Sentimental Education | Study Guide

Gustave Flaubert

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Sentimental Education | Part 1, Chapter 3 | Summary



This chapter takes place between November 15, 1840 and October 1841.

In November 1840 Frédéric visits Monsieur Dambreuse. The hardworking and crafty Monsieur Dambreuse is an industrial giant with many official honors. His wife, Madame Dambreuse, often mingles with France's nobility.

Monsieur Dambreuse is elderly but still energetic. After their brief meeting, Frédéric notices Madame Dambreuse in a carriage. On the way home, he sees the sign for Arnoux's shop, L'Art Industriel. Frédéric waits in the window of the shop for Madame Arnoux but she doesn't arrive.

Frédéric finds an apartment and enters law school, but he is soon bored, lonely, and tired of his studies. He looks up an old classmate, Martinon. Martinon is an earnest, serious law student with plans to become a magistrate. He is content and doesn't understand Frédéric's distress. Frédéric has made another friend, the rich nobleman Cisy, at law school. However, Cisy strikes Frédéric as dull and too easily amused. Frédéric lacks a true confidant.

Frédéric thinks of Madame Arnoux constantly and envies other people's happiness. He tries to go back to school, but after skipping several classes, he is lost. He begins and abandons writing a Romantic novel. Deslauriers tells Frédéric to befriend a math teacher and strong-minded Republican named Sénécal, but Sénécal isn't home when Frédéric arrives.

Frédéric, who feels "he deserve[s] to be loved," looks hopefully at women on the street and is always disappointed. He spends his days unhappily repeating the same habits—reading, listening to lectures, visiting his acquaintances. One night he sees Jacques Arnoux at the theater with two women. He fears Madame Arnoux is dead. He goes to L'Art Industriel the next day and asks a shop assistant how the couple is doing and learns that they are both well.

Frédéric passes his exams in the spring, returns to Nogent in the summer, and returns to Paris in the fall. His love for Madame Arnoux fades.


This chapter represents Frédéric's introduction to Paris. He is immediately disillusioned, but he does meet many of the characters whose journeys Flaubert will follow throughout the book.

The generation itself—the people who came of age in 1840s' Paris—is a character of its own. Flaubert's goal was to write the generation's "moral history." He introduces a variety of Parisians from different segments of society and with different beliefs and goals. Each of the characters represents a broad "type": the artist, the nobleman, the conservative student, the industrialist, and more. Flaubert's contemporaries could recognize themselves and people they knew in each type. They each get caught up in the decade's turbulent events. Some change, while others stay the same. Some suffer, while others prosper. But no one is completely admirable—Flaubert reveals all of their morals to be flawed.

Monsieur Dambreuse is the book's industrialist and entrepreneur, representing the closest any of the characters come to royalty. As a comte, or count, he is from a noble family. His business activities take advantage of the burgeoning Industrial Revolution.

Martinon and Cisy represent two types of wealthy, well-established young men in Paris, but both are portrayed as simple-minded. Martinon takes his professional ambitions seriously, however. He derives happiness from simple things. Frédéric aspires to a different kind of personal fulfillment, one he can't define himself and one Martinon doesn't understand at all. Cisy, born into nobility, has been insulated and protected by his wealth. As a result, he is naïve and foolish. Cisy's effeminate mannerisms are further evidence of his aristocratic breeding.

Sénécal is the complete opposite. His strong convictions make him off-putting and frightening to Frédéric. Flaubert describes Sénécal as "a future Saint-Just." Saint-Just was the loyal attendant to Robespierre, a major figure in the French Revolution of 1789 that toppled the monarchy. Saint-Just was known as an enthusiastic, principled revolutionary.

In addition to meeting Parisian men, Frédéric is becoming intrigued by Parisian women. He is fascinated with Madame Dambreuse and her "indefinable scent of feminine elegance." But Dambreuse's wealthy wife exists in another world, a world Frédéric cannot enter, yet. Frédéric's life in Paris turns out to be different than the life he pictured. Instead of relaxing with courtesans (upper class prostitutes), he sits in dusty chairs listening to droning professors. He explores the city as an observer and an outsider. The Tuileries, a famous Parisian palace and garden, remind Frédéric of the elegant life he wants, but he is disappointed by the unglamorous reality of the restaurant on the Rue (or street) de la Harpe.

Flaubert frequently uses the stylistic technique of parataxis when setting scenes in the novel. Parataxis involves linking phrases or clauses without coordinating or subordinating conjunctions, such as "but" and "or." Instead, one idea runs fluidly into another. Writers can use parataxis to set a scene with many different elements or to build a series of quickly progressing ideas. The sentence that begins with "Mane brushed against mane, lamp against lamp" uses parataxis to show all the sights and sounds of the Champs-Elysées, an avenue in Paris. The tableau represents Frédéric's fantasies about Parisian life.

When Frédéric pictures himself living in Paris, his images constantly differ from reality. He spends the novel searching for who he is and who he can become. Social class defines people in the hierarchy of 1840s' Paris, and Frédéric isn't sure which class he should join. In Part 1, Chapter 3 he imagines living the artist's life. He tries to write a novel, plays the piano, and envisions passion and romance. But he is more interested in the idea of being an artist than in doing the work required to become one.

Meanwhile, Frédéric judges himself and others based on their perceived social status. He fears "financial humiliation" at the intimidating opera house. He observes indicators like clothing and mannerisms to determine someone's spot in the hierarchy.

Flaubert expresses the monotony of Frédéric's daily life in a succinctly realistic sentence. Frédéric is lost "in the repetition of the same boring activities and the same habits." The reader feels the weight of Frédéric's idleness. His "sentimental education" is often composed of these moments when the happiness he expected in life doesn't arrive.

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