Sentimental Education | Study Guide

Gustave Flaubert

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Sentimental Education | Part 2, Chapter 6 | Summary



The events in this chapter take place between August 1847 and February 23, 1848.

Frédéric returns to Paris, but he feels alone and unhappy. He considers the real possibility of marrying Louise and showing her the world. He is also determined, no matter what, to "stop wasting his energy on futile passions." Louise has asked him to buy her two large statues from Arnoux's shop, and he is reluctant to see Arnoux again.

Mademoiselle Vatnaz comes to visit him. She says Rosanette is dating the wealthy Russian Prince Tzernoukoff and is waiting for Frédéric's answer to her letter. Although Frédéric doesn't find Mademoiselle Vatnaz attractive, he feels lust for her anyway. Mademoiselle Vatnaz gives Frédéric three theater tickets to a performance starring Delmar, the actor she's in love with. As Mademoiselle Vatnaz leaves, she calls Frédéric a "breaker of hearts," and he's confused.

The next day Frédéric sees Rosanette to give her the money. He is offended by the casual way she accepts it. She thanks him again—Arnoux told her Frédéric fought in the duel for her sake. The two smoke a pipe together but feel a barrier between them. Rosanette admits she made up the need for money to get Frédéric to come back to her. She asks Frédéric to come to the seaside with her, but he refuses because he doesn't want to hide from Arnoux. On his way out of Rosanette's house, he sees a silver casket belonging to Madame Arnoux. He's both moved and horrified.

Although Frédéric decides not to go back to the Arnouxs' house, he sees Madame Arnoux on the street one day. They cautiously smile at each other and exchange small talk. Frédéric is happy he saw her.

Deslauriers tells Frédéric how upset Madame Arnoux was when he told her about Frédéric's engagement. Deslauriers himself is despondent. He plans to "sail for America or blow out his brains" in a year. Frédéric says his friend has become just like Sénécal. Deslauriers mentions that Sénécal has been released from jail for lack of evidence, and Dussardier is throwing a party to celebrate. Hussonnet will be there, Deslauriers says, since Hussonnet has given Sénécal a job as an accountant.

Dussardier and his friends are all thrilled to see Frédéric. They heard about how he defended the revolutionary cause at the Dambreuses' house. The men discuss the need for democracy and universal suffrage, and Deslauriers says the situation in Europe is approaching a crisis. The men at the party share a "loathing of authority" and discuss government scandals with increasing anger. They think the Civil Service and the Stock Exchange are stealing from the people. Sénécal adds that the French princes are "reviving the manners and morals of the Regency."

Hussonnet comes in after attending a play. Although the play's topic was sympathetic to democracy, Hussonnet thinks it was bad art. The men debate cases of government suppression—journalists have been fined and prosecuted. When people ask where Pellerin and Martinon are, Frédéric insults both men. He attacks Martinon's "fake elegance" and desire to join the middle class.

Dussardier and Deslauriers walk home with Frédéric. They persuade him to buy Pellerin's painting of Rosanette since Pellerin doesn't have much money. Frédéric reluctantly agrees and criticizes the picture when he receives it. Deslauriers, who wants to be a leader in his group of friends, agrees with Frédéric.

Frédéric avoids returning to the Dambreuses' house, knowing he'll have to explain his behavior. Deslauriers encourages him to forget the coal company job. When Frédéric learns from Louise there's a problem with the statues he sent, he has to return to Arnoux's factory for a new order. Arnoux's pottery business is failing, and the employees aren't doing much work. Frédéric is shocked to find Madame Arnoux there. She asks him about his marriage and he denies he's getting married. He says it makes no difference—he's had to "fall back on the second-rate." Madame Arnoux points out he went to the races with Rosanette. Frédéric insists he is not interested in a country girl. He kisses Madame Arnoux and promises he'll never marry. She's surprised and delighted. When the accountant enters the room and catches the two of them together, Madame Arnoux's face glows "with all the blushes of adulterous love."

