Study Guide

Sentimental Education Morality and Ethics

By Gustave Flaubert

Morality and Ethics

They chatted over all these matters at recreation hours, in the playground, in front of the moral inscription painted under the clock. (1.2.6)

This looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship for Frederick and Deslaurier. And right off the bat, Flaubert gives us the vague mention of morals here, only to later reveal that the two boys had also gone to a brothel looking for prostitutes. Sneaky, Flaubert. You'll notice that morals are often in the background of Sentimental Education, far less important than desire and pleasure.

Sénécal protested: Art should aim exclusively at promoting morality amongst the masses! (1.5.13)

An age-old position, care of Sénécal. This guy believes that art serves a moral purpose—to make people better. Period. The opposite position would argue that art is just there to amuse people and provide visual and aesthetic pleasure. Which team are you on?

Sénécal placed his glass of beer on the mantelpiece, and declared dogmatically that, as prostitution was tyrannical and marriage immoral, it was better to practice abstinence. (1.5.99)

He may not be a major figure, but Sénécal sure is one of the most opinionated—especially when it comes to morals. Apparently, according to this passage, he doesn't even believe in having sex.

She spoke pityingly of the havoc wrought by passion, but expressed indignation at hypocritical vileness, and this rectitude of spirit harmonised so well with the regular beauty of her face that it seemed indeed as if her physical attractions were the outcome of her moral nature. (1.5.356).

Madame Arnoux's moral uprightness is so strong that it seems to reflect her outer beauty. By the way—Plato said this a long time ago. Nice try, Flaubert.

The townsfolk saw in this only an unfavourable prognostic for her morals. It was said that "young Moreau" wished to make an actress of her later. (1.6.44)

Frederick is under some big-time pressure to marry Louise Roque, but the townspeople are beginning to question his intentions. Make her be an actress? The horror!

But the Vatnaz, having given Rosanette a prolonged embrace, came to beg of Hussonet to revise, with a view to the improvement of the style, an educational work which she intended to publish, under the title of "The Young Ladies' Garland," a collection of literature and moral philosophy. (1.7.199)

Mademoiselle Vatnaz sure is outspoken—not typical for the ladies of Sentimental Education. And get this—she believes in women's equality. Scandalous, we know.

Then they deplored the immorality of servants, a topic suggested by a theft which a valet-de-chambre had committed, and they began to indulge in tittle-tattle. (1.8.8)

The guests at the Dambreuse house associate low class with low morals. And as much as Frederick wants to be one of them (the high class, that is), he at least realizes that this shallow gossip is pretty ridiculous.

It could at once be seen that this was the most frequented room in the house, and, so to speak, its true moral centre. The walls, the armchairs, and a big divan with a spring were adorned with a chintz pattern on which was traced a great deal of foliage. On a white marble table stood two large washhand-basins of fine blue earthenware. Crystal shelves, forming a whatnot overhead, were laden with phials, brushes, combs, sticks of cosmetic, and powder-boxes. The fire was reflected in a high cheval-glass. A sheet was hanging outside a bath, and odours of almond-paste and of benzoin were exhaled. (1.7.21)

Prepare yourself for a racy moment: Rosanette takes Frederick into her boudoir. Ooh la la. But think about Flaubert and his use of irony here: could a room that fits this description really serve as a moral center?

It seemed to Regimbart that Arnoux was a man full of heart and imagination, but decidedly of lax morals, and therefore he was quite unceremonious towards a personage he respected so little, refusing even to dine at his house on the ground that "such formality was a bore." (1.9.21)

Just as Frederick is getting to know Arnoux, he learns that not everyone looks up to him like he does. Here, Regimbart questions the art dealer's morality—a position that Frederick will take up before too long, too.

"However," urged Martinon, "let us confess that there is such a thing as want! But the remedy depends neither on science nor on power. It is purely an individual question. When the lower classes are willing to get rid of their vices, they will free themselves from their necessities. Let the people be more moral, and they will be less poor!" (2.11.132)

Like Sénécal, Martinon thinks that there's a connection between morality and wealth, as though all of those rich people at the Dambreuse house are society's most upstanding citizens. They're not exactly donating blood—by choice, at least.

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