In the fall of 1840 eighteen year old Frédéric Moreau returns by boat to his home town of Nogent-on-Seine. He has already received a bachelor's degree and is soon to be sent to Paris to study law. He is dreamy, capable of science and artistic. On the boat he met with the family of Arnoux. He husband was a sociable husky forty years and owned "Art Industry" - a newspaper dedicated to the painting, and the store, where they sold the paintings. His wife, Maria, struck Frederick with the unusual beauty. He fell in love with Madame Arnoux with romantic and at the same time passionate love, not yet knowing that it is for life.
In Nogent he meets with Charles Deslauriers, his friend at college. Because of poverty, Charles was forced to interrupt education and serve as a clerk in the province. The two friends were going to live together in Paris. But only Frederick had the money for this. At college friends dreamed of great deeds. Frederick - about how to become a famous writer, Charles - how to create a new philosophical system. Now he predicted the imminent revolution and regretted that poverty prevents him expand propaganda.
Settling in Paris, Frederick went through the usual set of secular entertainment, made new acquaintances and soon "fell in a perfect idleness." However, he wrote the novel in the spirit of Walter Scott, where the hero was himself, and heroine - Madame Arnoux, but this occupation inspired not long. After several unsuccessful attempts event helped him to enter the house of the Arnoux. Located in Montmartre, "Art Industry" was something of a political and artistic salon. But for Frederick most important was his crazy love for Madame Arnoux, and he was afraid to confess his feeling. Deslauriers, who had already arrived in Paris, could not understand this infatuation and advised him to pursue his passion and to throw out of his head. He shared with Frederick shelter, lived on his money, but could not overcome the jealousy of his friend - the darling of fortune. He himself dreamed about politics, about how to lead the masses, reaching for the Socialists, who were in their youth company.
Time passed, and the two friends have defended the thesis, with Charles brilliantly. Frederick's mother could not send the son the required amount of money, besides, she grew old and complained of loneliness. The young man had to leave the capital, which have been associated with all his affections and hopes, and get to work in Nogent. Gradually, he got used to the province plunged into it. At this time, the only consolation of Frederick was Louise Rock - the neighbor's teenage girl. Her father was the manager of a large Parisian banker Damrez and successfully increased the equity. It took another three years. Finally Frederick’s aged uncle died, and the hero has become the heir of a fortune. Now he is again able to return to Paris, promising his mother to make a diplomatic career. He himself primarily thought of Madame Arnoux.
In Paris, it became clear that Arnoux had the second child, and "Art Industry" began to yield losses and he sold it, and instead started trading faience. Madame Arnoux, as before, did not give Frederick any hope for reciprocity. The meeting with Deslauriers did not please the hero as well. He did not evolve lawyer's career, has lost several court cases and now, too obviously, wanted to join the Frederick’s inheritance and talked evil about people occupying a certain position. Frederick settled in a cozy house, decorated it in the latest fashion. Now he was rich enough to enter the selected metropolitan circles.
Frederick was by nature gentle, romantic, considerate, was not prudent and at times was really generous. Not devoid of ambition, he nevertheless could not have chosen a worthy use of his intellect and abilities. He started a literary work, then historical research, then studied painting, then he pondered of ministerial career. He did not complete anything. He found an explanation in his unrequited love, which paralyzed his will, but he could not resist the circumstances. Gradually, he came increasingly closer to Arnoux family, has become the closest person in their home, in constant communication with the husband and knew all about his secret adventures and financial affairs, but that only increases the suffering of him. He saw that his beloved woman suffered deception for the sake of children.
Melancholy, however, did not prevent the hero to lead a secular lifestyle. He attended balls, masquerades, theaters, fashionable restaurants. He was well received in the house of a courtesan Rosanette, Arnoux's mistress. For Deslauriers, who still had to settle dinners for thirty sous and work hard, dissipated life of his friend caused anger. Charles dreamed of his own newspaper as of the last chance to find an influential position. And once he asked money in Frederick. And though he had to remove a large amount of fixed capital, Frederick did it. But on the last day he carried the fifteen thousand francs, not to Charles, but to Jacques Arnoux, who was threatened to court after a failed transaction. He saved from ruin the woman he loved.
