic consequences.
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LibraryThing member xieouyang
I became interested in this novel after my latest re-read of Madame Bovary, a novel that I love. This one was worthwhile reading. Partly because it dealt with some detail on the revolution of 1848 in France, one of several European countries with uprisings against the governments in that year, and partly because it was very well written. My edition of the novel is one of Barnes & Noble Classics books, that I like because they typically have a good introduction plus plenty of footnotes and end notes. In this case, both were useful both for explaining some events and identifying the 'real' personages that populate the novel.

The core of the novel hinges around the growth of a young man, Frederic Moreau, who wants to move up in the world of society. Born in the small town of Nogent, with limited means, sees as his way to prosper by engaging or marrying a woman of means. At the same time, he feels that he must get a mistress- preferably of means too, naturally. He goes through several liasons and his passion for them ebbs and flows depending on how much they seem to have. His indecision leads him to missing on the best opportunity he had when he decides to marry a neighbor girl of his when they were young children, only to find out that she is marrying one of his friends.

Typical of most 18th or 19th century European novels, the characters see either an inheritance or marriage the ways to become rich. It's hardly ever hard work or dedication, but rather an unexpected turn of luck when one of their uncles dies and leaves them a rich inheritance. It's a perverse way of looking at the world. I see today's equivalent in the hope many people put on winning the lottery. Also, business people are most often depicted as not honorable people- they gain at the expense of others or society.

Back to the novel. I found it generally very engaging and a fast read. Although it's long (the B&N version is about 480 pages of small script) I couldn't put it down and had to figure out ways to get back to reading it.
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LibraryThing member Luli81
An educational reading indeed, either spiritually or rationally speaking.
The novel talks about the life of a young man, Frederic, during the French Revolution and the founding of the French Empire in 1848. It is said that Frederic is in fact Flaubert himself telling about some real events in his life and of course about his platonic love for an older woman, in the book, called Mme Arnoux.
We are able to follow, with a somehow ironic and pessimistic tone, a different set of characters who live the important changes of the era, from the Republican idealist Sénecal to the well off banker Mr. Dambruese, passing several courtesans and artists on the way. The book combines highly advanced politics with almost philosophical wanderings such as existence and death , passion and love, morality and justice...
Each character represents an icon, Mme Arnoux, unattainable perfection; Rosannette, troubled and used courtesan; Deslauries, ambitious and envious middle class lawyer; all of them combine into a well constructed scenery which engulfs you into the story, even if you don't want to.
The book left me wondering if a man is to be judged by the result of his actions or by his good intentions. The answer might not be as easy as it seems after you've read Frederic's story.
A book that shouldn't be missed by those who appreciate a smart and eloquent reading. I think this work outperforms Flaubert's "Madame Bovary".
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LibraryThing member shawnd
When is a classic not a classic? Perhaps when a book has too much going for it: brilliant author, contemporary political events that will define the century, a story that is just wonderful. A Sentimental Education has all these things. However, reading it was a little like eating jam on a bed of jam with no toast. Flaubert in this book tells the story of a young man just finishing college and the course of his life until old age--a better title might have been 'A Sentimental Life', because it's not clear that much education happened at all throughout the book. In fact, the protagonist continues to struggle with a life strategy throughout the book that seems to have more cost than benefit. The youth while not poor has been thrust due to his upbringing in somewhat upper crust circles into society where he struggles to maintain his habits and appearance. While doing just enough work to skate by, he sees and falls madly in love with a married woman. The book tells the story of his life-long attempt to get closer to her and his trials, travails, adventures along the way. Unfortunately, instead of writing what could be a novel very similar to Anna Karenina, both in plot and quality of writing, Flaubert stuffs almost as much political history and debate into the book right alongside. Imaging reading War and Peace and any of the War sections were substituted with characters philosophizing, debating the future of France, Bonaparte, Republicanism, and on and on. It would be a rare reader who would want to keep up with all the historic references, mentions of politicians, philosophers, events, theories and more. Split into two books, perhaps each is a winning effort, however together it's a wonderful love story and classical romance with persistent stultifying breaks into French history.… (more)
LibraryThing member gwendolyndawson
A young man and his lifelong love for an older, married woman. Depicts the social depravity of a certain class of men in France in the late 1800s.
LibraryThing member ErnestHemingway
"Neither Wilder nor Dos Passos are "good writers." Wilder is a very minor writer who knows his limitations and was over inflated in value and as quickly de-flated. Dos Passos is often an excellent writer and has been improving in every way with each book he writes. Both Dos and Wilder come from the same class and neither represents that class-- Wilder represents the Library-- Zola and Hugo were both lousy writers-- but Hugo was a grand old man... Flaubert is a great writer but he only wrote one great book-- Bovary-- one 1/2 great book L'Education, one damned lousy book Bouvard et Pecuchet. Stendhal was a great writer with one good book-- Le Rouge et le Noir-- some fine parts of La Chartreuse de Parme (wonderful) but much of it tripe and the rest junk."
Letter to Paul Romaine, 1932
Selected Letters, pg. 366
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LibraryThing member DRFP
Flaubert himself said it best about this book: "The setting in which my characters move is so copious and so swarming that with every line they are almost swallowed up by it. I am thus obliged to push into the background the things that are precisely the most interesting. I merely touch on lots of things that readers will want to see treated in depth."

