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Money Does Not Buy Happiness
Throughout A Sentimental Education, Flaubert makes a grand case for the well-used aphorism, “money does not buy happiness.” When Frederic’s uncle dies, he is afforded a vast allowance of nearly 40,000 francs a month. He is allowed to buy all the clothes he desires, he dines well, and he spends his life in leisure. He also employs the money in pursuit of the women he admires, though his efforts prove faulty. Frederic soon discovers that despite having a materially comfortable existence, he feels empty and devoid of purpose. He can buy all the expensive wares he want, yet they cannot provide him a sense of self-worth. For this, he must look elsewhere. With his typical flourish and eloquence, Flaubert suggests what is commonly known: all the money in the world cannot ensure anyone’s happiness.
The Immorality of the Upper-Class
Flaubert makes his opinions on the aristocratic class of French society very explicit. He portrays them in a multitude of negative fashions. They are dishonest, adulterous, vane, trivial and disloyal. They gossip about one another at obscenely lavish parties, and swindle one another out of money. They get drunk and fight with mistresses, gamble, argue over meaningless things. They berate their servants and mock paupers. Though Frederic was initially pleased to be welcomed into these circles, he soon realizes just how vile they are. He is barraged for loans from the supposedly educated and affluent sliver of French society. In fact, Frederic's original model of the upperclass, Arnoux, turns out to be a dishonest scammer. As he comes to see, the titles and pride and extravagances of the French aristocracy cannot ultimately mask how immoral they are.
The Importance of Self-Motivation
When Frederic is awarded his vast sum of money, he quickly abandons his pursuit of a law degree. He intends to rest on his inheritance and live a life of pleasure. Though, as mentioned before, he finds no satisfaction in this lifestyle. To counteract this malaise, he embarks on a series of projects. First he intends to write volumes on the history of aesthetics, before deciding to write the history of the Renaissance; however, he lacks the dedication to follow anything through to completion. As a result, he is filled with a sense of worthlessness. Meanwhile, Frederic’s friends have their own professions and passions; Deslauriers is a lawyer, Hussonet is a newspaperman, and Dussaudier is a shop clerk. These men contribute to society and feel personally rewarded for doing it, whereas Frederic does not. In this sense, Flaubert suggests that ambition and action are necessary in a healthy, happy life.
The Dangers of Undying Devotion
As soon as Frederic falls in love with Madame Arnoux he is immediately willing to do whatever it takes to win her over. He buys expensive clothing and even borrows money to buy her gifts. He says whatever he can to please her, and frequently stops by there house to visit. When Madame Arnoux’s husband runs into financial trouble, Frederic lends them money, yet they extend him any gratitude. When the Arnoux’s financial problems continue, Madame Arnoux approaches Frederic and asks him to speak to their moneylender, a personal friend of Frederic. He does willingly. Again, they do not thank him for his assistance and only demand further. Frederic is so devoted to Madame Arnoux that he doesn’t question any of her wishes. Though the Arnouxes are blatantly using Frederic, his devotion is dangerously undying. It is obvious that one must question the repeated demands of another, even if they are as beautiful as Madame Arnoux.
An Unromantic Romance Novel
Though romance maintains a central position in the plot of A Sentimental Education, the pursuit of love is portrayed in a unique fashion. Instead of bringing Frederic joy and happiness, his love for Madame Arnoux only causes anxiety, sadness and fear. At times he resents, even hates, Madame Arnoux because of how much he loves her. This differs sharply from the classic portrayals of romantic love, where two individuals receive great pleasure and reassurance from one another. It could be said, however, that Flaubert’s depiction of romance is far more realistic. The world is not full of roses in bloom, and neither is the romance of A Sentimental Education.
The Importance of True Friendship
Frederic experiences a series of complicated friendships throughout the novel. Once his closest friends, Deslauriers abandons Frederic when he does not grant him a large loan. Hussonet, another close friend, publishes an article mocking Frederic in his newspaper, and de Cisy steals Frederic’s love affair. Even when Frederic hosts a dinner party for the men, they continually criticize and mock his efforts. As a result, Frederic feels a deep loneliness. Luckily he maintains a continual and mutual friendship with Dussardier, who listens to Frederic and continually supports him. It is Dussardier who offers guidance when Frederic is in need, and Dussardier who demonstrates just how important true friendships are.
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