Sentimental Education | Study Guide

Gustave Flaubert

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Sentimental Education | Part 2, Chapter 1 | Summary



The events in this chapter take place between December 14, 1845 and January 1846.

On his way back to Paris, Frédéric imagines the wonderful life he will lead, but he notices changes in the city. The Panthéon resembles "a town in ruins." It's full of factories, taverns, and rows of houses. Frédéric feels better when he sees the Seine and the Boulevard Montmartre. Then, he notices L'Art Industriel is gone: The Arnouxs have moved. He runs all over town trying to find out where the Arnouxs live now. After waiting for hours, he finally learns their address from Regimbart and rushes over. Madame Arnoux now has a three-year-old son, Eugène. Arnoux himself is in the pottery business. The family's wealth has declined, and Frédéric feels Madame Arnoux has changed somehow. On the way home, Frédéric decides he will lead a selfish life from now on, starting by visiting Monsieur Dambreuse.

Frédéric meets Deslauriers for lunch. Deslauriers has had worse luck than his friend. At his state law examinations, Deslauriers argued against a statute of limitations on property ownership, saying it amounted to oppression. He failed his exam, resigned his post, and now gives private lessons for a living. Frédéric is unhappy when Deslauriers assumes he can share Frédéric's fortune. Deslauriers is more bitter and passionate about his political and revolutionary opinions than he's ever been. He tells Frédéric that Hussonnet now runs a literary magazine called L'Art, and Frédéric says he may get involved with the magazine in the future.

Three days later Frédéric, wearing new clothes, tries to visit Monsieur Dambreuse. When Dambreuse isn't home, Frédéric goes to see Arnoux. Madame Arnoux is sick, and Arnoux takes Frédéric to a party "a sweet girl" is hosting. The girl is Rosanette, a wealthy young courtesan. Her costume party includes many guests dressed in bizarre costumes. Frédéric is dazzled by the house's wealth but politely rejects Rosanette when she flirts with him. He runs into Pellerin, who is now interested in painting natural objects. Hussonnet is also at the party drinking and enjoying himself with the guests. Pellerin points out several distinguished guests to Frédéric. One of the guests, a fat elderly man, is Arnoux's neighbor, Monsieur Oudry.

Mademoiselle Vatnaz arrives with an actor named Delmar. When Delmar rejects Rosanette later that night, Arnoux comforts her. Frédéric realizes Arnoux and Rosanette may be lovers.

Soon, Rosanette calls everyone to dinner. A woman dressed like a Sphinx starts bleeding. When Frédéric tells her to go home, she says she might as well stay since "life isn't much fun." Frédéric feels despair. Rosanette, dressed as a marshal, breaks up a fight between two guests. The guests toast "the Marshal."

The party lasts all night, and Frédéric and Arnoux ride home together in the morning. Arnoux seems worried, but denies he's troubled about money. Frédéric goes home with a new taste for the fine life Paris has to offer. He dreams he's trapped in a carriage between Arnoux and the Marshal Rosanette.


Frédéric returns to Paris more confident and determined than he was in Part 1. He is more attuned to the emptiness and unkindness of the rich. Part 2 portrays what happens when Frédéric gets what he wants, only to find it still isn't good enough.

As Frédéric sees the city again, "his hopes and memories ... all merged together in his mind." He still thinks of Paris as a feeling and an idea, but as Paris grows closer to revolution and economic upheaval, the city's aura changes. "Chemical factories" suggest industrial development and transformation. Mist implies vagueness and uncertainty about the future. The rain "rattling like hail" shows events are already different than Frédéric imagined them to be.

Frédéric's reunion with Madame Arnoux is hardly the emotional reunion of two lovers. His long, impatient search for her new address provides comedic relief. The leisurely Regimbart doesn't seem to know Frédéric ever left the city. When Frédéric meets the Arnouxs, he immediately lapses into a false persona—he lies about what kept him in the provinces. Then, he sees Madame Arnoux in a new domestic context as a mother and wife. She is no longer the unattainable ideal, but merely human. Frédéric realizes the driving passion of his life didn't survive the transplant outside of Paris.

Arnoux, like Frédéric, is lying about why he changed his business. He wants to appear concerned about artistic purity. Frédéric sees how Arnoux takes advantage of changing cultural interests in Paris. Once Frédéric's love dissipates, no pure or noble concern restrains him from bad behavior. He realizes he can be as selfish as Arnoux now.

