Sentimental Education | Study Guide

Gustave Flaubert

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Sentimental Education | Part 2, Chapter 3 | Summary



The events in this chapter take place in March and April of 1847.

Frédéric begins "a wretched existence." He's always helping out at the Arnoux house. The couple continues to fight, and Madame Arnoux complains about her husband. Her pride is wounded. As Frédéric listens to Madame Arnoux, she tells stories about her early married life. She fears she is doomed to a life of unhappiness with Arnoux. Frédéric says his life is a failure too. Madame Arnoux advises him to work and get married. Frédéric feels more cowardly than ever about declaring his love for her.

Frédéric spends plenty of time with Arnoux too. Sometimes they'll have dinner with Regimbart. Arnoux complains about his wife one minute and praises her the next. When a china-clay company Arnoux has invested in collapses, he is forced to pay a debt he can't afford. Arnoux feels he's been too trusting. He has earned a reputation as a shady businessman, and people start to avoid him. The Arnouxs seem to have resigned themselves to a miserable marriage, but Frédéric continues to spend time with them, hoping he can help Madame Arnoux.

A week after the Dambreuses' party, Frédéric returns to Monsieur Dambreuse, but this time Monsieur Dambreuse wants him to invest in a coal company. Frédéric ignores Deslauriers and Pellerin. He introduces Cisy to Rosanette. Rosanette has grown fascinated by Delmar, whose acting career is taking off. Meanwhile, Rosanette has been taking financial advantage of Arnoux. When Arnoux breaks up with Rosanette, Frédéric is suddenly caught between the two of them but wants nothing to do with the situation.

Then, Frédéric finds out he is getting money from his solicitor, and he promises to give the money to Deslauriers to make up for his neglect. He visits Deslauriers, whose political opinions have changed. Deslauriers now thinks radical revolutionaries like Sénécal are just the same as monarchists and that both worship authority in a dangerous way. Deslauriers argues "not a single form of government is legitimate." He wants the newspaper he runs with Hussonnet to take a political stance. Deslauriers says that if Frédéric hosts dinners once a week, they can mobilize many Parisian intellectuals. Frédéric, caught up in his friend's excitement, agrees. Deslauriers's mistress Clémence arrives, and Frédéric is surprised by how rudely Deslauriers treats her.

The next day when Frédéric gets the money, he feels differently about Deslauriers. His best friend now seems conceited and cruel. Arnoux then comes to visit Frédéric with an emergency—he has to repay another debt. If he can't pay by the day's end, his house will be seized. Frédéric asks if he can find anyone to help. Arnoux has exhausted every resource he can think of, and he worries for his family. After Arnoux finally says he'll have to leave Paris, Frédéric offers to give him a loan. Arnoux promises he'll repay it at the end of the week.

When Arnoux leaves, Frédéric agonizes over what to do: He promised the money to Deslauriers. He considers asking Monsieur Dambreuse for money but decides not to. He goes out for a walk, and when he comes back, Arnoux has left a note saying he and his wife would both appreciate the help. Frédéric gives Arnoux the money and lies to Deslauriers later, saying the cash hasn't arrived.

Arnoux puts off repaying Frédéric at the end of the week, and he finally tells Frédéric he can't repay him. Frédéric tells Deslauriers he lost the money gambling. On a walk with Arnoux, Frédéric grows angry when Arnoux starts praising his wife. Frédéric walks away determined never to see the Arnouxs again. Arnoux leaves to see Rosanette. Deslauriers is enraged with Frédéric and considers their friendship over. He feels a renewed sympathy for Sénécal's hatred of the rich.

Frédéric decides to write a history of the Renaissance. One day, Madame Arnoux comes to see him, and she explains Arnoux made her sign false checks to Monsieur Dambreuse. She is hoping Frédéric, who knows Monsieur Dambreuse, can convince him to stop his lawsuit. Frédéric agrees, and Madame Arnoux stays for a while to see his garden. He reminds her of the roses in the carriage after her party and gives her a rose to keep.

The next day, Frédéric sees Monsieur Dambreuse and convinces him to drop the charges against Arnoux. Monsieur Dambreuse asks Frédéric if he still wants his shares in the General Coal Company. He tells Frédéric how successful the coal company will be, then offers him the job of general secretary. Frédéric accepts and agrees to make an investment as well.

Frédéric lets the Arnouxs know the appointment went well, but he is troubled when he receives no acknowledgment from them. Three weeks later while on his way to see Monsieur Dambreuse, Frédéric suddenly decides to visit the Arnouxs instead. He hears that Madame Arnoux is at the pottery factory in the country and goes out to see her. Arnoux's factory is close to another, which Frédéric recognizes as "a confusion in the public's mind" to favor Arnoux.

Sénécal, the foreman of Arnoux's factory, tells Frédéric he hates his job and wants a raise, but Frédéric ignores him. He finds Madame Arnoux, and she is surprised to see him and he says he dreamt of her. "Dreams don't always come true," she tells him. She gives Frédéric a tour of the factory. Sénécal is a harsh taskmaster to his workers. He fines a young woman from Bordeaux for eating on the job. Frédéric points out how harsh the punishment is, but Madame Arnoux gently warns him away. When they are alone, Frédéric tells Madame Arnoux that she enjoys making others suffer. She replies, "I don't understand riddles."

