Sentimental Education, Gustave Flaubert, Oxford World’s Classics, £10,99 ISBN: 978-0-19-968663-6
THERE is a phrase on the back cover of this book “For certain men the stronger their desire, the less likely they are to act” that seems to resound in much modern French literature... with a lot of chat but not much action.
This is said to be one of the most important of all French novels, for its impact on the genre, and this ‘story of a young man’ is a tale of nothing very much but a tale well told.
Rich, involving language and a plot that should lead to greater things – Frédéric Moreau has fallen in love with Madame Arnoux and pursues her to Paris – but despite the involvement of a rich woman, a kept woman and a young country girl it seems that our bold hero is destined never to have the ‘sentimental education’ that young French men discover in their lover’s bed.
At once self-obsessed and yet obsessed by Madame Arnoux, Frédéric loiters with intent in the parlours of the other women in his life and this unsparing portrait of the years leading up to the 1848 revolution shows the corruption and disenchantment in Paris that looks set to change their lives.
With its mix of philosophy and philandering the novel charts lives that seem destined to be dissolute and, in truth, all folly is here.