Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
Romantic, Realist, and Ironic
Huh? How can something be romantic, realist, and ironic all at once? Don't worry—we're on the case.
Flaubert is all about creating a realistic portrayal of the bourgeois lifestyle. But as specs out their daily lives, he's quick to mock it. So we get these lush descriptions of the romantic—and let's face it, aesthetically pleasing—lives of the rich, contrasted with the realities that are going on right outside their windows. Bottom line: Frederick represents the privileged bourgeoisie of France, unwilling to notice or consider how good they have it, just interested in protecting their special world. And let's put it this way: Flaubert is not a fan.
Because Frederick is just like a cork bobbing in the water, sometimes you might have to read between the lines to detect the irony. Check it out:
He had to make his choice between ten sorts of mustard. He partook of daspachio, of curry, of ginger, of Corsican blackbirds, and a species of Roman macaroni called lasagna; he drank extraordinary wines, lip-fraeli and tokay. Arnoux indeed prided himself on entertaining people in good style. With an eye to the procurement of eatables, he paid court to mail-coach drivers, and was in league with the cooks of great houses, who communicated to him the secrets of rare sauces. (1.4.100)
Here we have the rich (for now) Monsieur Arnoux, who, in spite of rising anarchy in the streets, is spending his time making sure he has the right mustards for his guests. Flaubert isn't shy about highlighting the huge gap between reality and the luxurious life of people like Arnoux. Plenty of French people are getting by on barely anything, while the rich are living in excess.
The perfect example? The party that Arnoux takes Frederick to, where one partygoer totally overdoes it:
[…] the Sphinx drank brandy, screamed out with her throat full, and wriggled like a demon. Suddenly her jaws swelled, and no longer being able to keep down the blood which rushed to her head and nearly choked her, she pressed her napkin against her lips, and threw herself under the table. (1.7.212)
This woman is choking on blood because she's such a partier; but soon, the blood will flow from political violence. Graphic, yes. But what better way to show the disparity between the haves and the have-nots?