The two then begin talking about love. Frédéric is afraid of both concealing his love and revealing it. He argues that a man should love a woman at all costs. Madame Arnoux responds, saying that the risks may be too high. "So virtue is nothing but cowardice?" Frédéric asks her. Madame Arnoux thinks virtue is "perspicacity," or shrewdness and insight. Her children come to greet her, and she leaves Frédéric by saying women must be "deaf when necessary."

Frédéric realizes Madam Arnoux has crushed his hopes. He is devastated, then angry. When he arrives home he reads a note from Rosanette, who is counting on him to take her to the races tomorrow. He wonders why she is suddenly interested in him, but he resolves to go with her and make Madame Arnoux jealous.


Madame Arnoux's personal moral code comes to light in this chapter. She is offended because her husband has "no delicacy, dignity, or honor." Arnoux's impulsive business ventures showed her what he was like early on, but she doesn't fault him for his behaviors. The corrupting element to her is his bourgeois "way of life." He is stuck in a selfish, materialistic mindset that Paris rewards.

Frédéric, meanwhile, is limited rather than empowered by his desire. Midway through the novel, he has diagnosed his life as a failure. The book returns to the question of why he has failed. Inertia? Lack of opportunities? Poor choices? Bad luck, as he seems to believe? He spends time with two men who blame everyone but themselves for their problems: Regimbart and Arnoux. Regimbart constantly complains "because Providence would not arrange things to suit his ideas." Arnoux claims he's a victim even when he's at fault. Arnoux admires Regimbart, and, in some ways, Arnoux is becoming a role model for Frédéric. In Arnoux, Frédéric recognizes his own tendency to portray himself as the hero in stories. Frédéric wants to protect Madame Arnoux from suffering the consequences of her husband's mistakes, but he wants to protect Arnoux too.

The Arnoux marriage seems to be breaking down. The novel's action is rising and increasing in suspense. Frédéric may get what he wants after all: The Arnouxs may break up without him being at fault.

As the revolution draws closer, other characters also hope to get what they want. Parisians rally to their artists and actors, seeing them as emblems of social change. Delmar uses the turbulent time period to his advantage. He creates a saintly public persona, though he's hardly a saint in real life. Deslauriers tries to keep the emotional tenor of the time period out of his own goals. As a lawyer, he's a linear thinker. He prizes science and reason over faith and sentiment. But, his emotions intrude anyway. As Deslauriers approaches his goal of power in the "editor's chair," he feels "the ineffable joy of controlling other people." His new argument seems strangely impractical to Frédéric—a roundabout endorsement of anarchy or no government at all.

Deslauriers's rousing speech appeals to Frédéric's easy ability to get swept up in other people's enthusiasm, but Deslauriers wants to replace structural authority with his own power. He imagines using "the two handles of literature and politics" to control an impressionable public. His motivations show how the radical thinkers can be just as self-serving as the wealthy conservatives. Deslauriers's cruel reaction to a woman who genuinely cares for him changes Frédéric's opinion. Even though giving money to Arnoux is a doomed investment, Frédéric decides to do it anyway. He can't imagine losing Madame Arnoux forever. He convinces himself he'll get the money back and his friend will be all right. The decision haunts him, however. Deslauriers's footsteps later seem "like blows, striking his conscience." The sentence that begins with "But he did not dare to ask for the money" uses the technique of hypotaxis to build tension. Hypotaxis connects phrases, clauses, or sentences with coordinating or subordinating conjunctions, like "when" and "but." These conjunctions imply cause and effect and create tension. Flaubert sometimes uses hypotaxis to expose a character's train of thought leading to a decision.

Frédéric's decision has consequences he doesn't anticipate. Deslauriers becomes more radical in his hatred of the rich. Arnoux forgets all about it, even though his choices affect others' lives. Meanwhile, Frédéric copes by returning to Madame Arnoux. Flaubert allows a delicate tension to develop between the two characters. Readers believe things could go either way. Frédéric's memory of the roses from Part 1 signify his love is rekindled and may even be returned.

Monsieur Dambreuse represents the corporate interests emerging after the Industrial Revolution. Sénécal also becomes more worrisome as readers see his cruelty to individuals. Frédéric, in a rare moment of political courage, advocates for the essential "humanity" in any democracy.

This chapter ratchets up the stakes of Frédéric's love for Madame Arnoux and what it might cost them both. When they walk through the factory, their conversation is loaded with subtext that keeps readers attentive. Madame Arnoux tries to be subtle and kind in her rejection at first, but when Frédéric grows more direct towards the end of the conversation, she rejects him more forcefully.

Madame Arnoux's morals become clearer: She is determined to do what's necessary to protect herself from painful emotions. She plans to use "perspicacity," or shrewdness, to limit the damage of an emotional affair. She knows actions have consequences, and this rejection leads Frédéric to get involved with Rosanette for the wrong reasons. Her letter uses the phrase "Misunderstanding ... taken the wrong turn," which are frequent paths for the novel's characters.

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