Sentimental Education | Study Guide

Gustave Flaubert

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Sentimental Education | Part 1, Chapter 5 | Summary



This chapter takes place between March 1842 and September 1843.

The day after his dinner at the Arnouxs', Frédéric buys paints and an easel. Pellerin agrees to give him lessons. Deslauriers introduces Frédéric to his friend Sénécal, a committed Republican who thinks "art should aim exclusively at raising the moral standards of the masses." Sénécal and Pellerin get into a disagreement about the purpose of art.

Deslauriers plans to enroll in law school with Frédéric. Deslauriers dreams of having wealth and power someday. Frédéric, meanwhile, is spending extravagantly. He goes to the Arnouxs' weekly for dinner. Deslauriers grows tired of Frédéric constantly talking about Madame Arnoux.

Deslauriers decides the two men should get their mutual friends together on Saturday nights. Hussonnet starts bringing Dussardier. The men begin talking politics, and most of them hate King Louis-Philippe. Only Martinon defends the king. One night the conversation turns to women. Deslauriers and Hussonnet find women pleasant distractions, Cisy fears them, and Sénécal avoids them. Dussardier wants to love one woman all his life.

When Frédéric makes a remark about Sénécal's poverty, Sénécal gets upset. To appease him, Frédéric starts inviting Regimbart to their gatherings. Meanwhile, Deslauriers, who is working as a law clerk, wants Frédéric to give him an invitation to Arnoux's house. Although Frédéric loves his friend, he fears Deslauriers's "attorney-like behavior" will make a bad impression on Madame Arnoux. Deslauriers thinks Frédéric is abandoning their "youthful ideals." To annoy Frédéric, Deslauriers begins mentioning Arnoux frequently.

In August Frédéric starts preparing for his second law school examination. Deslauriers, Hussonnet, and Cisy show up to support him on examination day. Exhausted from studying all night, Frédéric gives a mediocre performance and fails the exam. On the way out he meets Martinon, who has passed his exam. Hussonnet tells Frédéric that Arnoux will leave for Germany the next day.

Frédéric decides to stay in Paris and retake the exam in November. He fights with his mother, who wants him to come home for a visit. When he tries to visit Madame Arnoux, he finds out Arnoux is home and not in Germany after all. Madame Arnoux is out of town visiting her sick mother. Frédéric goes back to the Arnouxs' repeatedly to see if she has returned. He accidentally breaks Madame Arnoux's parasol on one visit. His admiration for Arnoux wanes, and he suffers through an unpleasant dinner with Arnoux and Regimbart.

When Madame Arnoux finally returns, Frédéric's love is rekindled. Every woman in Paris reminds him of her, and he feels as though "Paris depended on her person." Frédéric agonizes over how to tell her he loves her.

Deslauriers takes Frédéric to a dance hall, the Alhambra, to cheer him up. They invite Hussonnet, Cisy, and Dussardier. Hussonnet and Deslauriers flirt while Frédéric, Cisy, and Dussardier watch the dancers. At the While there, Frédéric sees Mademoiselle Vatnaz with Arnoux, and he realizes the two are having an affair. They both count on him to keep their secret. Frédéric leaves the hall with Arnoux, who asks Frédéric why he didn't go home with a woman.

Deslauriers catches up with Frédéric and advises him "to get a thing, all [he] had to do was to want it badly enough." The advice horrifies Frédéric. He feels panicked, hopeless, and miserable. Later, he learns Deslauriers has a girlfriend, an embroideress named Clémence whom he keeps at arm's length.

Hussonnet invites Frédéric to a party for Madame Arnoux, but an invitation to dinner at Monsieur Dambreuse's house arrives for the same day. Frédéric wants to decline the Dambreuses' invitation but Deslauriers urges him to accept. Deslauriers is excited and ambitious about joining high society.

Frédéric wants to buy Madame Arnoux a present and asks Deslauriers for money. Although Deslauriers doesn't have much money, he gives Frédéric some cash since he is living in Frédéric's apartment. The Dambreuses' party is postponed, and Frédéric travels to the Arnoux country estate for the party. He ends up delivering a letter to Arnoux from Mademoiselle Vatnaz, who was looking for him herself. Madame Arnoux greets him warmly and thanks him for her gift, a parasol.

