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L'Education Sentimentale (French) Paperback – October 1, 1972
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Gustave Flaubert published this work, in its final form, in 1869. Another of his works, Madame Bovary (Penguin Classics) has achieved greater fame, and thus is the one work that is assigned to students, to be read either in the original French, or in English translation. If you are beyond writing papers for grades issued by others, and are only "grading" yourself, I'd highly recommend this excellent novel on the pursuit of love and the pursuit of power, and how they are so often intertwined. Reflecting Flaubert's lifelong love affair with an older, married woman, Mme. Schlesinger, the central dynamic in this novel is the protagonist, Frédéric Moreau, love affair with an older, married woman, Mme. Arnoux. It is literally, for him, love at first sight; as a young student, he glimpses her on a boat ride down the Seine.
Most of the novel is set in a 12-year time period, from 1840 to 1852. During this time, Moreau comes of age in French society, from being an aspiring law student to making business deals, as a result of a fortuitous inheritance from an uncle. His father is dead, and his mother lives in the countryside, sending him the notes that say: "Don't forget me." There are several descriptions of the gathering and parties of "drawing room" society that foreshadowed the work of Marcel Proust, and so it should be no surprise that there is an afterword from him. "Les Affairs," in both the French and English sense are highly operative throughout the book, and there are deals, counter deals and double-crosses, in both the area of finance and "the bed." Flaubert introduces and develops ten or so male and female characters, and handles them well throughout the book. I was also impressed with his depictions of the natural world: that beloved patrimony that is the normally well-tended countryside that is France.
The "inertial reference frame," that is, the constitutional monarchy of Louis-Philippe, which was the assured backdrop for all the financial schemes as well as the philandering is suddenly swept away in the last third of the book by the revolutionary forces that overwhelmed France, as well as many other countries in Europe in 1848. These forces led to the creation of the short-lived Second Republic. It is a period of history that I am not well familiar with, and so I found Flaubert's novelistic account most informative. In particular, Flaubert brilliantly depicts the sudden changes in political outlook of numerous of the main characters, depending of the rapid shifts in the overall political climate, with even some of the most reactionary ones proclaiming that they had "always loved the workers, and wanted them to have a bit larger share of the pie..." Of course, within three years, when the forces of reaction triumphed: "Did I say that?" (Plus ca change...). Of course, this national clash of societal priorities does not come to pass without much blood in the streets of Paris, which Flaubert also properly depicts.
Flaubert concludes this masterpiece with a chapter set 17 years after the main events. It is a proper epilogue, in which he describes the fate of the many characters of Moreau's youth. The principal scene is his meeting with Mme. Arnoux, after all those years, and they are still speaking in the formal "vous" sense. Frédéric asks her how she had discovered him. Concerning the love, it must be strong to have lasted after so long a separation.
Life need not imitate art. Life can learn from art, and if that is so, something more substantive should be the product of such a rendezvous, other than a lock of gray hair, and an Adieu. Great literature should be instructive. 5-stars, plus.