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Monday, August 30, 2010

A Life Without Love

'How do you expect me to live in Paris without you?' said Frederic.  (His sadness had been reawakened by his friend's bitterness.)  'If I'd had a woman who loved me, I might have achieved great things.  What are you laughing at?  Love is the stuff of genius.  Great emotions produce great works of art.  I shall never go looking for the woman of my dreams  Anyways, even if I find her, she'll only reject me.  I am one of the disinherited, and I shall go to my grave with the powers of my soul untried.'  (Pt. 1, Ch. 2)

Frederic makes the above statement to his friend Deslauriers early in the novel.  Frederic is a young man of no motivation.  He blames his lack of drive on the absence of love in his life.  He is a whiner in that he complains about life ("tiring of this lonely life") but does little to change it.  Having given up law school, he begins a novel but gives it up, goes to the opera and is bored by it, and composes German waltzes but gives that up as well.  Wandering aimlessly, Frederic, led by his restlessness, chooses painting for an occupation because of the proximity it promises to Madame Arnoux, a married woman with whom he is infatuated.

As a person who wanders aimlessly and has no set plans for his life, Frederic leaves a lot to fate, at one point tossing a coin to decide whether to go visit Madame Arnoux.  Though his inheritance from his father is significantly less than he expected, he shows no motivation to work and is considered a disappointment by his neighbors.  Eventually, fate settles that he will be rich as his uncle's heir, which causes him to return to Paris where he declares he will do nothing in particular.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The July Monarchy

The July Monarchy is the name given to the reign of Louis Phillippe, who became king in 1830 upon the abdication of Charles X.  He called himself "King of the French" instead of "King of France," establishing himself as a man of the people.  Nevertheless, his reign would prove to favor the wealthy bourgeoisie over the working middle class.  For example, only landowners had the right to vote, representing a small percentage of the population.  A disgruntled working class, as well as a series of poor harvests and a financial crisis in the late 1840s lead to uprisings throughout Paris and he was forced to abdicate in 1848 and fled to England where he died two years later.  Louis Napoleon was elected President of the Second Republic and declared himself Emperor in 1851.  Sentimental Education takes place during these events and the protagonist Frederic Moreau is engaged in the middle of the conflict.

The above painting is Louis Philippe 1839 by Franz Xavier Winterhalter.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Gustave Flaubert

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) was born in Rouen to a surgeon and a daughter of a physician.  He first studied law in Paris but turned to writing when his bouts with epilepsy forced him to give up the legal profession.  In his writings, Flaubert sought to  achieve a realistic portrayal of 19th century bourgeois France.  He was known for spending hours on mere sentences, trying to find exact words and phrases that convey his meaning.  His best known work is Madame Bovary, which describes the life of an unhappy, bourgeois wife and for which he was tried and nearly jailed.  He also wrote The Temptation of Saint Anthony and Salammbo, a historical novel set in ancient Carthage.

Sentimental Education (1869) describes the amorous adventures of Frederic Moreau, who prefers the city life of Paris over the rural life of Nogent.  The novel takes place during the July Monarchy and Flaubert spent several years studying the historical period and is exact in his details of events.  Madame Arnoux is based on Elisa Schlesinger, the wife of a music publisher for whom Flaubert had strong feelings.  The title refers to the education of feelings, a lesson Frederic is slow to learn.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Drawing Room

The Victorian drawing room was the most important room in the house.  It was the room to which guests would be directed upon arriving to the residence.  In upper class homes, it was usually located on the second floor, accessible by the staircase.  A typical drawing room had high ceilings, a bay window, and a fireplace, with a decorated mantle.  Common decorations included a mirror, vases, and china.  The furnishing of a drawing room could typically cost over 80% of one's yearly wages.  One was expected not only to represent his class well but also to be up-to-date in style.

Source:  Inside the Victorian Home:  A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England by Judith Flanders.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Knowing One's Station

In Victorian England, knowing one's station was of utmost importance to know one's station.  Trying to live above one's means did not impress others but, rather, reflected badly on the one trying to mislead.   It was better to live poorly in truth than to lie.   Moreover, living below one's station was equally as offensive.  Thriftiness was not a desirable trait among Victorians; if one had wealth, one was expected to show it.  The Victorians believed earnestly in duty, which mandated that one represent his class well.  If one were going to skimp, it was only proper to do so in areas of the house that would not be visable to visitors.

Source:  Inside the Victorian Home:  A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England by Judith Flanders.


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