Sentimental Education | Study Guide

Gustave Flaubert

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Sentimental Education | Part 2, Chapter 4 | Summary



The events in this chapter take place between April and August 1847.

Frédéric and Rosanette head to the races in their carriage. Rosanette mentions Arnoux is in more legal trouble and that she has dumped Delmar. The races are held at the Champ de Mars in Paris. Cisy, to Frédéric's annoyance, comes to greet them. Frédéric is having a good time with Rosanette when he sees Madame Arnoux from a distance.

After the races Cisy asks Rosanette to dinner, but she turns him down. Frédéric and Rosanette go to a café. Frédéric feels depressed, since he's lost his great love. As he and Rosanette pass other riders, he thinks he's always wanted to be where he is now—in a carriage with a wealthy woman, but he's not happy. Rosanette can tell he's unhappy and says, "You aren't the only one, you know!" They join Hussonnet at a café, where Hussonnet bores Frédéric with his absurd statements about art. Cisy arrives and Rosanette says she invited him, to Frédéric's dismay. Frédéric and Cisy compete for Rosanette's attention at dinner, but Rosanette leaves with Cisy at the end of the night. The next day Frédéric regrets not slapping Cisy and vows never to see Rosanette again.

Two days later Pellerin visits Frédéric with an update on Rosanette's portrait. Pellerin says Rosanette no longer wants the painting. Rosanette and Pellerin expect Frédéric to pay for it, since he commissioned the work, but Frédéric refuses, leaving Pellerin upset.

Sénécal visits after Pellerin. After punishing the woman from Bordeaux, Sénécal was fired from Arnoux's factory. Now Sénécal wants help finding another job. Frédéric is irritated, especially when Sénécal refers to "your Madame Arnoux." But Sénécal soon changes the subject to government scandals and the revolution he's certain is coming. When Sénécal leaves, he says he may never see Frédéric again. Sénécal's "look of solemn resignation" and discussion of revolt make Frédéric wonder what he'll do.

A little while later, Frédéric hears Rosanette is no longer seeing Cisy. He runs into Cisy on the street and accepts his invitation to dinner. The morning of the dinner Frédéric learns that Arnoux failed to renew the mortgage on a property Frédéric bought, voiding Frédéric's claim to the property. For a moment Frédéric is angry, then he calms down. He also rejects Hussonnet's request for money to start another newspaper.

At Cisy's dinner, Frédéric meets the Marquis Gilbert des Aulnays, Cisy's cousin Joseph Boffreu, and Cisy's tutor, Monsieur Vezou. Frédéric finds Cisy's mannerisms and flaunting of his wealth more and more obnoxious. Cisy's friend, the Baron de Comaing, arrives late and congratulates Cisy on winning a bet. The baron reveals that Cisy bet he would spend the night with Rosanette after the races. Cisy, embarrassed, says Rosanette is "for sale" to anyone. Frédéric protests, "Not to everybody," and Cisy laughs—Frédéric thinks he's "different from the others."

The discussion turns to Arnoux. Cisy says Arnoux is a well-known swindler who has been taken to court, but Frédéric defends Arnoux passionately. Cisy says the only good thing about Arnoux is his wife, adding, "Everyone knows Sophie Arnoux." Frédéric is offended and asks him what he means. When Cisy makes a disparaging remark about Madame Arnoux, Frédéric throws a plate in his face. The guests try to calm Frédéric, who is in a rage and refuses to apologize. Cisy starts crying. As Frédéric prepares to leave, the baron tells him Cisy will send his "seconds" the next day. Cisy wants a duel to settle the matter. Each man will choose two allies, known as seconds, who make sure the duel doesn't become too violent.

Frédéric heads home with renewed courage and "manly pride." He needs to choose two men to be his seconds. The first man he picks is Regimbart, who is excited about the duel and gives him swordplay advice. Frédéric also asks Dussardier the next day.

Frédéric's seconds meet with Cisy's seconds, the baron and Joseph, to see if they can reach an agreement. Regimbart insists on an apology from Cisy, and Cisy's seconds refuse. They disagree on whether Frédéric or Cisy should choose the weapons. Finally, they ask military captains to decide. The military men rule in favor of Cisy. Cisy is reluctant to duel at all, but he chooses swords as his weapon.

