Sentimental Education by Gustav Flaubert

(This post first appeared on goodreads and it was updated from the bottom up. I’ve left it like that.)

Finished. What an achievement. Writing it, not reading it.

I marvel that he has written a book with no character for which one could have a shred of sympathy and yet somehow we sit there caring what happens. I mean, really caring, reading through breakfast caring.

I kept thinking of The Great Gatsby when Nick says to Jay “They’re a rotten crowd…You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.” and isn’t that what makes the book work, that there is somebody worthy of our caring. But here there isn’t one character to redeem the story and yet, even so, even though they are rotten without exception, still Flaubert gets you to care. Amazing.

And then again, I marvel that the book is a complete shambles – the politics is impossible to follow, footnotes notwithstanding: after a while you give up and don’t bother trying to follow it; and after another while you realise you aren’t any worse off than the characters in the story; it must have been like living in one of those tin pot African spots where on a day to day basis the entire regime changes – and that doesn’t matter either. Against the chaos, patterns nonetheless emerge. My mother thought he has written the consummate novel from a structural point of view. I could agree with that.

I’ve already said in an earlier post on this that it is completely hilarious. Could this story be about any but the French??? It IS like Blackadder in spots, that is no exaggeration. And yet, like any great novel, like his Bovary, if it comes to that, it holds a mirror up to our innards, our brains, hearts, our souls. It is about everybody. Somehow it manages to be incredibly culture/experience specific and yet the message is for the reader, whomsoever that be. Flaubert meant it to be a moral tale for the people he saw around him in the debauched ravages of that period of French (and European, if it comes to that) history and yet it is as fresh and relevant today as it was when he laboured over it so long ago.

In case I’m not getting my point across, this is a fantastic, FANTASTIC book. It’s at such times I’m pleased I’m so mean about stars, so four stars can be special and five can be exceptional. FIVE STAR FLAUBERT. Bravo.


A few days later: this book is completely hilarious. I’d love to see either the BBC or the French series of it, but they don’t seem to be available…It would be like the Regency Blackadder scenes where he sends up the French, only longer.


I’m reading Flaubert at the moment, in the original English. Darned if I know why he translated it into French, I wouldn’t have bothered, myself.

You see, I’m being bullied into reinvigorating my learning Francais campaign and I’ve got a new approach now.

They are lazy little fuckers, the French. I mean, not like the Greek economy (little joke, Greek economy, just in case you are reading this. Hmm. 11am. You probably aren’t out of bed then. Oh, sorry. It’s hard to stop). The French…yes….They finish so few of their words when they are speaking that I’ve developed a bit of a complex about finishing them at al-. Thinking about this, I’ve come up with a strategy for being better recognised when I wheel out my French. I speak fairly slowly and stop about 2/3 of the way through the word. If I get a reaction like they have recognised it, I move onto the next word. If they look baffled, I finish the rest of the word off – it might help, and it isn’t going to get any more confusing than it already is.

What can I say. You heard it first here. (Not quite, since it is only a blog post I cut and pasted).

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