Book Review – Sentimental Education

Posted: December 6, 2014 in Book Reviews
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Sentimental Education has got to me the most unsentimental book ever. Hailed as the final novel of the novels and also the beginning of new novel, this book is always about contradiction. There is no singular opinion about the book. Either you love it or hate it, only extreme reactions. The introduction by Adrianne Tooke gave more insight about the book than the book itself. It is more of a review than an introduction. And this is the way to write a review. It highlights its greatness so skillfully without giving out anything about the book. First appreciation should go to Tooke then to Flaubert. For mere mortals like me it is tough to understand Flaubert in one go. You need supervision like Tooke.

Sentimental education

Even for DVD commentaries its best when a film reviewer or a theorist gives his or her opinion rather than the director himself. Most of the times directors repeat how they made their scene which would be like the literal translation of the scene whereas the reviewers will tell you more about how they perceived a scene. Perspective is more interesting because that’s what makes art. If it’s going to be 1 + 1 = 2 it’s never going to interest us.

I’ve just read one novel of Flaubert other than this. That is Madame Bovary. When you compare Sentimental Education with Madame Bovary, plot wise there isn’t much difference. Only there is a role reversal of the lead characters. But the perspective with which we take the story is completely different. There Emma has the habit of not settling to any of the husbands but we pity his husband and loath Emma but here Frederic does the same. He’s torn between women. Doesn’t know which one to choose. Doesn’t know with whom he has to live his further life. We choose to pity him rather than the woman he has been with. That’s prose for you by Frederic. No one could write prose more poetic than Frederic.

There was a beautiful explanation in the introduction part about why Frederic is so interested in prose and why he wants to get his sentence correct. For the record he takes on an average of five years to write a book. That’s not just a couple-of-hours-in-the-weekend dedication. That’s locking-in-the-room-24*7 dedication. I can understand what he is doing and anyone who has taken any attempt to write would understand it. When I write this it reminds me of Amazing Amy, the way she writes the book, the way she fakes her story. When she is afraid she shows the reaction while writing, when she cries she literally goes to a corner in fetus position and writes it. That’s how you write. You ought to be prejudiced when you write. Only then the characters will be full-fledged. If you let your authors discretion seep in through the book it becomes superficial.

Frederic is a person who doesn’t have a stand in any aspect of his life. He likes woman, he likes art, he likes love but not able to decide where to draw the line between them. It was funny when he wanted to go to East from Paris whereas the whole world wants to go to Paris for art. He first falls for Madame Arnoux, makes her fall for him, then Rosanette, then Madame Arnoux again, then Rosanette as she doesn’t turn up on the specified day, finally Dambreuse and to top it all with French Revolution. He ends up being a perfect platter how one should not be but how one ends up being.

The initial romance between Madame Arnoux and Frederic was brilliant. How he falls for a woman whom he doesn’t know and ends up liking her in the same level even though he gets to know that she is someone else’s woman. The confusion of love with Rosanette and finally his lust for money getting fulfilled with Dambreuse. It’s one hell of a love story. It would have been the same if he had made all those decisions consciously rather than falling victim of consequences. But that’s the greatness of book. Torn between women, torn between emotions, torn between love, torn between life, torn between he himself and the others.

He is someone like Barry Lyndon, only difference being he enjoys everything his past once everything goes away from him.


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