Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) was born to a doctor and his wife in the northern French town of Rouen. Like Frederic in his 1869 novel Sentimental Education, Flaubert studied law in Paris as a young man. Like Freredic, he also never practiced law. Instead, he turned to writing at the age of 21. After several short novellas, his first novel was published in 1857. Madame Bovary, was received as a masterwork of French Literature, a reputation that holds to this day. He followed up in 1862 with Salammbô. The historical novel was widely panned and has been criticized for historical inaccuracy.
At the risk of never reaching the heights of Madame Bovary, Flaubert spent seven years writing, and rewriting A Sentimental Education. He remains known for his meticulous need for perfection in his writing. During this time he also completed work on the play, though it was not published until after his death.
Sentimental Education finally appeared in 1869. Like Madame Bovary, it depicts the life and trials of the French bourgeoise, and gushes with romantic content. Differing from his first novel, however, Sentimental Education contains overtly political references. Written following the Revolution of 1848, A Setimental Education comments on, and narrates the events that lead to the establishment of the Second French Republic and, later, the Second French Empire. The political opinions of almost every character is delineated and debated. Sénécal and and Dussardier, for example, are faithful Republicans, whereas Monsieur Dambreuse is concerned about the establishment of a socialist state. Political contestations such as this are featured throughout the novel. This content is deeply entrenched in its time and political context, so much so that the novel now reads like a historical narrative.
It has been suggested that the novel mirrors Flaubert's own life, with the character of a Frederic being a stand-in for himself. There are several noticeable similarities between them: their rural upbringings, their unsuccessful ventures into a law career, their lifelong statuses as bachelors. The similarities are too complex to deny, however the extent to which Frederic can be viewed as a representation of Flaubert himself are uncertain and unsubstantiated.
Upon release, the novel met a mixed reception. Some, such as Emile Zola, praised the novel. Others, like Henry James, were vocally critical of what they saw to be an indulgent and frivolous novel. Nonetheless, the novel's reputation has persisted for a century and a half, with the general consensus that it is a major work of the 20th century Realist movement, and an important literary representation of mid-century France. Flaubert would never again complete a full-length novel, and died in 1880 at the age of 58.