And that is my main problem with Sentimental Education - that it tries to cover too much and as a result everyone and everything receives naught but a shallow treatment. The era is fantastically interesting but Flaubert only drops various passing references to real events. Certain fictional events within the book take place that are quite scathing towards people of that era and it's a shame that these happenings are so inadequately developed. The same is true of the characters. Many flit in and out with little consequence. Even our leads spend so much time rushing from one event to another that we're denied a deep impression of them.

It makes for a somewhat frustrating book. The book is far more readable than Madame Bovary (and far more likeable too, in my opinion) but it lacks that earlier work's strict focus. Perhaps if it were the length of War and Peace it could really have worked? As it is it's an entertaining read but one that's too slight to leave a strong impression.… (more)
LibraryThing member tungsten_peerts
Oh how I loved this book. I also love how the reviews here show that people just don't get it.
LibraryThing member unlooped
Telling a moving story, or giving an extensive account of politics of the time doesn't appear to be Flaubert's motive in Sentimental Education. In my view, it is simply giving an account of the experiences of the 'social' of his time. Flaubert tells the story without passing judgements. He is not interested in telling or implying what is right or wrong. He records. And he tells. Yet he has made himself disappear in the text. He is not an author, he is a cameraman, recording images and sentiments and translating them in words.

As Flaubert himself has said, in somewhat different words, ''don't read Sentimental Education in order to learn something. Read, for the sake of the reading experience.'' Free from emotional attachment and moralistic dictations, Flaubert's Sentimental Education is an experience everyone should get a taste of.
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LibraryThing member Schmerguls
1002 Sentimental Education, by Gustave Flaubert translated by Anthony Goldsmith (read 14 Mar 1969) A story of exasperating people who act so contrary to anything sensible, I was nevertheless tremendously moved by it for reasons hard to state. The style, at least in translation, is jerky--but fast-moving. Laid in France in the 1840's and up to 1851, it has as background the reign of Louis Phillippe, the revolution of 1848, etc. Frederick Moreau (no hero to me) falls in love with Madame Arnoux, and so takes after, naturally, Rossamette, Mme. Dumbreuse, etc. Mme. Arnoux is the unattainable. The plot is about that--no more. But so--what more plot was there to Roger Martin du Gard?… (more)
LibraryThing member AnnieHidalgo
You can see the birth of the postmodern in this book. You could probably trace a direct line somehow - a literary genealogy of sorts, from this book to Zadie Smith's On Beauty, for instance. Everything planned by everyone in it turns out to be sadly futile, in the end. Real lives may at times be like that. Literature should not be.

I understand that this book wasn't nearly as popular in Flaubert's time as Madame Bovary, and I see why. Emma Bovary may have come to a sad end, but nobody can say she didn't try. If nothing else, she had spirit. Frederic, the protagonist of this book - well, there's a line in an old song by Kirsty MacColl and the Pogues, "I could have been someone," the singer says, and Kirsty replies, "Well, so could anyone." It's what you'd like to tell Frederic. There were a thousand roads he could've taken at any point. If he'd only bothered to venture down any one of them, he could've been someone. The story of a life wasted does not make for an entertaining read.
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LibraryThing member JVioland
What is it about Flaubert? He writes novels drawing on his amoral life. This appeals to some who call this a great, influential novel - among the "some" were contemporary French authors of similar lifestyles. I found this book tedious.
LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
Say what you will about Woody Allen, he was right to recommend 'Sentimental Education' as one of the greatest pieces of literature the world has ever produced. In this masterpiece Flaubert has managed to assemble all of the great tropes of French literature - the naivete of youth, passion, mistresses, financial despair, death and disease, and, of course, revolution.… (more)
LibraryThing member ritaer
Only got about 75 pages into Gustave Fluabert's Sentimental Education. Found myself wondering whether Marx read French--well, the dates are wrong anyhow, but if there is a more convincing exposition of the uselessness and arrogance of the bourgeoisie I have yet to encounter it. A useless young man lounging around in love with a married women, fantasizing about the arts, neglecting his law studies, lying to his provincial mother--oh the pain, oh the sorrow, oh the need to be kicked in the backside and forced into a factory or a coal mine for a living.… (more)
LibraryThing member hemlokgang
I really enjoyed this novel for the most part. I enjoy the French romantic phrasing. Flaubert creates a truly remarkable character in Frederique, a young man who exemplifies all that it terrible about the upper class, and he must live with the consequences of his actions. The primary themes of the book include: true love, passion, idealism, betrayal, egocentrism of both men and women, manipulation, dishonesty......all the great makings of a wonderful novel. The only negative to me is that the love, confusion, betrayal cycle is repeated a bit much which belabors the point.. The "sentimental educaiton" is not learned until late in adulthood, what a pity!… (more)


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502 p.; 7.01 inches


2070361470 / 9782070361472
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