In a society on the eve of the revolution was confusion, in the feelings of Frederick too. He still devoutly loved Madame Arnoux, but wanted to become the lover of Rosanette. And sometimes Frederic dreamed more about the relationship with Mrs. Damrez, who would give him importance in society. He was a child of the world - and yet has managed to feel the cold and the falsity of its luster.
After receiving a letter from his mother, he again went to Nogent. Neighbor Louise Rock at that time became a wealthy bride. She loved Frederick since adolescence. Their marriage was like tacitly decided, and yet the hero hesitated. He returned to Paris, promising the girl that he was going for a while. But a new meeting with Madame Arnoux crossed all plans. She heard rumors about the plans of Frederick, and she was shocked by this. She realized that she loved him. He denied the marriage. He swore her eternal love - and then the first time she allowed him to kiss her. They actually confessed in love for each other and for some time met as true friends, feeling a quiet happiness. But the closer they were not meant to be. Once Madame Arnoux has already agreed on a date with him, but Frederick vainly waited for her for several hours. He did not know that night was seriously ill her young son and she took it as a sign of God. In a specially rented room out of anger he led Rosanette. It was a night in February 1848.
They were awakened by rifle shots. Out on the Champs Elysees, Frederick learned that the king had fled and republic was proclaimed. Magnetism of the enthusiastic crowd passed to Frederick. He wrote an enthusiastic article in a newspaper - a lyrical ode to revolution, together with his friends began to go to work clubs and meetings. Frederick tried to be a candidate for the Legislative Assembly, but was booed like an aristocrat.
In secular circles was a rapid change of political leanings. Everyone immediately declared themselves supporters of the republic. The proclamation of the republic did not solve the problems of the lower classes. In June work rebellion began.
At that time, Frederick had already cooled down to politics, experienced something like a honeymoon with Rosanette. She was headstrong, but natural and spontaneous. In Paris, barricades were built, shots rang out, and they left the city, living in a rural hotel, the whole day wandering through the woods, or lying on the grass. Political unrest seemed insignificant in comparison with their love and eternal nature. However, having learned from the newspapers about the injury of Dussardier, Frederick rushed to Paris and again got into the thick of things. He saw how cruelly the revolt was suppressed by soldiers.
These days, Louise Rock, dying of anxiety for her lover, came to Paris. She has not found Frederick, who lived with Rosanette into another apartment, and met him for lunch only at Damrez. Among secular women she seemed to him a provincial girl, he spoke to her evasively, and she bitterly realized that their marriage was cancelled.
Rosanette had a baby, but he soon died. Frederick gradually cooled down to her. Now he began an affair with Mrs. Damrez. He cheated on both of them, but in response their love for him only grew stronger. And in his mind Madame Arnoux still lived. When Damrez the banker died from the disease, the widow on her husband's coffin suggested to Frederick to marry her. He knew that this marriage will open up many opportunities for him. But this wedding was not destined to be. Again money was needed to save from prison Arnoux. Frederick had borrowed it from the new bride, of course not mentioning the goal. She found out and decided to take revenge with her usual cunning. Though Deslauriers she floated the old bills and made Arnoux distraint. Yes, even came up for auction, when things were going under the hammer. And at Frederick's eyes, in spite of his desperate request, bought a trinket with which he had bound precious memories. Immediately afterwards, Frederick left her forever. He broke with Rosanette, who sincerely loved him.
Unrest continued in Paris, and one day he accidentally witnessed a street brawl. At his eyes Dussardier was killed by a policeman.
Frederick traveled, experienced more than one affair, but never married. Twenty years later, he again saw Madame Arnoux, who now lived in the province. It was a sad meeting of old friends. Frederick met Deslauriers. He at one time married Louise Roque, but soon she ran away from him with a singer. The two friends led now the modest life of respectable bourgeois. Both were indifferent to politics. Summing up their lives, they acknowledged that they both failed - and the one who dreamed of love, and the one who dreamed of power.