A Sentimental Education – Gustave Flaubert

About A Sentimental Education Gustave Flaubert wrote, “I want to write the moral history of the men of my generation—or, more accurately, the history of their feelings. It’s a book about love, about passion; but passion such as can exist nowadays—that is to say, inactive.” And the feeling of love and inactive passion of Frederic Moreau is the resulting story.

Setting in the time of the 1848 French Revolution which resulted in the formation of the nation’s Second Republic, Gustave Flaubert writes a grand love story of Frederic Moreau, borrowing heavily from his personal experiences. When young Frederic falls in love with an older married woman at the age of 18, his “sentimental education” begins. Being at the impressionable, idol-worshipping age, the lady becomes the center in everything Frederic does. He knows that it is a love that would be frustrated and a romantic passion that would never be fulfilled, yet he hopes against all odds and is steadfast in his love. He stands by her through all her troubles without expecting any reward in return. When however after a long separation they meet again under favourable circumstances, Frederic is dismayed to see his idol thrown from his pedestal, and his life’s love withers away under the change, completing his “sentimental education”.

The protagonist, Frederic Moreau, is a sort of anti-hero. He is not industrious and wastes away in idle pursuits living on his inheritance. His great love doesn’t shield him from the power of seduction and he has his fair share of mistresses. He is a good-hearted man nevertheless and lets every Tom, Dick, and Harry take advantage of him. Nothing major happens in his life except for his great love and inactive passion, and he stays much the same throughout the story pinning all his failures on “being sentimental”. Frederic exasperated me to no end, and I disliked him in the beginning. But when the story progressed, I could come to better terms with him. And I truly felt sorry for him at the end.

A Sentimental Education is not only a love story but also a historical account. There is a true account of the political failures of the Monarchy and the growing frustration of the intellectual youth that led them to take arms. I’m unaware of Flaubert’s political allegiance, but I perceived satire on both the Monarchy and the Republic that followed.

Flaubert’s writing is truly masterful. But it is something I didn’t understand at once. The tone was so matter of fact at the beginning that I felt the whole thing is emotionally barren. I had to stop a little quarter way to breathe and repose. When I resumed, I found some mysterious enticement in Flaubert’s words as he slowly worked his way on the different passions and sentiments of the characters bringing more warmth and feelings into the story. I was very much surprised by his style initially, but when I pondered over it, I realized that it was because Flaubert didn’t want to define the characters nor the situation. He leaves it entirely to the readers, himself being detached from them. When the readers have sufficiently acquainted themselves with the characters and the situation of the story, Flaubert digs deeply into the lives and circumstances of the characters bringing out their inner feelings and passions. Although Flaubert took me on a ride, I was very much impressed by the ultimate destination to which he brought me.

There is nothing further to say. I’m sure you who read this review now understand why I enjoyed this book very much.

Rating: 4/5

About the author

Piyangie Jay Ediriwickrema is an Attorney-at-Law by profession. Her devotion to literature has taken shape in reading and reviewing books of various genres set in different periods of time. She dabs at a little poetry and fiction of her own and hopes to share her work with the readers in the future.

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