Sentimental Education | Study Guide

Gustave Flaubert

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Sentimental Education | Part 1, Chapter 4 | Summary

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Summary

This chapter takes place between December 1841 and February 1842.

In December 1841, during Frédéric's second year of law school, he notices a political demonstration near Paris's Panthéon building. "Men in smocks" are addressing a crowd of students while soldiers stand nearby. Petitions for government reform have been circulated widely, and demonstrations are common. Frédéric talks to a light-haired young man with a mustache and beard. The man doesn't take the student demonstration seriously. He finds the students meek, unlike the rebellious protesters of the past.

Frédéric and the man run into Martinon, who is nervous about a possible riot. An elderly, respected professor begins to lecture to the crowd, but protest chants begin against "the traitors" —King Louis-Philippe and Guizot and Pritchard, two corrupt politicians associated with the king. Students lose interest in the professor, who "was hated now, for he represented authority."

The students begin to sing and march, invoking the names of famous poets sympathetic to revolution. The man with the mustache shouts "To Voltaire's!" to mock the students. The policemen try to disperse the crowd, but students chant "Down with the butchers!" and jeer. When a policeman shoves a young boy, a large man in the crowd fights the policeman back. The large man cries out his name is Dussardier, he's a shop assistant, and he wants his "cardboard box." He is taken to jail. Meanwhile, the crowd loses energy and disperses.

Frédéric, Martinon, and the man with the mustache admire Dussardier and are angry with the authorities. They visit Dussardier in jail. The man with the mustache, whose name is Hussonnet, convinces Dussardier to let them help him by pretending he's a student. The three men give Dussardier cigars.

Frédéric goes to lunch with Martinon and Hussonnet. Hussonnet works for fashion magazines and designs ads for L'Art Industriel. He is also a fame-hungry songwriter who hates the Romantic poets Frédéric loves.

At Frédéric's request, Hussonnet takes him to L'Art Industriel. The art shop is "a convenient meeting place, neutral ground where rival factions could rub shoulders." Arnoux is drinking and talking with several artists. Frédéric meets the self-important painter Pellerin and the cranky older man Regimbart, whom the artists call "the Citizen." Arnoux continues work, exasperated at the "high-and-mighty nobles" who attempt to sell him paintings.

As the men discuss the Parisian art scene, a tall, slim woman enters. It's Mademoiselle Vatnaz— Frédéric recognizes her from an event the previous summer. She and Arnoux have a heated private discussion where she reveals she is waiting for something he promised her.

Frédéric walks Pellerin home. Pellerin plans to paint masterpieces, and is working on "discovering the true theory of Beauty." Frédéric repeatedly visits Pellerin's studio and admires the paintings. Pellerin tells Frédéric that Arnoux has several mistresses but Madame Arnoux is faithful to her husband.

Soon Frédéric is a regular at L'Art Industriel. Regimbart also shows up daily to talk about politics. Frédéric observes Arnoux is a "cunning businessman" who takes advantage of his patrons. Arnoux, however, considers himself an honest man.

One day Frédéric sees the hem of Madame Arnoux's dress in the shop as she passes by. He longs for her again. He and Regimbart visit Pellerin, who is angry with Arnoux for criticizing his paintings but reselling them and pocketing the money. Frédéric defends Arnoux.

The next week Deslauriers sends a letter saying he is coming to Paris. Frédéric is overjoyed to see his old friend. When Deslauriers arrives, he is impressed by Frédéric's wealth. Frédéric plans to dine at the Arnouxs' that night but lies to Deslauriers about where he is going.

At the Arnouxs' dinner, Frédéric finally sees Madame Arnoux again. He enjoys the food, drinks, and conversation. He notices Madame Arnoux listening carefully when Pellerin rants about the importance of beauty in art. Madame Arnoux later sings a song to a piano accompaniment, and at the end of the night, she takes Frédéric's hand. He is elated but wonders if it's "a casual gesture, or an encouragement." He walks home in a daze. He decides to be a great painter since this profession will bring him closer to Madame Arnoux.

Analysis

The action of the novel picks up momentum and Frédéric meets more of the people who will define Paris for him.

Hussonnet is one character who represents the Bohemian—an artist, writer, or actor who takes pride in an unconventional life. The Parisian subculture of Bohemians was beginning to flourish in the 1840s and 1850s. The Bohemians hoped for fame and wealth instead of obscurity and poverty and devoted themselves to their art. People considered Bohemian life romantic and enviable.

Hussonnet observes every event from a distance. He often confuses art and life, seeing the political chaos around him as material for stories. He doesn't think much of the student protesters, believing past rebels showed more courage.

In the early 1840s student demonstrations were commonplace in Paris. Legislation like the Humann census, an unpopular initiative designed to increase the number of taxpayers, made students take to the streets. "The troubles in September" were riots in the provinces or countryside after the census was announced. Students and other dissidents despised the National Guard, a middle-class militia. International conflict added to the tension. Hussonnet's reference to the Customs Union brings up the idea that free trade would help England at France's expense. Frédéric doesn't feel strongly about the political issues of the time, but he is swept up in the romantic appeal of protest.

While Hussonnet mocks the students as the ineffectual "Youth of the Schools," Martinon fears his own middle-class lifestyle is under attack. The crowd's respect for the poor, such as the impoverished professor Samuel Rondelot, is secondary to their hatred of authority.

Guizot, the politician the students want ousted, was a minister and close adviser to King Louis-Philippe and made many of the regime's unpopular decisions. He was responsible for the "Pritchard Affair," a scandal involving Pritchard, the British consul in Tahiti. Pritchard was arrested when France annexed Tahiti, but Guizot paid him off to avoid a war. The French public saw both Guizot and Pritchard as equally corrupt.

