Sentimental Education | Study Guide

Gustave Flaubert

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Sentimental Education | Part 1, Chapter 2 | Summary

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Summary

The events described in this chapter take place between 1833 and 1840.

Deslauriers, also from Nogent, grew up in poverty with an abusive father. He and Frédéric attended the same school. Frédéric, 12 years old, looked up to the 15-year-old Deslauriers and befriended him after fellow students mocked him. Deslauriers was ambitious and intelligent and read philosophy at every opportunity. The wealthier Frédéric spent time reading plays and memoirs. The two young men planned to live and enjoy wealth in Paris after graduation.

When Frédéric catches up with Deslauriers, he learns his friend can't join him in Paris right away. Deslauriers needs to save money to apply for a position at Paris's law school and has taken a clerk job in the town of Troyes. Frédéric is disappointed but cheers up when he thinks of Madame Arnoux. The friends discuss their latest interests. Frédéric is reading Romantic novelists, while Deslauriers is focusing on politics, economics, and the French Revolution.

As the friends go for a walk in Nogent, Deslauriers claims, "There's another revolution on the way." People are tired of the current French government. He wishes he had money to publish his own opinions in a newspaper. Frédéric, meanwhile, feels he cannot achieve greatness without a woman who loves him.

The friends run into Roque, a steward who is disliked in the neighborhood. Deslauriers recalls that Roque works for the rich banker, Monsieur Dambreuse. He urges Frédéric to get Roque to introduce him to Monsieur Dambreuse so Frédéric can join Paris's wealthy elite and help Deslauriers join their circle later. Deslauriers also advises Frédéric to pass his law exams and grow out of his obsession with Romantic poets. The two men recall their past adventures, laugh, and depart.

Analysis

Deslauriers's background reveals the two friends' class differences. These differences shape their behavior as young adults. Deslauriers had a childhood full of suffering and hard work. His father's distress at the "fall of the Emperor" most likely refers to the reign of Napoléon Bonaparte (1769–1821). The conflict Deslauriers has with his father may influence his own distaste for authority and monarchy.

Madame Moreau associates Deslauriers's behavior and political opinions with the lower classes; Frédéric does, too. As Frédéric climbs the ranks of society, he will make more of an effort to distance himself from Deslauriers, though he will never quite succeed.

The friends admire each other for possessing qualities they desire in themselves. Frédéric admires Deslauriers's strength; Deslauriers admires Frédéric's compassion. Their friendship has an envious, competitive edge throughout the book as their power dynamics shift. This chapter establishes the two friends' driving desires. Deslauriers thirsts for power, while Frédéric longs for love.

In their differing goals, the friends represent a contrast between realist and romantic ways of observing the world. Deslauriers is the practical realist. He reads philosophy and admires Walter Scott (1771–1832), a famous historian, inventor, and biographer.

Frédéric is the dreamy romantic. Flaubert lists the names of leading characters Werther, Rene, Franck, and others in the Romantic literature Frédéric reads. The books' authors include Romantic standbys like German poet Goethe and English poet Byron. Frédéric aspires to have the life of a Romantic hero, pining for a great love. His youthful idealism is shaped by stories and the belief that "great emotions produce great works of art."

Flaubert shows Frédéric's naiveté clearly—the young man's idea of life is shaped by books. Flaubert read the same Romantic books as a young man, so he is speaking from experience. Similarly, the two friends have a stylized, artificial idea of what life will be like in Paris. They imagine relaxation, love affairs, and courtesans.

Deslauriers has his own agenda. Like many Parisian citizens at the time, he seeks a platform for his political opinions, but he realizes money is power. Since he wasn't born into money, he will always be fighting an uphill battle to get the authority he wants. Deslauriers's talk of revolution begins to alienate Frédéric. So does his pressure for an introduction to Monsieur Dambreuse, the banker who represents Paris's old-money aristocracy.

Frédéric is starting to irritate Deslauriers, too. Deslauriers thinks his friend should grow out of older poets and their reliance on religion and mysticism. As an aspiring lawyer with modern and realist sensibilities, Deslauriers lives in the real world, and he thinks Frédéric aspires to live in a fantasy world. He expresses frustration with Frédéric's complaints, believing Frédéric exaggerates his suffering. Frédéric senses how Deslauriers feels, and he starts keeping his desires secret.

The "squat little house" and the reference to "a shared adventure" are mysterious to the reader at first. The friends joke about their former poverty, recalling the "wisdom" they hoped to gain from it. Flaubert waits to reveal the details and importance of the "shared adventure" until the novel's final chapter.

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