Sentimental Education | Study Guide

Gustave Flaubert

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Sentimental Education | Part 3, Chapter 5 | Summary



The events in this chapter take place in the fall and winter of 1851.

Frédéric is desperate to find the money for the Arnouxs. He asks Madame Dambreuse for the money, lying and saying his friend Dussardier committed a theft. She reluctantly gives in, but when Frédéric rushes to the Arnouxs' house, they've already left. He goes to find Regimbart, who tells him all about the lawsuit. Regimbart confirms Arnoux has left with his wife, and he criticizes the "unprincipled, irresponsible" Arnoux, while expressing sympathy for Madame Arnoux.

Frédéric returns to Rosanette's. They're both depressed. The painting of the baby looks "hideous, almost laughable" by now. Rosanette imagines the life the child will never have, while Frédéric thinks about how Madame Arnoux is now destined to live in poverty. He feels like her "real husband" and can't believe he'll never see her again. Frédéric and Rosanette, both grieving, weep in each other's arms.

Madame Dambreuse is also grieving. Regimbart's wife told her Frédéric wanted the money to save the Arnouxs. Madame Dambreuse considers dumping Frédéric but decides to say nothing. The next day, Frédéric tries to return the money, and she tells him to keep it. Frédéric is relieved she doesn't seem to know the truth.

Two days later, Madame Dambreuse asks to see Deslauriers. She's uncovered some fraudulent bills Madame Arnoux signed for her husband and realizes she can use these bills as a "magnificent weapon" against Frédéric. When Deslauriers sees the bills, he thinks of how humiliated he was when he told Madame Arnoux he loved her. He decides to get revenge and tells Madame Dambreuse to have the bad debts sold at an auction.

At the end of November Frédéric sees Madame Arnoux's belongings for sale. He's shocked and asks the auctioneer who ordered the sale. It was Sénécal, whom Frédéric knows is working for Deslauriers. Frédéric accuses Rosanette of being behind the sale. When she denies it, he calls her a "common whore" taking revenge on "the saintliest, sweetest, kindest woman in the world!" He continues to insult Rosanette and finally says he's never loved anyone but Madame Arnoux. He leaves permanently, despite Rosanette's pleading.

Rosanette asks for Deslauriers's advice. He tells her Frédéric is marrying Madame Dambreuse. Deslauriers says he's going to Nogent for a while, adding, "There might be a great change in his life." The news of Frédéric's engagement to Madame Dambreuse has made it back to Nogent, and Roque and Louise are devastated.

On December 1 Frédéric and Madame Dambreuse are out for a walk when they pass a crowded auction house. Madame Dambreuse wants to go in and look around. Frédéric remembers this is the date Madame Arnoux's belongings will be auctioned. He doesn't want to go in, but Madame Dambreuse drags him in anyway. Frédéric immediately recognizes Madame Arnoux's outfits and furniture. He feels sick, comparing the bidders to "crows tearing her corpse to pieces." He sees Rosanette, who has come hoping for a bargain. Madame Dambreuse and Rosanette size each other up.

After selling Madame Arnoux's piano, the auctioneer sells a silver casket. Frédéric recalls seeing the silver casket at the first Arnoux dinner party he attended. It belonged to Rosanette for a while, then was returned to Madame Arnoux. Frédéric associates the casket with his best memories and is shocked when Madame Dambreuse decides to bid on it. She says she can use the casket "for keeping love letters," implying she knows about Frédéric's love for Madame Arnoux. While Frédéric protests, Madame Dambreuse keeps increasing her bid. He finally asks her to "show me that I'm marrying a considerate woman" and leads her out. Just as they reach the door, Madame Dambreuse calls out the highest bid yet and wins the casket. When Madame Dambreuse leaves the auction house, Frédéric doesn't go with her. He returns home to grave political news. The Second Republic's government has been dissolved and France is in "a state of siege." Frédéric, meanwhile, is preoccupied with breaking off his engagement and canceling his plans. He feels sorry for himself and misses the countryside.

On Wednesday evening Frédéric leaves the house. Disgusted as the rich and the socialists insult one another, he goes to Nogent. He remembers Louise's good heart and love for him and wonders if he made a mistake rejecting her. Frédéric gets off in the nearby city of Sourdun hoping to see Louise, but he is shocked to see Deslauriers marrying Louise instead. When he returns to Paris, the city is surrounded by barricades. He walks to the boulevards, where dragoons and policemen are chasing people off the streets. The crowd watches the police "in terrified silence." Dussardier stands on the steps of a building in protest. He shouts, "Long live the Republic!" and a policeman kills him with his sword. Frédéric is stunned to recognize Sénécal as the policeman.


Despite the devastation of the last chapter, Frédéric still clings to "unconquerable hope." The desire to save Madame Arnoux is so strong it distracts him from the death of his child. To ensure he'll get the money from Madame Dambreuse, he blames Dussardier, someone she knows to be poor but well-intentioned.

Frédéric returns to Rosanette to find greater tragedy. The dead baby lies in an "altar of repose" both holy and unfamiliar, like Monsieur Dambreuse's dead body. The portrait that was supposed to honor him looks hideous. Pellerin's attempt to capture the baby's spirit appears grotesque next to reality. Some events, the picture implies, are impossible to romanticize.

Rosanette imagines a man's life in snapshots, similar to the life of a hero in a coming-of-age novel. While she pictures the romantic life that could have been, Frédéric thinks of the realistic life about to unfold. Out of all the women he could have married, Madame Arnoux is the only one he ever committed to. He feels his devotion to her is the most solid, real aspect of his life. His passion and anger lead him to accuse Rosanette of lying when she's telling the truth. When she asks, "What has changed you?" the reader wonders if Frédéric has really changed. Did he simply end up where he was headed all along—petty, vindictive, and disillusioned? Or did he lose something along the way?

When Frédéric reluctantly goes to the auction, he sees the materialism and wealth he's been chasing for years. This time the wealth appears ludicrous and tragic. Images of death and evil recur. "Villainous-looking men in smocks" surround the auction house. The room affects Frédéric with a "deathly torpor." He imagines birds tearing the corpse of the woman he loves. As he observes "the monotonous effect of the same voices accompanied by the same gestures," he experiences the same monotony he lived through as an unhappy law student in Part 1.

The silver casket returns. In the new middle class, Frédéric realizes everything is for sale, even memories and love. He imagines the casket holding the secrets of the dead. Frédéric sees the lengths Madame Dambreuse will go to for revenge, and he finally leaves the society he worked to join. It may be his last act of love for Madame Arnoux, but he doesn't feel vindicated. As an epilogue to Frédéric's humiliation, Louise and Deslauriers—two people he rejected for their lack of wealth—end up together.

Frédéric's dreams and the dreams of the republic fall apart at the same time. In December of 1851 Louis-Napoléon declared himself emperor, imprisoning dissidents and laying the foundation for France's Second Empire. This time, revolutionary sentiment seems to have disappeared. Frédéric is disappointed that no one plans to fight and resist, but the liberals are no longer willing to "get [themselves] killed for the rich." The conservatives sneer at "filthy Socialists." Years of rancor have turned the French against each other.

Louis-Napoléon's dragoons announce the end of the Republic and the beginning of a new era left to the reader's imagination. Dussardier may know he's going to die when he stages his last protest, but his death represents the last hope for true decency in the novel. The tragedy of his murder at the hands of Sénécal, his former friend and co-revolutionary, is especially poignant. The signal to Frédéric is clear. No one can be trusted. Nothing will ever be the same.

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