The next day, Frédéric returns to her. Madame Arnoux says she can't see him again. Frédéric insists his love is innocent and says he can tell she's unhappy and he wants to provide her the "affection and devotion" she lacks. Madame Arnoux resists, but Frédéric tells her she's all he has to live for. Madame Arnoux begs him to leave, and he does, but he returns 24 hours later. This time Arnoux is there alone. He says his wife rented a house in the country. Frédéric immediately goes to visit her, and she is delighted to see him. He begins visiting Madame Arnoux's country house frequently. They discuss their lives but avoid physical or sexual contact. They realize they have many interests and opinions in common. Frédéric wishes he were older, and Madame Arnoux wishes she were younger. They imagine their lives as a couple. Madame Arnoux is happy, preferring Frédéric's adoration to her husband's apathy. Frédéric is happy, but worried he'll lose everything he's gained.

After New Year's Day, Madame Arnoux receives more visitors. They discuss the current political situation. Frédéric, now as restless as Deslauriers, wants a revolution in France. Some of Madame Arnoux's behaviors begin to irritate him. She goes places without telling him, and he doesn't want other people seeing her. One afternoon in February, Madame Arnoux's son Eugène becomes seriously ill. Frédéric comforts her and says Eugène will recover. He feels Madame Arnoux doesn't trust his love, and he wants to go out with her in public. She agrees, but she's startled when he sets a date, time, and place—the following Tuesday between two and three p.m. at the corner of the Rue Tronchet and the Rue de la Ferme. She promises to meet him.

Frédéric quickly finds an apartment near their meeting place so he can bring Madame Arnoux inside. He decorates the apartment excitedly. At home, he reads a scolding letter from his mother that says Roque wants him to declare his engagement to Louise. He also has a letter from Deslauriers telling him "the 'pear' is ripe." Deslauriers is inviting him to a revolutionary meeting and demonstration at dawn the next day in the Place du Panthéon. Frédéric skips the demonstration, but the next day he sees protesters arriving for the meeting. A manifesto in the newspaper told readers to attend a "Reform banquet." No one is sure if the National Guard officers will show up. The government has threatened to ban the banquet. The protesters sing France's national anthem, the Marseillaise, and chant "Down with Guizot!"

Frédéric knows his friends will be in the crowd, but he wants to avoid them, so he slips away. He notices infantrymen and National Guard officers attacking and arresting protesters. The protesters flee when the municipal guard arrives. He waits until two p.m. for Madame Arnoux. By three p.m. Madame Arnoux still hasn't arrived. Frédéric thinks she is running late and he browses in nearby shops. He grows more anxious as the afternoon goes on. He sends a messenger to her house, and the messenger says Madame Arnoux hasn't left yet. He wonders if she is delayed because of the riot. When she still hasn't arrived by six p.m. he is weak and angry.

Madame Arnoux was awakened from a troubling dream the night before by Eugène's coughing. Her son's illness was getting worse. She calls for a doctor and sits at Eugène's bedside all day as his health fails. Finally, the doctor reports Eugène is out of danger. Madame Arnoux thinks of Frédéric, and she feels her son's brush with death is "a warning from Heaven" for her to stop seeing Frédéric, or else she'll be punished. She prays for God's forgiveness.

The next day Frédéric still hasn't received a response from Madame Arnoux. He is furious, and his love for her vanishes. He walks through the streets, seeing revolutionaries in red caps and National Guard members and decides to go to Rosanette's. The Russian prince has left her, and she is glad to see Frédéric. They watch the crowds all day from her window.

The riots lead to a change in government, and everyone in Paris seems happy. The soldiers return to their barracks. Frédéric hears gunfire from bayonets in a crowd on the Boulevard des Capucines. He thinks the revolutionaries are "killing off a few bourgeois." He is detached from the events around him and takes Rosanette to the apartment he prepared for Madame Arnoux. In the middle of the night, Frédéric sobs, saying he's happy and he's wanted Rosanette for too long.


Frédéric wants a change—so does the city of Paris. Both will come to a risky crossroads at the chapter's end.

