French novelist, Gustave Flaubert, captures the hypocrisy present in French societies during the nineteenth century through his work Sentimental Education. The novel is revolved around a naïve law student, Frederic Moreau, who engages in relationships with women, investments, and pleasure, all to which demolish the aspirations he once held. Flaubert uses the themes of wealth and power to convey the true nature of the mid-1800s how they contribute to the narrator’s lust for romantic companionship.Frederic Moreau engages in several affairs throughout the novel, the first one being with a stunning woman named Madame Arnoux.
During Frederic’s first encounter with Madame Arnoux, he is instantly enthralled by her “dark skin, a more seductive figure, or more delicately shaped fingers than those through which the sunlight gleamed.” The narrator often engrossed himself in thoughts of Madame Arnoux since she was the epitome of beauty, possessing many features that appeal to Frederic Moreau. Although Frederic Moreau is unable to pursue Madame Arnoux, she empowers him through both false hope and reality. As Frederic Moreau becomes closer with both Monsieur Arnoux and Madame Arnoux, he sees through the image they present to the public and discovers that they suffer from economic crises. To save the Arnouxes, Frederic helps them repay a debt they owed due to a failed transaction.
Through all the affairs and economically detrimental situations that Frederic participates in, Madame Arnoux still stays by his side. However, when she finally obliges and changes course from Frederic’s support to a romantic partner, it ultimately ruins the strong bond they once possessed.Once Frederic Moreau accepts the reality in which he falls out of love with Madame Arnoux since he is unable to pursue her, he decides to satisfy his longings through pursuing Arnoux’s mistress, Rosanette.
To fall deeper in love with one another, Frederic lives a life outside of Paris with Rosanette where they have a baby together, but shortly afterward, Frederic Moreau returns to visit Madame Arnoux where he discovers that Arnoux and Madame Arnoux are having marital conflicts. Since Frederic Moreau knew that he needed to help Rosanette out of her economically unstable state due to her high existing debts and unusable money that Arnoux gave her, he marries Madame Dambreuse. When Frederic finds out that the Arnouxes are too poor to stay in Paris after Rosanette charges against them, he uses the money that Madame Dambreuse gives him, without citing the intentions, to help the Arnouxes out.
Throughout all of his affairs, Frederic Moreau’s act of economic support portrays how he still loved Madame Arnoux afterall.When several years pass by, Frederic Moreau encounters Madame Arnoux once again where they rekindle the affection they once shared. In response to Madame Arnoux’s white hair as she removes her hat, lingering despair takes over Frederic Moreau. Gustave Flaubert shows how Frederic was not aroused by Madame Arnoux, herself, throughout the twenty years that he knew her, but merely delusive love and fragments of memory.
All these years that the narrator spent captivated by Madame Arnoux’s femininity correlate to her past self and his optimal image of her. This ultimately transcends into the reality in which Frederic Moreau and Madame Arnoux share: Madame Arnoux lost her appeal and is no longer the once idealized woman who Frederic dreamed about, but rather now, a commoner. Her white hair unveils her mother figure, being her true self. The years in which Frederic Moreau enjoyed life the most are those of his adolescence. He finally realizes that his dreams of romance, wealth, and power were primarily driven by illusions, but soon crashed afterwards. Due to his inability to have independent ambitions, his life is a never-ending cycle of affairs and quests to discover his true identity.
In the end, Flaubert presents the narrator, Frederic Moreau, in a myriad of different scopes where the audience can conclude that his acts are unforgivable, or a mystery.