Study Guide

Félicité Barette in A Simple Heart

By Gustave Flaubert

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Félicité Barette

A Dutiful Maid

Everyone is jealous of Madame Aubain because she's such a good worker:

For a hundred francs a year, she did the cooking and the housework, she sewed, washed and ironed, she could bridle a horse, fatten the poultry and churn the butter, and she was unfailingly loyal to her mistress, even though the latter was not a pleasant person. (1.1)

See what we mean? She does it all and does it cheaply. Félicité is the picture of self-sacrificing accommodation.

It's not only with the Aubain family that Félicité shows herself to be totally selfless. When she comes across her sister Nastasie, whom she hasn't seen in years, she starts supplying Nastasie's family with "a blanket, some shirts, a stove. It was clear that they were exploiting her – much to the annoyance of Madame Aubain, who in any case did not like the fact that Félicité's nephew was so familiar towards her son" (2.53). Félicité is generous, but it looks like she's being used.

This isn't to say that she has no feelings or that she doesn't notice ill treatment. When Félicité tries to sympathize with Madame Aubain, who is missing Virginie, by telling her she hasn't had any news from her nephew for six months, Madame Aubain doesn't see the connection. Félicité is hurt:

Although used to being treated harshly, Félicité was indignant at Madame, then forgot about it. (3.39)

It's the "forgetting about it" that makes Félicité such a good maid.

A Woman Scorned

They say that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but in this case the woman scorned just turns totally gentle. Félicité falls in love with a young man who first attempts to rape her, and then apologizes (self-esteem, girl). When she forgives him he promptly jilts her to marry an old, rich lady who can save him from the draft with her money.

Félicité lets herself feel it:

Her sorrow was extreme. She threw herself on the ground, screamed, appealed to God, and wept all alone in the fields until sunrise. (2.15)

But after she lets it out, she moves on. As far as we can tell, she never thinks about Théodore again (he isn't mentioned in the story anyway), but she continues to love people who leave her by either sailing away and/or dying, all throughout her life.

After years of working for Madame Aubain, the two women go through Virginie's closet to throw away the things they've been keeping since her death, and they cry together:

Madame Aubain opened her arms, Félicité threw herself into them, and they embraced, united in grief. [. . .] Félicité was as grateful as if her mistress had done her a good deed, and from this point on cherished her with an animal-like devotion, a religious veneration. (3.89-90)

Poor Félicité is so used to being mistreated that she takes any scrap of love she can get and converts it into extreme loyalty.

Weak Body, Strong Heart

Félicité really doesn't change much over the course of the story. She's as innocent and loyal as ever even on the day she dies. However, her body does fail her. After her parrot gives her a scare by disappearing for a while, "she found it hard to recover from this shock, or rather, she never recovered. She caught a chill, which gave her, first, a sore throat, then earache. Three years later, she was deaf [. . .]" (4.9-10). Her body reacts to the possible loss of Loulou.

This physical deterioration is almost like the manifestation of all the suffering that Félicité has refused to let herself acknowledge in her life. She's really had a rough go but continues with her optimistic attitude. That negativity has to go somewhere, it would seem, and it shows up in her poor, old body.

After Loulou dies, Félicité takes him to the taxidermist and is run over by a stagecoach. When she comes to (it's a hit-and-run) and feels the blood on her face, everything comes flooding back to her:

All at once she felt weak, and the misery of her childhood, the disappointment of her first love, her nephew's departure, the death of Virginie, all swept over her like a wave, rising into her throat, choking her. (4.24)

So the tragedy of her life does affect her, even if no one can see it.

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