Considered one of the greatest French novels of the nineteenth century, Sentimental Education blends brilliantly realized details of a tumultuous time and place with the intimate story of a lifelong romantic obsession, one that closely mirrors the central passion of Flaubert’s own life.
Set amid the violent social upheaval of the Revolution of 1848, the novel tells of young Frédéric Moreau’s idealistic attraction to a married woman some years his senior. Smitten by his first sight of Madame Arnoux, Frédéric idolizes her for many years, despite her refusal to encourage him and his own indecision. He befriends her husband, an art dealer, in order to be near her, and soon finds himself drawn first into Jacques Arnoux’s heady social circle and then into his disastrous financial speculations.
As a young teenager, Flaubert himself became romantically obsessed with a married woman with whom he kept in touch for the rest of his life, and many of the characters in Sentimental Education, including Madame Arnoux, are based on friends and acquaintances of the great French author. In this vivid novel, all are beset by financial difficulties, ideological conflicts, and friendship betrayed as their lives are changed forever by the revolution.
Claudie Bernard is Professor of French literature at New York University, and the author of Le Chouan Romanesque, Balzac, Barbey d’Aurevilly, Hugo, Le Passé recomposé, le roman historique français au dix-neuvième siècle, and of many essays on nineteenth-century French literature and the history of ideas.