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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Meaningless Living

"The luxury of the setting underlined the triviality of the conversation; although the subject-matter was not as stupid as the manner of its delivery, which was aimless, lifeless, and inconsequential."  (Part II, Ch. II)

Flaubert was a writer that spent years writing individual works because of his insistence on finding le mot juste.  It is interesting, therefore, that such a writer could write an entire novel about characters who engage in meaningless conversations.  At one point in Part II, Frederic and some friends throw a party for Senecal after his release from prison and the conversation turns to a discussion of Louis Phillippe's policies.  All attendees disagree with the restrictions the government has place on society, especially the press, causing Deslauriers to ask, "But what's left that isn't forbidden?"  Nevertheless, once the party ends, all the attendees go on with their lives as if the conversation never happened.  Despite the intensity of the discussion, no one is provoked to action.  The entire episode depicts a sentimental generation.

Earlier in chapter two, Deslauriers, appearing for his oral thesis, is given the subject of the Statute of Limitations but ends up going on a diatribe on how without such a statute, justification could be made for the enslavement of many peoples.  Unable to follow his logic, the examination committee dismisses him and he gives up law.  He no longer has a future in law and plans to write a dissertation on the Statute, though those plans come to nothing.  The meaningless conversation expand in the novel to reflect the meaningless lives of the characters.  Deslauriers abruptly gives up law to pursue politics; just like Frederic, Arnoux repeatedly switches professions; Rosanette vacillates between three lovers; and Regimbart, a friend of Frederic's, spends his days as a serial visitor of various bars.  No one has any direction in life, making spur of the moment decisions.

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