Study Guide

Sentimental Education Visions of France

By Gustave Flaubert

Visions of France

Through the haze he surveyed steeples, buildings of which he did not know the names; then, with a parting glance, he took in the Île St. Louis, the Cité, Nôtre Dame; and presently, as Paris disappeared from his view, he heaved a deep sigh. (1.1.4)

Paris is like a dream to Frederick, and he has some pretty lofty visions of what it holds. Freedom! Possibility! Hot women! Is he being naïve, or is there something about the city that allows him more potential for his life?

Frederick Moreau, having just taken his Bachelor's degree, was returning home to Nogent-sur-Seine, where he would have to lead a languishing existence for two months, before going back to begin his legal studies. (1.1.6)

Going back to Nogent to hang out with his mother isn't exactly Frederick's idea of a good time. But under the circumstances, he doesn't have much of a choice. He'll get out of Dodge as quickly as possible.

Then they would come back to Paris; they would work together, and would never part; and, as a relaxation from their labours, they would have love-affairs with princesses in boudoirs lined with satin, or dazzling orgies with famous courtesans. (1.2.7)

Frederick and Deslauriers have some big plans for Paris. It's like Spring Break prep, 19th-century bourgeois style. How does the reality live up to their plans?

It seemed to him, however, that he must needs love her. Sometimes he used to wake up with his heart full of hope, dressed himself carefully as if he were going to keep an appointment, and started on interminable excursions all over Paris. (1.3.52)

Frederick lives to run into Marie Arnoux. He'll walk all over the city just for the chance to see the girl. Sure, it's a light shade of stalking, but with a sort of sweet twist, don't you think? But here's a question: has Frederick lost his fascination with the city itself? Has Madame Arnoux taken its place as the object of desire?

The petitions for Reform, which had been signed at the quarters of the National Guard, together with the property-census of Humann and other events besides, had, for the past six months, led to inexplicable gatherings of riotous crowds in Paris, and so frequently had they broken out anew, that the newspapers had ceased to refer to them. (1.4.5)

Paris is quickly descending into chaos. The political upheaval quickly becomes impossible to ignore—but somehow Frederick manages to do it.

Something more powerful than an iron chain attached him to Paris; a voice from the depths of his heart called out to him to remain. (1.5.120)

By this point, Paris is unquestionably associated with Madame Arnoux for Frederick. Nogent-sur-Seine, on the other hand, is associated with Louise Roque and his mother. Yawn.

Every street led towards her house; the hackney-coaches stood in their places to carry her home the more quickly; Paris was associated with her person, and the great city, with all its noises, roared around her like an immense orchestra. (1.5.174)

Now Paris is Madame Arnoux. Everything in the city reminds Frederick of her. Yeah, he's got it bad.

Frederick was thirsting to fly from Paris. She did not offer any opposition to this whim; and next morning they set out for Fontainebleau. (2.14.236)

Why does Frederick wants to get out of Paris so badly? Is it to escape the upheaval? Or just for a little lovin'?

The light at certain points illuminating the outskirts of the wood, left the interior in deep shadow, or else, attenuated in the foreground by a sort of twilight, it exhibited in the background violet vapours, a white radiance. (2.14.364)

The descriptions of the countryside are a nice break from all the urban imagery in the rest of the book. Maybe Flaubert should write travel guards, because we kind of want to go to Fontainebleau now.

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