The students gather inspiration from liberal public figures. Beranger was a poet known to be against the monarchy. Laffite, a banker, and Chateaubriand, a novelist, were also revolutionary sympathizers. The Marseillaise, the French national anthem sung by the students, was frequently banned because of its ties to the French Revolution of 1789. Hussonnet mocks the crowd's idealization of famous figures, suggesting they might as well march to the cynical philosopher Voltaire's home instead.

The crowd's fervor eventually turns into mob mentality. They consider anyone who represents authority a "butcher." When both police and protesters become violent, Dussardier is caught in the crossfire.

Dussardier is one of the few working-class characters in the novel. He has a good heart and sincere desire for reform, but he lacks the intellectual training and social status of the other main characters. This chapter shows how Dussardier's commitment to the revolution is compromised by employment anxiety. He loses a box belonging to his employer, and he is anxious about it even during his arrest. His strong physical build and expression similar to a "good-natured dog" associate him with working-class stereotypes. Unlike the noncommittal Frédéric and the sarcastic Hussonnet, Dussardier's revolutionary impulses are so pure he doesn't know when to stop defending them. Frédéric and Hussonnet admire the passion they lack themselves.

Dussardier's sincerity and the protesters' efforts manage to emotionally manipulate both Frédéric and Hussonnet for a moment. But, as the protest dwindles, it seems more like a performance. The student rebels become "the rowdy," and the onlookers "the inquisitive." Politics fade into the background. Similarly, many characters back away when confronted with anything earnest or sincere. When the "frivolous-minded" Hussonnet discusses art and poetry, his first response is to make fun of it.

The salon or discussion center at L'Art Industriel is Flaubert's satire of the art world. The painters criticize absent artists and worry their own work isn't selling for enough money. Pellerin, among others, has an elevated sense of his own importance. Regimbart, the average "Citizen" with no profession, simply complains about current events and comments on the liberal newspaper the Nationale. But the art shop has a mystical aura that is attractive to Frédéric, who notices light cutting through the cigar smoke "like rays of sunshine in a mist." Mist often signifies doubt or ambiguity, and Frédéric isn't sure what to make of the scene at L'Art Industriel. For instance, he sees Arnoux's dishonesty in business and marriage. By contrast, Madame Arnoux becomes even purer in Frédéric's mind, mistreated by a husband who doesn't deserve her.

Pellerin, like Frédéric, is constantly searching for beauty and meaning. Pellerin's idea of good art will change throughout the novel. In this chapter, he idealizes the past as a time of opulence and glory. The "grand manner," his artistic movement of choice, imitated the styles of the Italian Renaissance and the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Arnoux, on the other hand, proves art and beauty are commodities for sale. He offers "the sublime at a reasonable price." While art is an unattainable, abstract ideal to Frédéric and Pellerin, to Arnoux it's another business scheme. For instance, Arnoux promotes mediocre artists rather than great ones in order to benefit in the long run. Pellerin and Arnoux's business relationship relies on manipulation. Arnoux uses Pellerin for profit, and Pellerin uses Arnoux for fame.

Like most of the novel's other characters, Arnoux fails to see himself the way others see him. Arnoux believes he is "the soul of honesty" when he is known to be corrupt. Frédéric feels a strange affinity for Arnoux throughout the novel—a mixture of pity and sympathy. In Arnoux, Frédéric recognizes some of the delusions he possesses himself. Even as Frédéric realizes the truth about Arnoux's vulgarity, condescension, and philandering, he stays close to Arnoux as a strategy.

For the first time, Frédéric has to choose between his old loyalty to Deslauriers and his new loyalty to the bourgeoisie of Paris. Although Frédéric and Deslauriers have genuine respect and affection for one another, they are also envious and competitive. As they develop agendas and ulterior motives, their friendship will constantly be tested.

In Part 1 Frédéric is still keenly aware of his own selfish tendencies, but money represents both power and corruption, leading to a downward spiral. Deslauriers, overwhelmed by Frédéric's lavish spending, has already put Frédéric in the category of "the rich." This separation creates a gulf between the friends.

Meanwhile, Frédéric is entranced by the Parisian bourgeoisie represented at the Arnouxs' dinner. Their lives—traveling, attending the theater, discussing art—appeal to him. The welcoming and intimate details of the Arnoux home further endear him to Madame Arnoux. He falls for the illusion of warmth and contentment, and he prides himself on being able to follow along with the crude talk about women.

Later he will learn the Arnoux house is not content at all, and Madame Arnoux is still a mystery to him. For instance, he can't understand a word of the Italian song she sings.

Pellerin's hatred of "hideous reality" and "vulgarity" reflects the stubborn romantic tendencies of artists in "the grand school of painting." Flaubert comments on the sharp division between Realism and Romanticism, both mockingly and searchingly. Should art reflect the "bad joke" of reality? Or should art provide escapism? Pellerin's words "grandeur" and "exaltation" portray art as a religious experience. Pellerin is one of the book's artists who takes his work far too seriously, satirizing artists in Flaubert's time. But Flaubert still has a soft spot for Romanticism. In the passage that begins with "The street-lamps shone in two straight lines," the action stops for a moment of happy contemplation. Frédéric wanders through Paris, meditating in a moment of pure joy. When he hears the church clock, he feels "transported into a higher world." He experiences his own moment of grandeur and exaltation.

Frédéric associates love with transcendence, an experience above and beyond ordinary life, and a few details suggest he is getting carried away. He makes a career choice to become an artist based purely on an elusive feeling, picturing himself as a handsome romantic hero in the mirror.

The "two straight lines" of the street-lamps' light show parallel lines, never intersecting. These lines resemble the separate lives Frédéric and Madame Arnoux will lead, running alongside each other but never quite meeting in the way he wants.

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