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Friday, 31 October 2014

Other random thoughts on Sentimental Education

1/ Flaubert reminds me of Tolstoy, 3 times within the chapter.
1st, the scenes after Monsieur Dambreuse's death are similar to the funeral scene in The Death of Ivan Ilyich: thoughts on a pointless, dishonest, pragmatic life, ceremonial grief, insincere speeches, a bunch of hypocrites, etc.
2nd, the scene of Madame Dambreuse, after her husband's death, crying over her "ruin" and crushed dreams makes me think of a scene in War and Peace that also involves an unexpected will (Count Bezukhov's).
3rd, the way Madame Dambreuse becomes insecure and controls Frédéric and makes the atmosphere suffocating for him is reminiscent of the relationship between Anna and Vronsky in Anna Karenina, in the later period.
2/ Sénécal changes from promoting socialism, prioritising the needs of the mass, stressing the political message over the artistic merits to enjoying and abusing his power, thundering against the inadequacy of the mass, speaking in favour of communism and talking of the necessity of a dictatorship.
3/ Throughout the novel, Frédéric slowly turns into Arnoux, at least in the way he behaves towards women: has more than 1 woman at the same time, goes from 1 to another, lies like a habit, tells all women the same lies, buys them the same gifts, treats them cruelly...
He becomes disillusioned by his experiences, but also becomes more like the people around him, and more despicable. I can't write enough to express my disgust at Frédéric as he, upon hearing the news from Pellerin, leaves right away to look for Madame Arnoux, abandoning the heartbroken Rosanette with her dead baby. It's not only Rosanette's child, but also his. This scene marks a significant difference between him and Rosanette- Frédéric might have more taste, more knowledge, more intelligence but he's a selfish bastard, only Rosanette truly has depth of feeling.
4/ The women, generally, aren't much better than the men: Madame Dambreuse, Mademoiselle Vatnaz, Louise Roque, etc. Madame Arnoux is probably the best one, but she's always enigmatic, always kept in a distance from both Frédéric and the reader. I do care about her, because she's good and virtuous and treated very unfairly by both her husband and Frédéric, but I'm also particularly drawn to Rosanette, the woman who often appears shallow, ignorant, frivolous and coquettish, but her environment and experiences shape who she is and underneath it all she is lost and lonely and insecure, afraid of loving a man too much, and she has more depth of feeling than she initially seems.
There is 1 significant parallel between these 2 women- the image of each of them sitting by their sick child. Madame Arnoux chooses to stay with her sick boy and stays up all night, thinking of nothing else, forgetting about the date with Frédéric. Many chapters later, Rosanette takes care of her sick baby, caring about nothing else, failing to hear Frédéric say he has good news, and she also stays up all night; however, whereas Madame Arnoux's son survives, Rosanette's dies, and Frédéric leaves at once without any thought for his dead baby and his grieving lover.
Flaubert doesn't say much in words, and doesn't attempt to direct the reader's emotions, but these scenes say a lot about these 3 characters.

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