Deslauriers, meanwhile, has achieved a kind of power; however, it's "celebrity, mingled with suspicion" and not the power he formerly craved. He has gotten swept up in the social and economic reform movement, emboldened by his own poverty and the influence of Sénécal. He respects Camille Desmoulins, an orator who called for revolt against the monarchy during the 1789 French Revolution. He praises Barthelemy's pro-revolutionary poem. He sympathizes with the "dreaded Assembly," or the National Assembly, the working-class group formed in 1789, and recalls the revolutionaries storming the Bastille state prison. Deslauriers idealizes the old revolution where "a man could assert himself, prove his strength!" Like Frédéric, Deslauriers is looking for a way to show heroism, but he considers his best friend an opponent. He calls Frédéric a "capitalist," using the word as a slur and comparing him to the ancient wealthy king Croesus.

Deslauriers's actions don't match his ideals. He wants freedom for the masses but is rude to the waiter who serves him and Frédéric. Despite his hatred of "collateral inheritance" where rich families stay rich, he plans to live off Frédéric's wealth. He can't hide his "taste for sumptuous display"—after years of deprivation, he can't help but admire wealth. Like Arnoux, Deslauriers and Hussonnet are capitalizing on the cultural interest in art to begin a newspaper.

Each friend is hesitant about their new adventures. The sentence that begins with "The sun was shining" leads into another example of parataxis, or clauses joined without coordinating or subordinating conjunctions. Flaubert uses parataxis when a scene conveys a character's ideas, thoughts, emotions. The multiple clauses show the friends are taking in each detail of the scene around them. It's a snapshot of momentary calm, suffused with the immensity and potential Frédéric feels.

Students like Deslauriers adopt the disguise of committed socialist agitators. Deslauriers dresses in simple black clothing like Sénécal. When Frédéric attends Hussonnet's party, he sees bourgeois Parisians adopt the disguise of the military. Rosanette is dressed as a marshal—a member of Louis XV's militia. Characters call her "the Marshal" throughout the book because of her memorable costume. Hussonnet is dressed as an army colonel, while other guests dress like peasant girls and sailors. Several guests are dressed as iconic characters of the time. One guest is a pierrot, a stock character in French pantomime. Another guest is a postilion, a character from a popular comic opera. Everyone is pretending to be someone else in costume and behavior.

Weary of reality, Rosanette's party guests immerse themselves in fantasy. Flaubert creates a garish, dreamlike sequence of costumed people behaving badly. The reader observes the party as Frédéric does, standing outside of the action. He feels "lost and ill at ease." The description is meant to feel alienating.

Frédéric is taken aback by Rosanette's wealth and ease with men. He is also tempted and full of desire. The novel uses sensual imagery to describe the women surrounding Frédéric. Their perfume fills the room "like a vast, ubiquitous kiss." When they dance they're a "single dazzling vision." Pellerin's search for the "ideal" beauty and art turns all the women into art objects. Frédéric sees how each woman represents a different type of beauty and pleasure. This variety foreshadows his own inability to choose between the many women who later compete for his affection.

Many of the guests seem egotistical and superficial. Delmar the actor has an inflated opinion of his own importance. Hussonnet, jealous of Delmar's fame, has decided to despise actors as a whole. Even Mademoiselle Vatnaz's idea of a moral book for young people appears to be a frivolous project. Guests disguise their genuine feelings, and Rosanette tries to hide her true love for Delmar.

The woman dressed as the Sphinx finally pulls back the veil on the party. Frédéric realizes everyone is having fun to hide their apathy and aimlessness. It's the ultimate disillusionment. All of Paris's opulence may be a costume or disguise. As the guests' behavior becomes more peculiar, childlike, and unrestrained, the sadness lingers below the surface of the narrative. In the morning after the party, disguises come off, and everyone returns to their responsibilities and their real selves. Arnoux reveals his real feelings for Rosanette through his jealousy of Oudry.

Frédéric, meanwhile, has seen the world he longs to enter. He wants to journey to high society "like a man disembarking from a ship." In Part 2 he will pursue his social-climbing goals with more fervor than in Part 1. His dream of Rosanette the Marshal "tearing him open" foreshadows his own eventual destruction.

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