Frédéric's determination to avoid "futile passions" is thwarted when he confronts the only passion he cares about. Madame Arnoux's silver casket suddenly appears at Rosanette's, and Frédéric regards it as a sacred object. He feels led to return to Madame Arnoux. His friends in Paris are, themselves, seduced by the idea of revolution. Mademoiselle Vatnaz sees its sentimental appeal, and she adores Delmar's portrayal of "the very genius of France, the Common People," implying the actor inspires the rest of his audience to action equally. Deslauriers sees the necessity of revolt as his own situation worsens.

The "Reform banquets" the friends discuss are political meetings in disguise, since political gatherings were officially banned. All of Europe boiled with political turbulence in 1848: a radical candidate was poised to defeat a conservative one in Switzerland; a German and Prussian customs union threatened France; Belgians rebelled against Dutch rule in Holland; King Louis-Philippe refused to support a rebellion. The year 1848 was full of revolutions across Europe, beginning in Italy and spreading to France, Germany, and Austria.

For a moment, the friends bond over their shared grievances, but their differences quickly emerge. Frédéric attacks Martinon as a member of "the new aristocracy, the middle class" because Frédéric feels he's been kicked out of that class himself. A gulf exists between Frédéric and his poorer friends. Deslauriers thinks Frédéric can't understand the poverty of a working artist. He also wants to gain the upper hand over Frédéric again. It seems there's no one Frédéric can completely trust. Fortunately for him, Madame Arnoux is just as vulnerable, and they draw even closer. Just as in politics, a crisis feels imminent. The dialogue becomes tenser. Frédéric wonders if "two unhappy creatures sharing their sadness" is the closest he'll ever get to love.

Frédéric and Madame Arnoux share childlike dreams juxtaposed with more mature considerations. Their images of the lives they could have had seem imaginary, out of a storybook, but they understand the limits their adult lives impose. They deliberately deny themselves physical intimacy. Age is bringing wisdom and reflection to Madame Arnoux. Both she and Frédéric will have a jarring loss of innocence by the end of the chapter. Madame Arnoux nearly loses her child and fears the consequences of her actions. Frédéric realizes the most important meeting of his life isn't going to happen.

Pressure traps Frédéric on all sides. He sees Arnoux cheating freely on his wife. Louise, Roque, and his mother are impatient for him to propose. He takes his bitterness and envy out on Madame Arnoux. Meanwhile, Paris is trapped on all sides as well. The rebels make a decision, and Deslauriers writes, "The 'pear' is ripe." The "pear" was a coded reference to the shape of King Louis-Philippe's head. Like a pear on a tree, the monarchy is "ripe" and about to fall.

Frédéric finally makes a decision rather than leave his life up to fate. But, in a twist of situational irony, just when he becomes determined to take a course of action, it doesn't work out. The scenes of the early revolution unfold naturally, limited to Frédéric's point of view. Whispers of violence surround images of luxury and peace. Chinese lanterns resemble "garlands of fire." The fusillade, a series of shots fired in succession, sounds like "a huge piece of silk being ripped in two." The red caps, also called liberty caps, were a popular symbol in revolutionary iconography. Red was the rebels' color.

The shots famously kill several protestors, whose corpses are paraded through the streets of Paris, but the distance of the shots lets Frédéric consider the event far away and irrelevant. Once he realizes Madame Arnoux isn't coming, his reactions grow oddly callous. He jokes and he smiles. By choosing Rosanette, he picks an alliance with Paris's wealthy, popular bourgeoisie—the people he claimed to detest. However, when he says, "I've been wanting you for too long," he's thinking of Madame Arnoux.

Meanwhile, Madame Arnoux reveals she believes in fate and fortune just as much as Frédéric does. To describe Eugène's illness, Flaubert spent time in a children's hospital. Flaubert decided to have Eugène recover, though at the time children rarely recovered from serious illness. Madame Arnoux imagines her son dying violently as a young man—an image that parallels the violence of the coming revolution.

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