Frédéric tries to make a good impression on the party guests. He worries people who have seen him with his working-class friends Deslauriers and Dussardier will think less of him. Still, he feels bad for Deslauriers and praises him to the guests. He suspects Mademoiselle Vatnaz's letter contains "feminine intrigue."

While the other guests go rowing, Frédéric is left alone with Madame Arnoux. They have a deep conversation and get to know each other. At the end of the night, Frédéric waits to leave in a carriage with Madame Arnoux and Hussonnet. Arnoux wants to give his wife some flowers and wraps the bouquet in a paper from his pocket. When Madame Arnoux returns to the carriage, she forgets the flowers. Despite her protests, Frédéric goes into the house to retrieve them. Soon Madame Arnoux throws the flowers out the window, and she suddenly seems irritable. On the carriage ride home, Frédéric lets the Arnouxs' young daughter, Marthe, rest in his lap. Madame Arnoux says he must be kind and fond of children.

That winter Frédéric works hard on his law studies. He passes exams in December and February. Deslauriers, inspired by his friend's ambition, submits his own doctorate thesis and hopes for a chair at the law school.

The day Frédéric submits his own thesis, he has a party. Paris feels more beautiful than ever to him. He plans to return home to Nogent for the summer. Before he leaves, he goes to the theater on a whim and sees Monsieur and Madame Dambreuse. They invite him to visit when he returns to Paris.

In Nogent Madame Moreau gives Frédéric upsetting news. After paying back debts to her neighbor Roque, she doesn't have much money left for Frédéric's inheritance. She is poor, herself. She tells Frédéric he should become a clerk to a local solicitor, Monsieur Prouharam. Frédéric notices a red-haired girl next door who is about 12 years old. Madame Moreau tells him the girl is Monsieur Roque's daughter with his housekeeper.


Art becomes a lens through which multiple characters express their worldview. Sénécal, for instance, thinks art should further a social cause. He promotes political propaganda in art, literature, and entertainment. Flaubert mentions Sénécal's interest in several socialist writers known in France, such as Louis Blanc, who believed in state-run programs.

Sénécal feels art is "fatal to democracy" since art allows people to imagine an elegant life they'll never have. The novel, itself, reveals many uses for art—wish fulfillment, nostalgia, commerce, and even inspiration for revolution. The novel also debates whether art can, or should, be political. Are the French playwright and comedian Molière's plays simply entertainment, or do they mock authority and encourage audiences to rebel?

Frédéric buys paintings as well as fancy clothes and furniture to achieve his own dream of the romantic, lush life. Deslauriers, working towards the politically powerful life, takes a job he hopes will get him started in a lofty law career. Both friends see their dreams within reach, but still far away. Neither of them considers they may run out of money. Even Frédéric's love for Madame Arnoux is tied up in his desire for wealth. He admires the material objects surrounding her, like her rings. His longing is for both a woman and a lifestyle.

Frédéric's thoughts about women also connect to the role art and literature play in his life. Romantic poets, like Madame Arnoux, represent salvation to him. His male friends have similar perspectives. Pellerin imagines women as an idea in the aesthetic hierarchy. Deslauriers finds women and poetry a distraction. Hussonnet is as amused by women as he is by everything else. Dussardier's longing is pure and innocent. Sénécal avoids women and art entirely. The sheltered Cisy fears them.

The men's love lives unfold against an increasingly dire political backdrop. The fortifications or borders around Paris seem to be the government's attempt to contain the people. The September Laws of 1835 restricted the free press. Regimbart is concerned with recovering the Rhine, a river on the Franco-German border, from the Germans. The chapter otherwise reveals Regimbart to have a simplistic mindset—he admires the liberal journalist Marrast, whom Flaubert thinks is nowhere near as good a writer as Voltaire.

As Frédéric tries to cultivate a new Parisian persona, he adopts a mustache similar to Hussonnet's and starts to part ways with Deslauriers. Frédéric's old friend represents the past he wants to leave behind. Deslauriers, who prefers taking the paternal leadership role in the friendship, is frustrated when he needs something from Frédéric.

