Sentimental Education | Study Guide

Gustave Flaubert

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Sentimental Education | Part 3, Chapter 3 | Summary



The events in this chapter take place between August 1848 and June 1850.

Frédéric begins living at Rosanette's apartment. He considers himself "her property, her chattel." One day, Rosanette mentions Arnoux has opened a drapery shop for a woman who once worked at his factory and is buying things for the woman too. Rosanette is indignant because Arnoux owes her money.

Arnoux's business has collapsed, and his relationship with his wife is tense. He wants to see Frédéric again, but Frédéric has avoided the Arnouxs, afraid of seeing Madame Arnoux. He finally decides to see them anyway, since he has no excuse. On the way, he runs into Regimbart's friend Compain. Compain is complaining about government official Rateau's proposal to dissolve the new Constituent Assembly. Compain reveals Deslauriers has been involved in revolutionary activities. Before leaving, Compain makes a joke about the calf's head, which Frédéric doesn't understand.

Madame Arnoux is shocked to see Frédéric. Her husband is out. Frédéric asks about the Arnoux children. He can tell Madame Arnoux is near tears, and he mentions her failure to meet him at their proposed meeting place in February. She explains she was afraid for her son's health. Frédéric instantly forgives her. However, Madame Arnoux is still upset with him—she knows Rosanette is his mistress. Frédéric protests that he only got involved with Rosanette out of despair and that he still loves Madame Arnoux as much as ever. She says she loves him, too, and they both confess their lingering sadness. Madame Arnoux says her life as a mother is sorrowful but her loneliness is worse. Overcome with passion, the two kiss.

Rosanette walks in on them as they're embracing. She claims she is there to see Arnoux on business. Frédéric leaves with Rosanette in a cab, and they remain silent during the whole ride. Frédéric feels deep shame and regret. He almost had perfect happiness, he feels, and it was snatched away from him. Once the two arrive home, Frédéric accuses Rosanette of spying on him. Rosanette protests, but Frédéric accuses her of assaulting Madame Arnoux and raises his hand to hit her. Rosanette cries out for him not to kill her because she's pregnant.

The news shocks Frédéric. He thinks she's lying, but a second glance shows her appearance has changed. He's upset. He can't leave Rosanette now, his plans are ruined, and he doesn't want to be a father. He imagines the child he and Madame Arnoux might have had and he's filled with love. Frédéric tells Rosanette, "We'll let the kid live!" Rosanette is thrilled.

Since tensions have died down, Frédéric asks Rosanette why she went to see Arnoux. She says she needed to pay a debt to Mademoiselle Vatnaz. Frédéric offers to repay Mademoiselle Vatnaz himself and goes to her house the next day. Mademoiselle Vatnaz is spending time with Delmar, Dussardier, and several Parisian intellectuals. Frédéric is able to collect the money, but he wonders why Mademoiselle Vatnaz is keeping a "jealous watch" on Dussardier.

Rosanette's faults become obvious to Frédéric. He hates the phrases she uses and the way she treats her maid, Delphine. Frédéric is relieved when Madame Dambreuse resumes her parties, since he enjoys her company. Madame Dambreuse is a good conversationalist, providing "the pleasure of the unexpected."

Martinon, now engaged to Madame Dambreuse's niece, Cécile, praises Frédéric to the Dambreuses. Even Monsieur Dambreuse seems interested in Frédéric's future, implying he "did well" getting engaged to Louise.

Meanwhile, Rosanette is in much more debt than Frédéric realizes, and she doesn't want to ask him for money. Frédéric stops paying much attention to Rosanette. He imagines a "nobler and more amusing" life and starts meeting famous guests at the Dambreuses' home. The guests include "all the stock characters of the political comedy." They're petty, spiteful, and selfish. They plan to destroy France's new Constitution and are working hard to promote conservative ideals. They detest Cavaignac and the revolutionary poet, Lamartine. They applaud any public thinkers and politicians who oppose Socialism. Although spending time at the Dambreuses begins to "dull [Frédéric's] sense of morality," he secretly wants these impressive people to think well of him. He decides taking Madame Dambreuse as a mistress will be the best way to rise in the social ranks. He begins spending time with her and complimenting her, and they have discussions about love. Frédéric doesn't feel as ecstatic as he did with Madame Arnoux, or as excited as he did with Rosanette, but he is interested in Madame Dambreuse as "an exotic, inaccessible object." He declares feelings to her that he really feels for Madame Arnoux.

Madame Dambreuse, meanwhile, is trying to put off Martinon and Cécile's marriage. The Dambreuses tell Martinon that Cécile has no money. Martinon unexpectedly says his own income will be enough for them both. This touches Monsieur Dambreuse, and he permits them to marry in May 1850.

The next day, Frédéric notices Madame Dambreuse is upset. She complains about her inefficient servants. Frédéric tells her not to take everything so seriously, since there are enough problems in the world. She warms toward him and finally accepts his overtures of love, telling him to come back after dinner. Frédéric feels he's been admitted to "the exalted world of patrician adultery and aristocratic intrigue" and Madame Dambreuse is all he needs to reach the top of the social hierarchy.