Frédéric can't believe he's going to be in a fight. Even when he imagines his own death, he feels courageous. He is proud to be fighting over a woman's honor. Cisy, on the other hand, is desperate to escape the duel and hopes he'll get sick instead.

On the day of the duel Frédéric, Cisy, and their seconds meet at the Porte Maillot. The seconds review the rules. The baron gives Frédéric one last chance to apologize, but Regimbart refuses. When the duel is about to begin, Cisy faints. Frédéric is still ready to fight, but just then, Arnoux comes by in a carriage and calls for them to stop. He hugs Frédéric and praises him for defending his honor. Arnoux heard about the duel and believed the men were fighting about him.

Frédéric goes out for a drink with Arnoux, Regimbart, and Dussardier. As Arnoux and Regimbart talk about business and women, Frédéric realizes the men do "shady business" together. Although Frédéric loses respect for Arnoux, he becomes closer friends with Dussardier.

One evening, Dussardier tells Frédéric that Sénécal has been arrested for political conspiracy. Sénécal has become more "fanatical" and was caught buying gunpowder to create a bomb. Dussardier, who believes in "universal happiness" and hates authority, feels duty-bound to help Sénécal. He worries about what will happen to Sénécal in prison. Frédéric admires Sénécal's conviction and decides to help, but the two men can't think of a way to save him.

Three weeks later, Frédéric is reading Hussonnet's newspaper. He finds a comic article about his duel with Cisy. The article describes Frédéric as "a poor country bumpkin ... trying to mix with the aristocracy." Frédéric knows Hussonnet is taking revenge on him for not loaning money to the newspaper.

Frédéric sees Rosanette's picture displayed prominently in the window of an art shop and knows Pellerin is manipulating him to get him to pay. He wonders if Hussonnet and Pellerin planned to attack him together. Exasperated, Frédéric decides he shouldn't have gotten involved with either of them in the first place. He goes to Madame Dambreuse's one evening. Martinon is surprised to see him there. The guests discuss politics, expressing concern over the rapid changes in the government and radical political parties. Madame Dambreuse asks Frédéric if he knows Cisy. She then greets the wealthy duchess, a woman who has connections to royalty. The guests turn to talking about poverty. Martinon believes poor people can lift themselves out of poverty if they work hard enough. Monsieur Dambreuse thinks France should increase its national wealth.

Frédéric discovers the guests, especially the women, are gossiping about his relationships with Rosanette and Madame Arnoux. He sees a copy of Hussonnet's newspaper and figures Cisy must have brought the paper to mock him.

Martinon turns the discussion to Sénécal's arrest. He is shocked. The men at the party, who all respect the government's power, believe "political crimes [are] unpardonable." Frédéric argues citizens have a right to resist their government and becomes increasingly angry at the "corruption" of the party guests and argues passionately for resistance. When Frédéric finally leaves, he is determined never to see the Dambreuses or their friends again. He wonders if Madame Dambreuse has a lover.

Missing his old friend, Frédéric goes to see Deslauriers. He doesn't tell him the truth about the money, but Deslauriers figures it out anyway. Deslauriers is glad to confirm his dislike of Arnoux, but he is dismayed when Frédéric won't take legal action against the family. The two old friends enjoy each other's company as much as ever, and spend less time with Dussardier.

Deslauriers offers to help Frédéric if he takes the job as secretary to Monsieur Dambreuse's coal company. Then Frédéric asks Deslauriers for advice about a letter from Madame Moreau. Frédéric's mother wants him to marry Roque's daughter, Louise, but Frédéric isn't interested. At the end of July, however, Frédéric's stock market shares plummet and he needs money. He knows the Roques are coming into a fortune, so he goes to Nogent to see Louise.

