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Education Sentimentale Title&Subtitle Notes

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Olivia Alter

HT06 A. Jefferson

How apt are the title and subtitle L'Education sentimentale: Histoire d'un jeune homme?
On 6th October 1864, Flaubert wrote to Mlle Leroyer de Chantpie saying that what he wanted to write was 'l'histoire morale des hommes de ma génération.' Just like Balzac in his Comédie Humaine, Flaubert wanted to be a historian of his own time, yet rather than just documenting the period he was interested in (namely the fall of the July Monarchy, the 1848 Revolution, and the 1851 Coup d'Etat by Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte), he insisted on representing 'un état psychologique', putting more emphasis on the sentimental aspect of his historical novel. Throughout writing L'Education sentimentale, Flaubert described the difficulty he had with his aim, and his fears that 'les fonds ne dévorent les premiers plans'. This shows how Flaubert confirmed the coexistence of two dimensions in his novel, history and fiction, and since both of these terms may be called 'histoire' in French, it must be questioned how he managed to reconcile the two and create a unity. 'L'histoire morale' also suggests a kind of education, especially because history implies a progression, looking to the past to determine one's future. Yet at the end of the novel Frédéric does not seem to have learnt anything, and in continuing his explanation of the book Flaubert says it is about an 'inactive' passion, entailing a sense of nothing happening. Having looked at how he balances history and fiction in the novel, it must then be determined whether it really does contain a lesson, or whether the education of the title is just ironic. As has been said above, 'histoire' comprises both history and fiction, and Flaubert was aware of this, saying that although his subject is one of psychological analysis, he touches upon events of his period. It cannot be denied that he uses real historical events, and the 'laps du temps' is 'considérable'; Flaubert wanted to 'faire tout entrer, et le mouvement de 1830, et la physionomie de 1840, et 1848, et l'Empire'. Nevertheless, it is notable that some facts are distorted, some are missed out altogether, and the most important events are dealt with two thirds of the way through the novel, mainly in one chapter, which shows how he was not simply presenting history, but used it to depict attitudes and feelings at the time. He aimed to create 'un grand tableau de la vie [avec]
une action qui serait l'anéantissement des uns par les autres'; in other words, history

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