Sentimental Education | Study Guide

Gustave Flaubert

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Sentimental Education | Part 2, Chapter 5 | Summary

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Summary

The events in this chapter take place in August 1847.

Deslauriers is prepared to help Frédéric get the job with Monsieur Dambreuse's coal company, but Deslauriers is tired of poverty and jealous of Frédéric's fortune. He thinks briefly about asking Monsieur Dambreuse for the job himself because he'd really like the money back Frédéric lost. Deslauriers suspects Frédéric and Madame Arnoux are having an affair. His anger, envy, and admiration of Frédéric lead him to consider having an affair with Madame Arnoux himself. He imagines her as an unattainable, luxurious "society woman" who has everything he wants.

Fueled by emotion, Deslauriers goes to the Arnouxs' residence. He says he's a lawyer sent by Monsieur Moreau, and Frédéric's name seems to upset Madame Arnoux. Deslauriers makes small talk and admires their home, then warns Madame Arnoux about her husband's dishonest business dealings. He says he's there to get Frédéric's money back. Deslauriers both compliments and insults Frédéric, confusing Madame Arnoux.

Finally, Deslauriers kisses Madame Arnoux's hand and declares his love for her. She laughs in his face, enraging him. In return, he tells Madame Arnoux that Frédéric is getting married to Louise Roque. After Deslauriers leaves, Madame Arnoux panics. She realizes she loves Frédéric.

Meanwhile, Frédéric and Louise take a walk in Roque's garden and discuss their memories together. They move to the beach near the Seine River, where he notices her poor taste in clothing but is moved by how much she clearly loves him. In fact, Louise has loved Frédéric since childhood and loves him even more after her mother's death.

When Louise asks, Frédéric insists he has no romantic "attachments" in Paris. Impressed by how much she has grown, Frédéric tells Louise he is fond of her. Louise thinks he won't be brave enough to take her away from Nogent. She asks if he'll marry her, and, unsure what to say, Frédéric vaguely answers he'd like nothing better.

Frédéric has three letters waiting for him at his mother's house. Monsieur Dambreuse's letter is an invitation to dinner. Rosanette's letter thanks Frédéric for risking his life for her and asks him for a loan, which he decides to give her. Deslauriers's letter is long and confusing, urging Frédéric to stay in Nogent for a while. Frédéric is tired of others telling him what to do. He knows he can't stay in Nogent much longer without officially becoming engaged to Louise, so he returns to Paris, telling himself he'll be back in Nogent soon.

Analysis

The narrative switches abruptly to Deslauriers's point of view. To tell the story of an entire generation, Flaubert often departs from Frédéric's perspective. Usually, the third-person omniscient narrator gives additional details, but sometimes the reader enters another character's head to learn something they can't learn from Frédéric. Deslauriers resents his wealthy friend the way the working classes resent the ruling classes. And like the revolutionaries, Deslauriers plans to do something about it. His plan and the revolution both go wrong.

Why is Deslauriers helping Frédéric despite his richer friend's selfishness? Deslauriers' feelings about Frédéric mirror Frédéric's feelings about Arnoux—jealousy, admiration, and an urge to have whatever charm the other person possesses. No matter what Frédéric puts Deslauriers through, Deslauriers will defend him. But Deslauriers will also do whatever he can to have the edge over Frédéric. His commitment comes with constant competitiveness and one-upmanship, like Frédéric's relationship to Arnoux. Flaubert portrays all close relationships as having an element of self-interest.

Deslauriers imagines Madame Arnoux as "the society woman," representing a society he can never enter. He tests his own idea that he can get anything if he wants it badly enough. He employs a strategy many people in the novel use: praising and disparaging someone to gain the sympathy of the person they're speaking to. Deslauriers's final weapon is a piece of gossip he hopes will harm Frédéric, but it backfires. Madame Arnoux only realizes she loves Frédéric once she thinks she can't have him.

Frédéric, at the same time, is bonding with Louise. He recognizes the restlessness and boredom she feels, and he is taken aback by her genuine, honest nature. She lacks the sophistication of the city and the ability to navigate social situations through wit and manipulation, but she loves Frédéric with no agenda. He's not used to this kind of love. Louise pictures Frédéric as greater than he really is, just as Frédéric pictures Madame Arnoux as an ideal. Frédéric represents her only chance to escape the country for the broader, fuller life she dreams of. Although she idealizes him, she doesn't have much confidence he'll be brave enough to resist the pull of Paris's high society and marry a girl from the country.

Frédéric imagines he is, in fact, brave enough to marry Louise; however, the narrator's description of him "telling everybody, and believing himself, that he would soon be back" indicates otherwise. Frédéric is struggling to live a self-determined life without everyone telling him what to do. This struggle leads to a crucial decision in the next chapter.

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