Gustave Flaubert

A Sentimental Education

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A Sentimental Education Summary

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A Sentimental Education is a French novel by Gustave Flaubert, published in 1869. The follow-up to his classic, Madame Bovary, it was extremely influential and is considered a key work in the formation of the modern concept of the novel.

The story opens with Frédéric Moreau, who is on a short break between earning his bachelor’s degree and plunging into a study of the law, on board a ship heading to Paris. He meets an older man named Jacques Arnoux, and they have a conversation; he is introduced to Jacques’s wife, Marie. Frédéric is smitten with Marie, but takes his leave when the ship arrives.

Frédéric has come to Paris based on the advice of his old friend, Deslauriers, who has given him a letter of introduction to a wealthy banker named Dambreuse. Frédéric meets with Dambreuse, but the meeting does not lead to anything. While in Paris, Frédéric comes across a shop that happens to be owned by Jacques; although Frédéric has often thought of Marie, he chooses not to go inside and renew his acquaintance. Instead, he lingers in Paris, aimless.

A few weeks later, Frédéric attends a student protest as the political situation in France staggers toward the revolution of 1848. There he meets a young man named Hussonet, who Frédéric discovers works for Jacques. Frédéric begins spending time with Hussonet and a group of students who meet at the shop. In time, Frédéric is invited to join Jacques and Marie for dinner, and he finds that his infatuation with Marie has only grown stronger. Marie is a devoted wife and mother, however, and shows no inclination to offer Frédéric attention.

Frédéric’s friend Deslauriers arrives. Seeing that his friend is besotted with an older married woman, Deslauriers takes Frédéric to a cabaret show to distract him. There they encounter Jacques and his mistress, Mademoiselle Vatnaz. Frédéric learns that his mother is having financial troubles and reluctantly returns home. He meets his neighbor’s daughter, Louise, but when an uncle passes away and the inheritance eases the family’s money troubles, he returns to Paris.

In Paris, Frédéric discovers that Jacques and Marie have moved away. He searches the city for them and meets one of the students he’d spent time with, Regimbart, who informs him that the shop failed and Jacques now sells pottery. Frédéric meets Jacques, who introduces him to another mistress, Rosanette. Frédéric has brought money that he owes Deslauriers, but when Jacques asks Frédéric for help, he gives the money to Jacques instead, just as Marie learns of her husband’s infidelities.

Deslauriers is angry with Frédéric about the money, so Frédéric once again approaches Dambreuse and asks for a job. This time the interview goes better and Dambreuse offers Frédéric a job—however, when the time comes for Frédéric to start work, he skips the appointment, choosing to visit Marie at the pottery factory. She is not interested in him, however. Hurt, Frédéric returns to the city and pursues Rosanette. Deslauriers meets with Frédéric and notes how poorly his life is going, and advises Frédéric to go home. Frédéric takes this advice and returns to his mother; he begins a relationship with Louise, and they become engaged to be married.

Deslauriers tells Frédéric that he informed Marie of Frédéric’s engagement and that she was distressed at the news. Frédéric travels to Paris and meets with Marie, who admits that she loves him. They make another date, but unbeknownst to Frédéric, Marie’s son falls gravely ill, causing her to miss their date. Upset, Frédéric finds Rosanette and sleeps with her.

Frédéric stays in Paris, living with Rosanette. He has begun writing politically charged articles as the revolution approaches. He resents the fact that Rosanette continues to travel with Jacques into the country. Louise and her father come to track Frédéric down, and Louise is distressed to discover Frédéric is living with another woman.

Frédéric is contacted by Marie, who explains why she missed their earlier date. Just as they are reconciling, however, Rosanette appears and informs Frédéric that she is pregnant. Frédéric cynically decides to seduce his employer’s wife for the social connections it will afford him. Dambreuse passes away shortly afterward, as does Rosanette’s child.

Jacques’s money troubles have grown so severe that he is forced to flee the country to evade the law. Frédéric cannot stand the thought of Marie moving away, and so he approaches his lover, Dambreuse’s wife, and asks for money. She gives it to him, but he is too late—Jacques and Marie have already left Paris. When Mrs. Dambreuse discovers why he needed the money, she is angry, and Frédéric once again has to leave Paris. At home, he discovers that Louise has married Deslauriers.

Frédéric goes back to Paris. Years later, he sees Marie one last time. He tells her he will always love her, even though they have never consummated their love. Some time after that, he meets Deslauriers again, and the novel ends with the two old friends sharing stories.