You've heard of Mrs. Robinson. You know all about Cougar Town. And who can forget Ashton and Demi's romance gone wrong? But no one has been such a dedicated younger-man-in-love as Frederick Moreau, star of Gustave Flaubert's 1869 Sentimental Education.
Sentimental Education was Flaubert's last novel, and he gave it all he had—partly because it was based on his own unrequited love for an older woman named Elise Schlesinger. In the background of Frederick's love for Madame Arnoux, we see the French Revolution of 1848 (not that French Revolution). But don't get all freaked out about the historical details, because Flaubert himself wasn't trying to give you a history lesson. Seriously—he said it himself:
I want to write the moral history of the men of my generation—or, more accurately, the history of their feelings. It's a book about love, about passion; but passion such as can exist nowadays—that is to say, inactive. (Source, p. 80)
So get ready for a lot of names to come flying your way, but just check out our "Setting" section to contextualize and you'll be all set. Here's what we think you should focus on: What's the deal with the protagonist? What's he doing while officers are shooting into crowds and the people are erecting barriers? Follow this guy around for while and you just might get a sentimental education of your own.
Why Should I Care?
You know the whole Occupy movement? Well, this is Occupy Paris—the original version. It may have been a long time ago with a bunch of muskets and flying cobblestones, but the scene was some serious combat in the street. In fact, the revolutionary riots in Sentimental Education make Occupy seem like a preschool snit-fit.
What's happening here is a conflict among monarchists, imperialists, and Republicans. In 1848, the working class and students banded together in a revolt against King Louis Philippe. When Louis couldn't take the heat, he got out of town and was replaced by a temporary government. That government started to promote socialism, which is when then the Second Republic stepped in, headed by Louis Napoleon. But don't get ahead of yourself: the Second Republic didn't last long either; it became the Second French Empire in 1851, with Louis Napoleon (now Napoleon III) as emperor. All the equality stuff was short-lived.
That's right, Shmoopers. There is some serious social protest going on in here—a take no prisoner's revolt. Oh, except they did take prisoners. So watch out.