But the cracks in Frédéric's persona begin to show. He fails his exams. He doubts himself after buying new clothes to see Madame Arnoux. Instead of taking responsibility for his exams, he blames "bad luck." He connects greatness to fortune, not to work or effort. He is aggravated when Martinon, the young conservative Parisian who seemingly does everything right, surpasses him.

Frédéric develops a sense of inflated self-worth. He thinks he is "worth more" than the men on the boulevard and finds their conversations stupid. Through these flaws in his antihero, Flaubert mocks the outsized egos he sees in the Parisian bourgeoisie.

However, Frédéric has a more compelling reason than professional success to stay in Paris. He is bound by love and possibility, which are "stronger than an iron chain." As he looks over Paris's streets, rivers, and landmarks, Madame Arnoux's house seems like the most important building of all. Madame Arnoux represents the unattainable. Like a successful Parisian career, she is out of Frédéric's reach. When he imagines her, he pictures distant lands, different costumes, and different cultures. She is presented as an archetype of beauty rather than a flawed person.

Frédéric still imagines himself as a character in a Romantic novel. His desire becomes so dramatic that he wants scars or a serious illness to make him endearing. He emphasizes luck and the impossibility of conquering fate. Professionally and personally, Frédéric doesn't believe he can determine his own future; he thinks luck will do it for him.

Still, the shine of Paris and its middle class is wearing off. Arnoux is poor company without his wife. The grand Paris lifestyle represented at the Alhambra isn't as grand as Frédéric once thought. The architecture, with "parallel arcades, Moorish style" and Cupid statues, implies love and romance, but the Parisian social scene doesn't provide much of either. The song ending "Paris is a place to see!" only reminds Frédéric of the boat journey when he was still hopeful.

Paris begins to resemble the torture of the good life just out of reach. Flaubert objected to the success story of many coming-of-age novels—he believed a young, naïve person could never survive Paris. The city can crush hopes quickly. Frédéric's despair and extreme mood swings reflect what Flaubert believed to be a realistic reaction to the overwhelming city.

Deslauriers is a foil for Frédéric, or a character whose qualities contrast with Frédéric's personality. Unlike Frédéric, Deslauriers knows what he wants, and he is prepared to manipulate and take advantage of others to get it. Clémence provides Deslauriers companionship, something Frédéric wants badly, but Deslauriers patronizes Clémence and keeps her at arm's length. Meanwhile, Frédéric has the social connections Deslauriers longs for, but Frédéric doesn't take advantage of them. Both think the other is wasting an opportunity.

Deslauriers's scientific attitude has been influenced by the philosophers he reads, who are products of the Enlightenment or "Age of Reason" in European thought. He feels power and ambition "[function] in accordance with mathematical laws," revealing an analytical view of the world. Deslauriers feels the world will reward his effort and that he has the power to control his future.

Frédéric, on the other hand, believes fortune and luck control his fate. He thanks luck when the Dambreuses' party is canceled. But Frédéric is still doing some planning. He rearranges his life based on people's perception.

At the party Frédéric learns more about Madame Arnoux, and it's not encouraging. She had no idea he broke her parasol, revealing she is not thinking about him as much as he thinks about her. She is devoted to her children, crediting them for her happy life. She values ambition in a man, a quality Frédéric lacks. She rejects both the roses and his outstretched hand—two expressions of romantic passion. However, she may be turning against Arnoux. Her distress at the roses could indicate her discovery the flowers were wrapped in a letter Arnoux received from Mademoiselle Vatnaz.

Frédéric still has hope. He imagines himself as a moving orator, the exact person Madame Arnoux would want to see. Frédéric has a habit of picturing his success on grand stages. He is infected by the possibilities of Paris, and the city's atmosphere, filtered through his point of view, radiates romance. He sees "pink clouds ... floating like scarves" and anticipates "endless years of love." But, in a reversal of fortune, he is brought back to the country just when things start to fall into place in Paris. His mother has had to give up her own dreams, and Frédéric hopes he is not destined to suffer the same fate.

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