On the way home, Frédéric sees a miserable-looking man in an overcoat. He is shocked to find out it's Deslauriers. The two meet and talk. Deslauriers has been dismissed from his job as commissioner to government leader Ledru-Rollin. After managing to upset both the conservatives and the socialists, Deslauriers got involved in a revolutionary plot. He was released for lack of evidence but then got into a fight in London with his colleagues. He feels like a failure and believes "he had knocked at the gates of Democracy ... [and] been turned away." He wishes he were with Sénécal being transported to prison. When he notices Frédéric is upset by this news, Deslauriers says, "Everybody isn't as lucky as you."

Frédéric offers Deslauriers his bed for the night, since he's going to see Madame Dambreuse. He tells Deslauriers, "Never give up hope, my old champion of the people!" But Deslauriers is sick of the common people. The coal miners he worked with were demanding, with a provisional government of their own. Deslauriers goes on to say working-class groups in France have a history of ineffective action. Their demands, including their own representatives and the expulsion of foreign workers, seem unreasonable to him. Deslauriers accuses the working class of "[serving] anybody who'll stuff their mouths with bread!" He wants to set all of Europe on fire.

Frédéric tells him "the spark was missing" from the revolution. The workers have valid reasons to complain, he adds, but the revolution gave them no real power—only "fine phrases." Frédéric thinks only the aristocracy can achieve true progress. Most people, he says, just want to be left in peace. Frédéric has been absorbing the political points of view at the Dambreuses' house. Deslauriers suggests Frédéric run as a candidate for the conservative party and flatters Frédéric's speaking skills. Deslauriers also asks if Frédéric can get him a job at Monsieur Dambreuse's coal company.

Frédéric spends an enjoyable evening with Madame Dambreuse. At midnight, he goes to Rosanette's and says he had to tend to urgent business. Rosanette swears her affection for him; however, Frédéric is secretly "glorying in his wickedness."


The events in the narrative careen towards their denouement. Everyone's life will change, and none of the major characters get a happy ending.

Arnoux's business practices are finally catching up with him. The provisional government is falling apart at the seams. Regimbart's friend Compain suggests "another '93"—a return to the 1793 "Reign of Terror" in France where revolutionaries prosecuted and killed any dissidents.

Frédéric's lying might be catching up with him, too. He and Madame Arnoux confess they're trapped in sadness and loneliness with no true companionship. Flaubert's novel Madame Bovary also examines the domestic malaise of middle-class woman Emma Bovary, who seeks romantic love the way Frédéric does.

Just when Frédéric seems to be approaching the true connection he craves, Rosanette stops him. The only way Frédéric can show warmth to Rosanette, whom he never really forgives, is by imagining Madame Arnoux's baby. He pictures the life he really wants, which will always be out of his reach. But fatherhood is a coming-of-age milestone implying both responsibility and stasis. He may not be prepared.

When Frédéric is bored or angry with one woman he takes refuge with another. At Madame Dambreuse's house he encounters more levels of aristocratic intrigue. Madame Dambreuse represents the appeal of conquest—her world is one he has to work to enter. His courtship is a performance in its own right. His conversations with her become a "battle" for control. He tells Madame Dambreuse the same things he told Madame Arnoux, but he keeps her at arm's length. Frédéric's old disappointments have taught him not to invest too much in anything or anyone—he claims nothing is "worth breaking your heart for." The "other evenings ... with similar silences" he no longer recalls are evenings he spent with Madame Arnoux.

The "stock characters of the political comedy" Frédéric meets are mentioned by adjectives, not by names. The list implies a whirlwind of different important, intelligent people whose views are all unoriginal. The aristocracy no longer favors the revolution—they want their kings back. They criticize Lamartine, the revolutionary poet turned politician, by saying they've "had enough poetry." The narrator implies the aristocrats pick whichever authority shows momentary strength and latch onto this authority for protection. By 1849 the authority was General Changarnier, who commanded the National Guard.

Frédéric recognizes an absence of moral standards, but he's having a good time. The world of the aristocrats becomes "exalted." He thinks he's made it, that he has everything, but then he runs into Deslauriers, who has nothing. Frédéric's deception succeeded where Deslauriers's sincerity failed.

The work of running a republic is not what Deslauriers bargained for. The narrator indicates neither political side was willing to find a compromise or middle road. Deslauriers tried to appeal to both sides and was rejected by both. He now finds the workers' demands ridiculous. The working classes, he claims, want what the rich want—authority, power, and food. They'll follow any authority who gives them what they need. Like Frédéric, Deslauriers got what he thought he wanted, and he wasn't happy.

Frédéric adds to Deslauriers's misery by telling him power never really changed hands. The revolution was only talking points or "fine phrases." Frédéric advances an idea he would never have believed in Part 2—maybe the masses need strong authority and maybe the wealthy should be left alone. He decides to run for office again on the opposite side of politics. This chapter and Part 3, Chapter 4 will show more and more characters, some who strongly supported the revolution, wanting power and force to take over again just to give them some peace.

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