Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert (1869, translated by Donald Parmée)

Some thoughts on my third reading of A Sentimental Education .  Dandys and all that!

"He traveled.
  Chilly adventures under canvas; dreary mail-packets; the dizzy kaleidoscope of landscapes and ruins; the bitter taste of friendships nipped in the bud:  such was the pattern of his life.
   He came home.
   He went into society..desire had lost its edge, the very springs of feeling had tried up.  his intellectual ambitions had also faded.  Years passed, and he came to terms with his mental stagnation and the numbness in his heart". From A Sentimental Education, part three, chapter six.

"The Dandy who begins with a taste for the heroic soon funds that there is no theater in which to exact heroism and he or she is driven back in the studio and drawing room, there to bemoan his frustration.  Perhaps the most finished example of the type in 19th century literature is Flaubert's Frederic Moureau, a figure which arises in the interregnum between a lost ancien regime and the replacement by a new code" - from Inventing Ireland -  Literature of the Modern Nation by Declan Kiberd.

As I read A Sentimental Education for the third time i had the thoughts of Declan Kiberd as a kind of guide.  As one reads on in the novel when the politcal turmoil in the country turns to violence in the streets in Paris, I thought could perceive a correspondence of the life history of Frederic Moureau to that of the country, both go through great turmoil to no real result.  The education of both teaches them to withdraw, to cultivate the self.

I am very interested in the figure of the dandy in literature.   I see him emerging in France in The Comedie Humaine to perhaps achieve apogee in Proust.  As mentioned by Susan Sontag in her "Notes on Camp", the dandy is related to camp somehow but dandys are not camp, dandys are not fops.  Camp and homosexuality are culturally linked and there are complex connections with this to the dandy.A dandy is a highly cultivated person, man or woman, often culturally refined to a level beyond the understanding of all but a few people.  The dandy plays a large role in Japanese literature, between the wars.  I have posted a lot on the role of the dandy in the short stories of Desmond Hogan.    Many dandys, as are the men in A Sentimental Education, are very much into prostitutes .  A knowledge of prostitutes and brothels  can be cultivated much like a knowledge of Opera or Chinese Cermamics.  Think for a bit on the person of James Bosewell.  

I laughed out loud at the hilarious duel scene and greatly relished the depiction of the fighting in the streets of Paris.  The food scenes were mouthwatering.  

From this point on, this is a rewritten mostly for style post from 2013.

Gustave Flaubert's (1821 to 1880) Madame Bovary is on everyone's list of best novels ever written, including mine.    To me Madame Bovary is an ice cold work of perfection in which one can only stand in awe.  I also think the only reason A Sentimental Education is not on all lists is that list makers fear two books by one author is somehow "unfair".

I first read Flaubert's  A Sentimental Education about four years ago.

Ford Madox Ford  purportedly said  one could not consider themself an educated person until you had read it fourteen times.   

  In very well done introduction to the Oxford Classics edition Parmee flirts with the idea of saying A Sentimental Education is better than War and Peace .  I really liked Sentimental Education however I think one does not just like Madame Bovary any more than one would like the Taj Mahal or Guernica.

Here are some of the things I like about this book.   I like the character development of the central figure, Frederic Moreau.   The work is really full of great descriptions of life in Paris.  I enjoyed the accounts of political turmoil.  The food sounds great and there are some interesting romances along the way.  Some people, including Henry James, see this as a huge step down from Madame Bovary.  Aside from the fact that almost every novel is a huge step down from Madame Bovary I think one should first read it then this work.   The characters in Sentimental Education are very self absorbed and the development of the education of Frederic is slow.   I liked the novel a lot as a whole but I loved the last chapter when we flash to Frederic as an older man, still pursuing a life of pleasure.   It was a lot of fun to hear of his visit in company of one of his close friends to a brothel and how it ruined their reputations when word got out.  Later the two men talk about how these times were the best of their lives.

Mel u
The Reading Life


Paulita said...

I love that you tackle the classics again. So many people ignore them once they're finished with formal education. I know I should re-read Madame Bovary and try Sentimental Education -- then I feel torn, wondering if I should try them in French. That just puts me off more. Thanks for participating in my Monday meme -- Dreaming of France.

Jonathan said...

I keep meaning to read more Flaubert - 'A Sentimental Education', 'Salammbo', 'The Temptation of St Anthony' & especially 'Bouvard & Pecuchet' all sound great. I nearly started 'A Sentimental Education' last year but ran out of time. I'm glad you've given it such a great review as it should spur me on to give it a go.

Mel u said...

Jonathan. Thanks for your comment and visit, I see All of Flaubert's novels as eventual must reads.