Johnny Waco's Reviews > Sentimental Education

Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert
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's review
Jul 27, 08

bookshelves: realism
Read in July, 2008

A portrait of a young man so self-obsessed that he misses the monumental changes going on around him, Sentimental Education seems to be Flaubert's case against humanity. Frederic Moreau, initially idealistic, discards friends, obsesses over mistresses, spends money flagrantly, and fixates on his public perception. I never had the slightest sympathy for Frederic, but Flaubert likely intended it that way--his novel seems to be an important antecedent to naturalism, and I can imagine Hardy, Dreiser, Norris, and their ilk reading Sentimental Education, jaws agape in amazement. Flaubert doesn't present an absolutely repugnant view of humanity, however--those passionate and involved in the 1848 revolution for the most part want honest change, and the women Frederic pursues elicit our sympathy, even as they are bruised and hurt by the selfishness around them. Madame Arnoux loves Frederic but resists his advances, believing in his goodness until the end of the novel, and Rosanette, despised as a "kept woman," but who becomes vulnerable with Frederic, suffers both from his callousness and from the death of their baby, but is also glimpsed at the end, having adopted a child and seemingly content.

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