Louise has grown into a woman. Frédéric impresses her and his mother's visitors by "[playing] the Parisian and the social celebrity." He learns the details about Roque's fortune. Roque wants his daughter to be a countess, and he thinks Frédéric's connections to Monsieur Dambreuse will earn Frédéric a high social position. The people of Nogent start to consider Frédéric Louise's "intended" spouse, though no formal announcement is made.


Flaubert inserts historical documentary-style commentary at various points in the novel. The crowd of people who watched the races, for instance, was "more select at that time and less vulgar in appearance."

Frédéric notices more troubling details about Rosanette. She admires celebrities in a superficial way. She tries to keep Frédéric's interest by pitting him against Cisy for her affection. She mocks Frédéric's love for Madame Arnoux, toasting "[her] protector's wife." But she is "insolent, intoxicated, and indefinable," and the mystery attracts him. Frédéric knows Rosanette is a key status symbol.

Wealth is the only source of power Frédéric thinks he has. He notices how Cisy uses his wealth as social capital. Frédéric remembers he is still in the competitive, cutthroat world of the bourgeoisie. He hopes to "crush the Marshal and everybody else with his opulence."

Sénécal's visit bothers Frédéric further. Sénécal is becoming harder to vouch for, since the abrasive strength of his convictions keeps getting him fired. He is gathering more information against the government, and his cryptic farewell suggests he'll engage in violent behavior in the future.

Frédéric has plenty on his mind. After his quarrel with Pellerin over buying Rosanette's portrait, he wonders if his friends are just using him for money. Cisy challenges Frédéric's notion he has true affection for Rosanette, saying she's a well-known courtesan "for sale." Frédéric's emotions get the better of him at a crucial moment when he is surrounded by the same royalty and aristocracy he wants to impress.

Once Frédéric learns he is going to duel, he feels empowered again. He enjoys picturing himself as a romantic hero defending his lady's honor. He is the only participant to take the duel seriously. Cisy's overblown fear has a comic effect. Joseph and the baron think the two parties can resolve the situation peacefully. Dussardier wants to support his friend, while Regimbart just wants to fight.

Arnoux and Rosanette's reactions magnify the comedy of the duel. They both take credit for Frédéric's gallant defense of their honor. Once again, Frédéric is able to hide his true feelings. His relationship with Arnoux becomes more complicated. The two have a friendship based on mutual deceit.

Meanwhile, Sénécal turns violent just as Frédéric feared. Sénécal himself is extreme enough in his beliefs to become an assassin. While Dussardier is a much milder and more sympathetic radical, both the book's left-of-center radicals have ulterior motives they don't understand themselves. Sénécal's motivations come from his own "grievances against society." Dussardier lumps all government authority together. Frédéric, who lacks strong political convictions but does have romantic convictions, admires Sénécal's willingness to "[sacrifice] himself to an idea." In fact, Frédéric was hoping to do the same in the duel, but then he reads Hussonnet's article. Although no one reads his newspaper, Hussonnet has an acute sense of people's self-image and social ambitions. He is the keeper of Parisian gossip. His article hits Frédéric where it hurts—his country origins and lack of ability to survive in the city. Frédéric fears he is an "obscure simpleton trying to mix with the aristocracy" as the article says.

When he arrives at the Dambreuses' party, Frédéric is in a rebellious mood. The duel and the article aggravated his shame and class anxiety. He is not in the mood to hear about how the poor can become rich, as Martinon says, if they work hard enough. Seeing their blind loyalty to the government and "instinctive worship of power" turns Frédéric, who feels powerless, into a defender of the revolution. He doesn't realize the members of high society don't care about him or his ideas, but the unnerving experience at the Dambreuses' house gives him the humility he needs to reconcile with Deslauriers. When Deslauriers advises him to consider marriage as a business arrangement, Frédéric is reluctant. He wants to marry for love, but his stocks drop, and he knows money is the only social currency acceptable in Paris. Louise is in the right place at the right time to soothe Frédéric's ego.

Louise's father, Roque, like Arnoux, is a dishonest businessman. His involvement with Monsieur Dambreuse proves his loyalty to the king and the government. Even though he lives in the country, he aspires to high society—respect and a prominent title for his daughter. The class system and the monarchy still have a deep hold on France.

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