A Sentimental Education

Literary significance and reception

Henry James, an early and passionate admirer of Flaubert, considered the book a large step down from its famous predecessor. "Here the form and method are the same as in "Madame Bovary"; the studied skill, the science, the accumulation of material, are even more striking; but the book is in a single word a dead one. "Madame Bovary" was spontaneous and sincere; but to read its successor is, to the finer sense, like masticating ashes and sawdust. L'Education Sentimentale is elaborately and massively dreary. That a novel should have a certain charm seems to us the most rudimentary of principles, and there is no more charm in this laborious monument to a treacherous ideal than there is interest in a heap of gravel."[4]

French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, however, found it interesting, and made a map of the novel's social spaces, linking social organization to literary space.[5] György Lukács in his Theory of the Novel found L'Education Sentimentale quintessentially modern in its handling of time as passing in the world and as perceived by the characters.

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